The dedicated coin collector can be spoiled for choice of museums to visit when on vacation – but it’s all about knowing what’s out there. A newly published book comprehensively covers this specialized topic. Michael Alexander of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre catches up with Howard Berlin, author of one of the hobby’s newest and most creative publications The Numismatourist and finds out how the concept was developed and what’s in store for this on-the-go numisma-tourist!
I have to admit, anytime I visit somewhere I haven’t been before or return to somewhere I have visited, I try to do a little homework about the museums or collections which might have a display or exhibition of coins and/or banknotes. I began writing about my own visits to the various museums which catered to my tastes and interests back in 1997 when I first visited the Bank of Estonia’s newly opened currency museum and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I followed up on this “must-see” activity and itinerary when in 2001 I was a guest of the Bundesbank’s Geldmuseum in Frankfurt.
The effort made by so many curators and researchers and the amazing items on display – often they are either unique or immensely rare pieces is truly no less than any other mainstream museum or collection. The treat of course for anyone who has an interest in coins or banknotes is that these collections and exhibitions are wholly dedicated to this specific interest. Since my first visit 17 years ago, I have since been the guest of many impressive collections. Most recently was my 2013 visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam just a couple months after their decade-long restoration was complete and re-opened to the public. The Museum of American Finance located in the heart of the financial district in New York City was this year’s visit and again, a highly recommended stop if you find yourself in the Big Apple on holiday.
I had the chance to catch up with the author of this new publication, Howard Berlin who has visited more displays & exhibitions in more museums specializing in numismatic collections than anyone else I have met. The nice part of this and of course Howard’s travels is he has amassed all of the information he’s gained in one comprehensive and thoroughly enjoyable book – one which I have not been able to put down. The book spans 410 pages with index and covers more than 150 museums, mints, and central banks on five continents. Almost 100 of these institutions are described in depth with pictures. Need or want to plan your travel with public transportation..? There’s information for that too with website and opening times also included to make any inquiries before you set off.
The Numismatourist has also inspired me to plan the enjoyable activity of “museum-hopping” for 2015 and visit some of those venues I haven’t yet seen myself and perhaps share my experiences. I think this book will do the same for you – let me know if it has but until you obtain your own copy of The Numismatourist, read our conversation and enjoy!
Hello Howard, its great to catch up with you in the midst of your travels, I know you just traveled from the Baltics, one of my favorite places – where you visited Lithuania & Estonia, was this visit in connection with your latest publication or just for pleasure..?
A bit of both. My maternal grandfather emigrated from a small town in Lithuania to the U.S. and both Lithuania and Estonia were countries that I hadn’t been to, despite having now been to 56 countries. On the “business” side, I had written about both the Money Museum of the Bank of Lithuania in Vilnius and the Bank of Estonia Museum in Tallinn based on information and pictures supplied by these museums. It was one thing to write about something from never having been there, so I wanted to have the experience of seeing these museums and personally thank the individuals for their invaluable assistance. As it turned out, contacts at these museums provided other local venues and names of individuals at museums also having numismatic items on display. Visiting these provided information and pictures for hopefully a second volume of The Numismatourist book.
Speaking of your latest publication The Numismatourist I have to tell you its one of the best books I’ve read recently, I couldn’t put it down as it blends three of my favorite subjects coins, banknotes, and travel. This has certainly been a real labor of love but how did you come up with this great concept of meshing the two in such a well-done publication..?
Thank you for your kind words, coming from who has also visited and written about museums. Originally in 2009, I had written a two-page bi-monthly column, “World Destinations,” in WorldWide Coins, a sister publication of the weekly Coin World newspaper here in the U.S. I wrote about various museums I had visited. The column was well received as I was fortunate to have won the “Best Column for World Commercial Numismatic Magazines” category for two consecutive years by the Numismatic Literary Guild before the magazine ceased publication after a three-year run.
Since I still had lots of unpublished material about museums I had visited, the idea occurred to me that this information, if done properly, could be an interesting and unique topic for a sort of travel book. Plus, there was nothing out there like it. Many of the hobbyists and dealers travel a bit, and what better way would be to visit a museum, mint, or central bank during their trip? As for me, I love to travel, write, and I used to have a significant collection of coins and banknotes which I competitively exhibited and won a fair amount of “Best of Show” prizes. This type of book just seemed a natural extension of some of my interests.
The book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Richard Doty, who was the Senior Numismatic Curator at the Smithsonian Institute and who sadly passed away last year & is greatly missed, how important do you think it is for any country to maintain a national collection of coins and banknotes – what does it “say” about a country and how they record history…?
The answer is best represented by the introductory paragraph of my book’s preface. To quote: “I feel that a country’s history is perhaps best exhibited by the evolution of its money, which both represents an intrinsic component of its heritage and mirrors its socioeconomic history. Also, the national legal tender is considered one of the leading symbols of that country’s identity and autonomy. What better way to educate the public about its monetary heritage than that of showcasing its numismatic treasures in an exhibition in a museum, the nation’s central bank, or a mint?”
I think I read that you have 18 or so other publications to your credit, are numismatics the only subject you write about or have you “branched out” to other subjects – what’s your favorite subject or activity to write about..?
Actually it’s over 30 books but I haven’t kept up with the exact number. They cover a broad range of subject areas. As a graduate electrical engineer, about half of my books have dealt with electronic circuit design. I had written several about the financial markets, several about the cinema, and a few about numismatics. All of these stem from either my profession or my varied interests, and are generally focused on areas where no other books had been written about. Other interests of mine include bluegrass music (I play guitar and 5-string banjo, although not at the same time), “ham radio” (been a licensed amateur radio operator for over 53 years), and photography.
There is a section of those Museums and collections you have personally visited and those you haven’t – can you tell my readers which of those Museums you’ve visited which was a favorite or yours or really stood out and which one you haven’t visited but would most like to..?
I’ve been to almost 70 places and there have been many that I’ve enjoyed. Each one, be it a mint, central bank, local/municipal museum, or a national museum for the most part is different from the others in some way. I have been asked this question several times before, but I have no real favorite, one that stands above all the others.
I think I would like to see the major numismatic exhibits in Asia and Australia/New Zealand, a part of the world I don’t often get to.
What’s your next topic or project – you seem to be someone who is unstoppable & doesn’t sit around for long – do you think there is a second edition of this wonderful book in the future..?
I’m not getting any younger and am a few steps slower than last year, so I wouldn’t say I am “unstoppable,” and I don’t have museum “bucket list.” However if the book is successful, I hope the publisher would be inclined to allow me to write a second volume. In the meanwhile I have two non-numismatic book projects in various stages of gathering information. One is a specialized travel/history book about Berlin, where I visit several times a year. Another one is about Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa and the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Howard Berlin, author-extraordinaire and habitual numisma-tourist, thank you very much for your time today.
Michael, it was my pleasure.
The Numismatourist: The Only Worldwide Travel Guide to Museums, Mints, and Other Places of Interest for the Numismatist is available by visiting the book’s own website at: http://www.numismatourist.com/
Zyrus Press – Irvine, California