Keirnan must have been the first person to touch them in almost 40 years. He brought in two experts to verify the coins' authenticity last semester and is now developing a graduate course to examine the items' history. It's the first time the coins will be extensively studied, and Kiernan and his class will publish their findings.
Within the collection is a "remarkably rare" coin of Roman emperor Otho, who reigned for a mere three months. The Greek coins were struck by some of the most powerful city-states and rulers of the ancient world, such as Athens, Corinth and Alexander the Great.
The coins were donated in 1935 to the UB Libraries Special Collections by Thomas B. Lockwood as part of a larger collection of rare books. However, it wasn't until Kiernan examined them out of curiosity that the currency's rarity and value were realized.
Lockwood's collection includes more than 3,000 books, medallions and additional coins from early America and England. Other notable items include a medallion of Napoleon Bonaparte and 36 British gold coins, including one of Queen Elizabeth I.
Lockwood, an avid reader and collector of rare and special books, purchased the items to supplement his personal collection. Accruing relics and art was common practice among affluent men in the early 20th century.
Kiernan focuses much of his research on ancient currency and antiquities, and the experts he brought in to examine the coins were numismatists--people who collect or study currency. The coins are one of the many treasures stored in the UB Libraries, which also hold original works by James Joyce, Dylan Thomas and William Shakespeare.
Most of the coins are in excellent condition, despite remaining in their original 80-plus-year-old casing. A few of the silver coins require conservation treatment. The collection's casing also will be improved. The UB Libraries will open the collection of coins to members of the campus and local communities pursuing relevant research.