Built on the extensive numismatic collection held at the Münzkabinett Berlin, Coins is a stunning data visualisation project that chronicles the global history of currency in an engaging and beautifully presented way. What began as an experimental tool for numismatists to examine and study coins as material culture has become a wonderful way to take these historically significant artefacts out from their vault or glass display cases and make them more accessible to the public.
Coins has a beautiful, intuitive, and clean interface that starts off as a giant pile of coins alongside a small ‘Info’ button and a toolbar to order the collection by various properties and in three layouts. ‘Info’ provides some background on the project, the team behind the project and platform, the technology underpinning the platform, the awards it has won, and a research output produced from the project. To introduce some order to coins, visitors can organise on the basis of a number of categories including: ‘Country’, ‘Region’, ‘Minting Place’, ‘Period’, ‘Material’, ‘Weight’, ‘Diameter’, ‘Earliest Date’, and ‘Latest Date’. Depending on if users select either one or two properties, the coins will be laid out in clusters, cluster lists, and cluster grids on the basis of the selected properties.
Zooming in to the coins themselves, there are currently about 26,000 coins available for exploration from the nearly 500,000 coins held at the Münzkabinett Berlin, which is plenty to explore though the project team has outlined that the platform will continue to be updated with more coins added online progressively. Clicking on each coin provides data on its name, its country where it was found, the region it was used in, where it was minted, its weight and size, and the timespan in which was used based on the available data. For those interested in learning more about each coin, clicking on the ‘View in Collection’ button links to the Münzkabinett online catalogue where high-resolution photographs of the front and back provide a more in-depth look into each coin. Moreover, there are additional details about each minted artifact including descriptions of its obverse and inverse sides, its class/status as currency, the issuing authority, its denomination, method of production, die-axis, publications related to the coin, its accession details, and its provenance. In addition to the data provided, there are also a variety of tools provided underneath the photographs of the coin including a zoom function, a scale function, the ability to download high-resolution images of the obverse and inverse sides of the coin, detailed histories of the coin (though this is only available in German), and an option to send comments about the coin via an email hyperlink.
Teachers can use Coins as a way to engage budding numismatists or teach broader lessons about the history of money and economics more generally. In the case of the former, having such a variety of coins to explore allows for lessons in comparing global minting practices and the enduring role of currency production in human society. By selecting coins from very different places in the world and getting students to examine their similarities and differences opens up interesting avenues of discussions about how coins are made and distributed. To unpack the history of currency and global economics, teachers can hone in on the materials for coinage and link the website with secondary literature to demonstrate the role of commodities like gold and silver in the globalisation and financialisation of the economy over successive waves since the Age of Exploration.
Well worth its weight in gold—or silver seeing as most of the coins in the collection were made out of it—Coins is perhaps the pre-eminent example of digitisation and visualisation done right. It synthesises academic rigour, curatorial thoroughness, and a spirit of playfulness to bring cold, hard cash to life.