The Museum's first major acquisition was Reuben Spencer's European coins and commemorative medals in 1885. This was followed by the donation of large private collections by William Smith Churchill (1912) and William Sharp Ogden (1925). With these gifts, the Museum's numismatic holdings could already be regarded as significant. The last major donation was the bequest, in 1958, of Harold Raby's magnificent Greek, Roman and English coins.
The collection, which now numbers 76,000 items, is particularly rich in Greek and Roman coins, and there are extensive series from mainland Europe, India and the Far East. There are also good representatives of British coins and tokens, European and English medallions, and a large number of Manchester-related items. The holdings are by no means static, and continue to be enriched by the generosity of a new generation of collectors, as well as the occasional purchase.
Although a number of classical coins are exhibited on the Mediterranean Gallery, the Museum's principal display is the Money Gallery, which traces the development of money from barter to the current electronic banking age and includes a large loan from the British Museum.
There are more than 17500 coins in total (of which 2000 are parcels from local hoards). The Greek section comprises some 3000 pieces, mostly in silver and copper (Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum VII published the Raby and Gueterbock collections). There are approximately 700 Roman Republican, 8500 Roman Imperial (excluding provincial material) and 1500 Byzantine coins. Of particular note is a collection of 1500 coins from Roman Alexandria (Sharp Ogden). The Raby bequest contained a fine series of Roman and Byzantine gold coins
Medieval and Modern
The British and British colonial collection numbers only 6200 pieces, but there are some fine and rare individual coins. There are some 30000 European coins, mostly 17th-19th century, complemented by 2400 medallions; France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Holland and Russia are well represented. The Oriental collection has approximately 3000 Indian pieces, mostly in copper, and 4000 Chinese, Japanese and Korean coins. There are some 8500 tokens and 'others', the former including a good series of Lancashire 17th century pieces, and the latter an important archive of the medallic work of Edward Carter Preston.
The Museum actively collects Manchester-related material - medallions and plaques, medallets, prize medals, trade tokens, advertising tickets, passes and other local so-called 'paranumismatica'. The collection covers the last 250 years, and numbers some 700 pieces in a variety of metals and media.
Current projects include further work on the extensive Carter Preston archive, which provides a rich source of material for the oeuvre and working methods of this important English medallist. Other research is concerned with the designs of 19th century English campaign medals, and the Roman coinage of the city of Minoa, on the Cycladic island of Amorgos.