The Department is comprised of two sectors: one contains Ancient World coins and coins from Asia and Africa; the other is the sector of European and American numismatics. The Department’s collections number around 1,150,000 items. The Department has around thirty employees. Head of Department: Vitaly Kalinin.
The Numismatic collection of the Hermitage was founded by Catherine the Great at the same time as her picture gallery and collection of antiques. It was originally supplied by chance acquisitions, but soon Catherine started purchasing whole collections both in Russia and abroad. By 1787, a new building, later known as the Large (Old) Hermitage, was designed by the architect Yuri Velten wall to wall with the Small Hermitage. This new museum space made it possible to bring together the disparate collections and individual items relating to numismatics and store them on the first floor of the Large Hermitage building, next to the Imperial Library. This was the so-called Münzkabinett, which was officially considered to be part of the library for nearly a hundred years, according to the European tradition of the 17th-18th centuries.
At the end of the 18th century, the Hermitage Münzkabinett as the court numismatic collection was granted the preferential right to ac-quire coins and medals from private collections, finds and archaeological excavations all over Russia.
In the first quarter of the 19th century, the Court Department allocated substantial funds for the purchase of coins and medals for the Münzkabinett. Discovered hoards of coins and other items, which had formerly been transferred by the Ministry of Popular Education to the Academy of Sciences, were to be sent to the Hermitage as well from that time onwards. This was the time when the Münzkabinett at the Chamber of Curiosities (Kunstkammer) had finally lost the status of the country’s main national collection of antiquities to the Hermitage. Around 1805, the coin collection was moved from the first-floor state rooms to the more isolated rooms in the second floor on the gallery near the ‘balustrades’ of the Large Hermitage Oval Hall (in the building designed by Velten). By this time, the collection was already numbering over 30,000 items.
The public Imperial Museum of the New Hermitage was subdivided into two departments when it was opened. The Münzkabinett be-longed to Department I, which also included the collection of carved gems, the finds from Kerch, the Etruscan vases, prints, and the library. By 1850, the Münzkabinett had over 56,321 coins and medals.
In 1857-1858, following the death of the prominent St Petersburg collector Jacob Reichel, the Hermitage bought 41,875 Western European coins and medals from his heirs. This acquisition nearly doubled the Hermitage collection, raised its status considerably and even laid the foundation of some of its sections.
The Münzkabinett was housed in three exhibition rooms in the South-East wing of the New Hermitage: the so-called Coin (Great) Hall, the Twelve-Column Hall (which consisted of the Small or Oval Room, the corner part and the gallery), and the Raphael Loggia. The Western European coins and medals of the modern age took up the whole of the Great Hall, the Oval Room of the Twelve-Column Hall; the Oriental coins were displayed in the Raphael Loggia, while the collection of Russian coins and medals was housed in the corner section of the Twelve-Column Hall and the Ancient collection on its gallery. By the mid-19th century, the Münzkabinett had become a centre of Russian numismatic studies. This was the time when the multi-volume catalogues of the coins and medals in the whole collection were as-sembled, which included all the previous attempts to record its materials. The curators also published their research on Ancient, Oriental, Russian, and Western European numismatics.
Emperor Nicholas I, who paid a lot of attention to augmenting the mu-seum’s collection, did not overlook the Münzkabinett. By his order, the Hermitage numismatic department was to be annually supplied with ‘mandatory’ specimens struck at Russian mints (coins from 1852 and medals from 1856 onwards). This order remained in force during the reign of Nicholas’ successors, and was upheld by Lenin’s decree after the 1917 Revolution. The Münzkabinett was also receiving coins from hoards discovered and sent to the Imperial Archaeological Commission founded in 1859, and rare coins or new additions bought at auctions abroad. The purchase of a number of Western European orders in Berlin and Paris in 1861 and the transfer of samples of current Russian orders served as the foundation of the Hermitage collection of phaleristics.
The year 1863 saw a change in museum structure: the Münzkabinett was granted the status of an independent Department of Medals and Coins.
After the Revolution of 1917, the Hermitage was swamped by a flood of items from nationalised private collections and transfers from vari-ous government institutions: the Museum Fund, the Petrograd Soviet, the Extraordinary Commission, the Armoury Museum. The largest and most valuable acquisition of the time was the transfer of oriental, Western European, Russian coins and medals from the Asiatic Museum of the Academy of Sciences. This collection was formerly the Münzkabinett at the Chamber of Curiosities (some items from it were given to the Hermitage as early as the mid-19th century). The purchase of G. Likhachev’s collection of Russian paper banknotes of the 18th and 19th centuries in 1928 was the beginning of the Hermitage collection of paper money. On the whole, the numismatic collection of the Hermitage more than doubled over the two post-Revolution decades (from 258,000 objects in 1917 to 577,800 objects in 1939).
After the Revolution, the Hermitage collection of numismatics and glyptics took its final shape with five internal branches: Oriental, An-cient, Western European, Russian coins and medals, and the depart-ment of glyptics. In 1930, it was decided to distribute the glyptics collection between the other Hermitage departments, so the department was finally renamed the Numismatic Department.
During the Second World War, the department’s collections were evacuated to Sverdlovsk alongside othermuseum treasures. After the return from evacuation, the Numismatic Department was allocated more convenient storage facilities in the Winter Palace. New display areas included the galleries of the Anteroom, the Nicholas and Concert Halls making use of the projection formed by the former Winter Gardens, walled off at second-floor level.
At present, the collection of the Numismatic Department comprises nearly 1,150,000 objects and includes the following key collections: numismatic artefacts from the Ancient World; the countries of Asia and Africa (c. 230,000); Ancient coins (c. 126,000); coins from Europe and America (c. 385,000); Russiancoins (c. 280,000); medals, phaleristics and sphragistics (c. 125,000).