Classics department holds annual Coin Petting Zoo

Event attendees were required to wear gloves to prevent skin oils from degrading the coins.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the Lawrence University classics department hosted the Ancient Coin Petting Zoo. Put together by Assistant Professor of Classics Adriana Brook; Assistant Professor of Art History, Curator of the Wriston Art Center Galleries and Museum Studies Interdisciplinary Area Program Director Beth Zinsli; and a half dozen classics students, it was located in the Wriston Art Center Galleries. Eight coins from ancient Greece and Rome were on display for the public to touch and learn about. In addition to the coins, several Greek ceramic pots from approximately the fourth century BCE were on display as well.

Freshman Hannah Norris using a magnifying glass to examine a coin.
Photos by Caroline Garrow.

This year, the event was animal-themed, so all of the coins had depictions of animals. Many had depictions of lions or men wearing lion-skin caps, a reference to Hercules. Others contained delightful owls, especially coins from the city of Athens. One from Roman-controlled Egypt even had a crocodile. The eight coins are a part of a larger collection of almost 400 coins given to the university by Otillia Buerger ’38 in 1991, which has been appraised as the third best ancient coin collection in the U.S. While not on display regularly, the coins are utilized frequently by professors as a teaching aid to classes, and many students use the collection to do original research. A highlight of the collection is a large gold medallion from the late Roman Empire of which there are only two known copies. While that was not on display this time, there were several other wonderful coins for viewing.

Fortunately, for those who missed this Petting Zoo, there will be an opportunity later this year when the classics department hosts the annual Classics Week in the winter: it is expected a second exhibition will be held during that time. It is a phenomenal opportunity to actually hold a bit of the ancient world in the palm of your hand.