The BnF

Coins, Medals and Antiques Department

The Great Cameo of France (or Great Cameo of the Sainte-Chapelle) : glorification of Germanicus. Rome, Ca 23 B.C.
The Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques holds one of the more outstanding collections of 'medals' worldwide. Up to the 19th century, the word means old medals and coins. The number of pieces makes this collection, of a remarkable quality, a unique collection. The Department also holds a spectacular collection of antiques from the ancient Near East, Greece, Rome; and national antiquities. A specialized library offers valuable help to researchers thanks to nearly 100 000 documents and a major archives collection. The Department is a privileged place to study numismatics, archaeology, art and techniques history, the history of collectors and collections since treasures of curio cabinets up to the creation of museums.
The reading room is open to the Research Library's users. The consultation of heritage collections is possible after an interview with a librarian.

Collections of the Coins, Medals and Antiques Department

Monnaie d´Ionie. Clazomènes : Tétradrachme, vers 370 av. J.C. BnF Monnaies, médailles et antiques

Monnaie d'Ionie. Clazomènes : Tétradrachme, vers 370 av. J.C. BnF Monnaies, médailles et antiques

Collections in the following fields are available for consultation in the Coins, Medals and Antiques Department (département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques):

The department has:

  • 600,000 coins and medals;
  • 42,000 non-monetary objects (cameos, intaglios, Greek vases, antique and medieval ivories, bronzes, sculptures, inscriptions, etc.);
  • documentation on its collections (100,000 works covering not only numismatics, sigillography, and glyptics, but also epigraphy, archeology, ancient and medieval history, and the history of collections and collectors).

History of the department

The Coins, Medals and Antiques Department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, or the “Cabinet des Médailles”, was formed from the collection of the kings of France. From the Middle Ages onwards, Philippe Auguste, Jean le Bon, and Charles V brought together all kinds of precious and rare ancient objects: manuscripts, silverwork, engraved stones, and, undoubtedly, antique coins, referred to at that time as “medals”. From Henri IV onwards, what had been an amateur’s private collection became a “national” collection, if not a public one. As such, the Cabinet du roi can claim to be France’s oldest museum.

Its expansion truly began under Louis XIV. Inheriting, among other things, the “Cabinet de curiosités” from his uncle, Gaston d’Orléans, the Sun King tirelessly expanded the Cabinet by adding acquisitions made by his foreign envoys and complete collections. He even had it moved from the Library in Rue Vivienne, where it had been housed since 1667, to Versailles, so that he could spend time there every day.

The Cabinet moved back to Paris in the 18th century. Jules-Robert de Cotte created a room for it, which is still known as the Salon Louis XV. “Antique dealers” from all over Europe flocked to it; the burgeoning science of archeology found in it a rich source of documentation, and one of its pioneers, the Count of Caylus, donated all his antiques.

The Revolution provided the Cabinet with exceptional objets d’art, levied as taxes and thus saved from destruction, from the treasure-houses of Saint-Denis, the Sainte-Chapelle, and other religious institutions.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Cabinet of the “imperial” and later the “national” Library received further large donations. The most famous example is the collection of coins and antiques brought together by the Duke of Luynes and added to the Library in 1862.
The Coins, Medals and Antiques Department has been based at its current premises since 1917.

For more info

History of the BnF

Friday, January 5, 2018


Frédérique Duyrat
Phone :
Fax :
Email : monnaies-medailles-antiques

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See also