The third Viennese sub-project of the research initiative »Fontes Inediti Numismaticae Antiquae« is dedicated to the creation of editions of the scientific correspondence of the Austrian numismatists Erasmus Frölich (1700–1758) and Joseph Khell (1714–1772), and, based on this, the study of the development of the system of classification of ancient coins from the 16th until the 21st centuries.
The study of ancient Greek and Roman coins provides a variety of specific challenges. One of these is provided by the mass production of billions of coins in hundreds of mints in Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, over a period of more than a thousand years: the sheer abundance of the material and its typological diversity have presented scientists since the early modern period with problems regarding its quantitative mastering as well as difficulties in systematizing the various classes of objects. The system of organisation for this coinage employed in modern numismatics goes back primarily to the foundational work »Doctrina numorum veterum« (8 Vols., Vienna 1792–1798) of Joseph Eckhel. This project aims to study the basis for Eckhel’s system of organisation as well as its reception.
This is a follow-up project to two studies that have been carried out since 2013 at the OeAW in the context of the research initiative »Fontes Inediti Numismaticae Antiquae« and which are dedicated to the examination of the scientific correspondence of Joseph Eckhel (FWF P25282) as well as of his most important Austrian precursors: Erasmus Frölich and Joseph Khell von Khellburg, who was Eckhel’s teacher (FWF P29068). The latter two founded the ›Viennese School of Numismatics‹ in the 18th century. Khell in particular maintained an extensive international network in scientific correspondence, including above all with the most significant French collector of ancient coins at the time: Joseph Pellerin (1684–1783), who himself published the most noteworthy pieces from his collection in a multi-volume work. After Khell’s death, the scientific letters addressed to him were inherited by his pupil Eckhel.
The preparation of commented print- and digital editions of the scientific correspondence of Frölich and Khell, already initiated in the previous project, will be continued and completed: up until now, 52 letters from Frölich’s correspondence (with 22 correspondents) and 241 letters from Khell’s correspondence (with 29 correspondents) could be identified and edited for the first time.
The analysis of the corpora of letters of Frölich, Khell and Eckhel, however, constitutes the precondition for the examination of the development of the system of classification of ancient coins from the early modern period until the present. In his »Doctrina numorum veterum«, Eckhel adopted a geographical classification system for the non-Roman ancient coins that is still universally applied today. In doing so, he adapted a system that Joseph Pellerin, the correspondent of Joseph Khell, had developed for his »Recueil de médailles de peuples et de villes« (3 Vols., Paris 1763). Concurrently, Eckhel took up an opposing position to that of Frölich and Khell, who had classified the ancient coins of the Imperial collection in Vienna, amongst others, according to completely different aspects.
The study of the genesis of Eckhel’s numismatic system – to analyse it against the background of similar undertakings in other disciplines during the Age of Enlightenment – provides the opportunity to answer additional essential questions: in the creation of their systems of classification, what did the numismatists of the 18th century owe to their predecessors of the 16th and 17th centuries? How did the reception of Eckhel’s system take shape? How was it able to establish itself, against alternative proposals? And how does the discipline of ancient numismatics deal with the traditional system of classification today?