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Zimmerli displays counterfeit coins as part of Roman collection

The Zimmerli Art Museum is displaying more than 1,000 Roman-era coins until February. There are also 13 counterfeit coins included in this collection. – Photo by The Daily Targum

Thirteen counterfeit coins, including three that have been urinated on, will be on display at Rutgers. 

This year Rutgers University Department of Classics is pairing up with the Zimmerli Art Museum to display 13 counterfeit coins from their Ernst Badian collection of Roman Republic coins, according to the Rutgers University Libraries website.

This collection will be shown in the Class of 1973 Study Gallery. 

Faculty members at Rutgers can use the gallery to showcase an exhibit that pertains to their class, according to the Zimmerli Museum website.

The museum was inspired by other institutions to create the hands-on experience the Study Gallery offers, said Donna Gustafson, the Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator. 

“We thought one of the ways to do so is to invite faculty to think about ways our works of arts could be used in their classes,” she said.

The exhibit, on display until Feb. 6, features 13 counterfeit coins from Rutgers’ Roman Republic coin collection. 

Three of the 13 coins can be attributed to the famous coin forger Carl Becker, said T. Corey Brennan, an associate professor in the Department of Classics.

“Becker was the greatest coin forger the world has ever known,” he said. “The only way we know his coins are forgeries is because he left dyes for 260 coins and all of his forgers notes at his death.”

To make the coins seem realistic and worn out, Becker would put them in a box with pieces of metal in it, tie it to his carriage and drive for 60 miles and then soaked the coins in urine, Brennan said. 

While Rutgers has a collection of more than 1,000 genuine coins, this exhibit only features the 13 counterfeit silver denarii of the Roman Imperial Period.

“It’s odd that we have 1,270 genuine coins … but why do we focus on the 13 fake?" Brennan said. “Looking at the counterfeits we realized that there’s a story behind each of them, and that there may be even more in the group that are by Becker.”

Ernst Badian, the Harvard professor who donated the Roman Republic coins to Rutgers, originally kept the 13 counterfeit separate because he did not want them mixed with the regular collection, Brennan said. 

But when Badian passed away, he said the coins were not transported to Rutgers immediately due to a scandal. 

“On his death, they were stolen from his office at Harvard and no one knew what happened to them,” Brennan said. “The person who stole them tried to fence them, (later) found that they were counterfeit, tried to return them, and was caught returning them by university police.”

This showing differs from other Zimmerli exhibitions because Brennan was able to provide the pieces and create descriptions for each coin, said Tim Corlis, Head of Preservation for Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers. 

The coin collection is just one of many special collections that the libraries provide. For many of them, New Jersey is the focus, he said. 

“You don’t necessarily think your library has things that are not books, but we’ve got letters with president’s signatures, and king’s signatures as well” said Corlis. 

The Special Collections department at Alexander Library can be found in the lower basement level and provides students with the ability to view historical artifacts and documents. 

“Some of the rarest things that we have are papers that were printed in England when the king had given over the deed to the land that is New Jersey,” he said.

The libraries at Rutgers also differ from other institutions because they allow undergraduates to come in and do hands-on research, Brennan said. 

“The coins are viewed the same way as if you want to see a document in the archives," Brennan said. “If you wanted to see the Targum from 1869 … you could ask to see a Roman coin in the same way.”

Brennan said he hopes to see the museum working together more with University libraries.

“I always wanted to do something with the Zimmerli, and so I just leapt at it,” he said. “We have this incredible collection, and we have this great art museum … I hope to see more interplay between the art museum and the libraries.”

Mary Berko is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.


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