Who Invented Coin Collecting?

The early days in the history of coin collecting are murky with time. It is well known that 14th-century Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch, collected coins. He is often considered the “first” coin collector. That may be true, but the skeptic in me, argues that hobbies do not originate with one person, but rather, are more likely to develop over time.

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With all due respect for our dear poet, it was he who said, “a short cut to riches is to subtract from our desires” which seems like two things; an anti-hobby statement if I ever heard one, and a self-rebuke for loving someone out of his league. That being said, Petrarch was a cool coin collector, a great poet, and a man of faith. In turn, the people he admired may hold clues about who the real “first” coin collector was.

who invented coin collecting

Petrarch was born in Italy, the son of a Lawyer, who fell in love with Literature. A Humanist and a poet, indeed a hopeless romantic after my own heart, Petrarch studied medieval and ancient texts with a fondness for Cicero.

Ancient Roman Skeptic, Marcus Tullius Cicero lived from 106 to 46 BCE. In addition to being a statesman and a lawyer, he was also a Philosopher. You may have heard of some of his speeches, but that is neither here nor there. I bring him up today because of his connection to coins.

He minted coins of his own when he was a governor. They were cistophorus coins meaning, they were associated with the god Bacchus and his mystic baskets. Cicero’s cistophoric tetradrachums had,

…on its reverse M. CICERO PRO COS. and APA(MEA)… On the obverse the cista and serpent, without legend. — Cicero here is styled pro-consul.

From the Dictionary of Roman Coins on page 204.

Additionally, Cicero’s son minted Lydian coins from 30 – 20 BCE. The image on those coins may be the son or the father, but no one knows which Cicero it really is.

These breadcrumbs might indicate a familial affinity for the collecting of coins and Cicero might be the real “first” coin collector.

To see if Cicero’s interest in coins was something he learned from his teachers, we can look further back in time. Cicero the Elder’s favorite teacher was Quintus Mucius Scaevola Augar.

Augar was the less popular of two cousins by the same name, however, he was the one who taught Cicero, Law. There is no evidence (that I can find) indicating that Augar was minting coins, was featured on coins, or was interested in collecting coins. That being said, I’m throwing my money behind Cicero the Elder, as possibly the first coin collector in Western history.

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