Volunteering with coins!

Museum of the Order of St John Jack Hanson, Collections Volunteer

My name is Jack Hanson and I am a history undergraduate at Queen Mary, University of London. The project that I am working on, sponsored by a British Numismatic Society bursary, is to work on documenting the coins of Malta and Rhodes held by the Museum of the Order of St. John. I am planning to focus on the coins of Jean de Valette, who had a whole city named after him. I have also been looking at other coins, such as those of Philibert de Naillac. These interested me as they seemed to be developing a blue tarnish. With closer inspection, some of the coins were also coloured yellow, green and purple. This is the sort of thing that gets people who are interested in coins really excited.

A desk with computer and open book, and four coins in a tray

I first visited the Museum in my second year at Queen Mary, with a module on medieval objects. We came to look at objects documented by the Bearers of the Cross project. I felt really fortunate to get up close to the collections, and the opportunity to spend four weeks digging about in the coin collections was not something I could turn down. The essay I wrote was on the coins of Tancred of Antioch, who took part in the first crusade. Sixteen of his coins are held by the Museum. I was interested in the way Tancred used unusual Christian iconography on his coins, a similar idea was later adopted by the Knights of St. John.  My dissertation is going to be focused on the third crusade, and the careers of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. It was my interest in the coins which led me to use them as a primary source.

I wanted to see more of the Museum, and have the freedom to look more closely at their collections. The enormous amount of coins they have, not to mention pretty much anything you could imagine connected to the Order of St John (short of Malta itself) made it a very appealing opportunity. I was interested in the way the Museum looked after their collections. At object handlings, I often wondered how and where museums looked after delicate and historic objects. Hidden amongst the public displays, the myriad corridors and hodge-podge of architecture of St John’s Gate is both a confusing and a great place to work. The sheer amount of historical stuff in the Museum is really exciting. It turns up where you wouldn’t expect it as well, in the room under which I am writing this there are cannonballs saved from sieges of Rhodes and Malta, as well as pieces of stone taken from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. My absolute favourite objects in the museum, which surprisingly are not coins, are three wooden models of the Holy Sepulchre. The roof and walls slide and can be taken out. One model is part of the handling collection, and it’s great fun to play with. All this in the heart of London.

I’ve always liked looking at coins, and have been collecting them for a long time. Since beginning my degree at QMUL, they have become a very useful historical source. The choice of materials, as well as the images and iconography, of a coin can tell you an awful lot about the time, place and people who minted them. The history of objects is something which greatly appeals to me.




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