Business Law

The American Numismatic Society Library

Elizabeth Hahn | |

"How much is this coin I found worth?" "What is the oldest/most valuable coin in your collections?" "How can I find out more about ancient Greek coinage?" "Does your collection also have stamps?" "What exactly is 'numismatics'?"

These are some of the many reference questions that arrive daily in the inbox and voicemail of the American Numismatic Society Library. Located in a large building on the corner of Varick and Canal Streets, the American Numismatic Society (ANS) is home to a collection of some 800,000 coins and related objects and more than 100,000 library items. The word "numismatic" is best described in the Society's mission, which is to create and maintain "the preeminent national institution advancing the study and public appreciation of coins, currency, medals, orders and decorations, and related objects of all cultures as historical and artistic documents and artifacts; by maintaining the foremost numismatic collection, museum, and library…" (And as a result, this does not include stamps, which is left to the world of philately).

Founded more than 150 years ago, the ANS is generally recognized as one of the foremost centers for numismatic research in the world. On any given day during the week, scholars, staff, and students, can be found actively using the non-circulating collections. At the same time, the library staff--which consist of a full-time librarian, a part-time cataloger, and a part-time archivist--can be found responding to an abundance of reference questions that come from all over the world. There are no geographical or chronological limitations to either the numismatic or library collections, making both a rich resource for any scholar.

Photograph by Alan Roche © American Numismatic Society.

The library maintains a strong collection of books, periodicals, manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets, auction catalogs, and microforms, all of which are cataloged and available in the online library catalog. In addition to numismatic works, the library includes a strong reference collection and a wide selection of non-numismatic periodicals in the areas of archaeology, art history, economic history and other disciplines. The library also maintains a separate collection of rare books and uses a small exhibition space to display highlights from the collections, both in physical format and online.

An additional strength of the library and asset to all users is the active indexing of numismatic articles from journals and various chapters in multi-authored works. As a result, a simple search on any numismatic topic will elicit not just a record of the library holdings but a survey of numismatic research on the topic in question. Users who are unable to visit the library can take advantage of the various library services, including use of the online library catalog, as well as requesting article photocopies or scans, and research services conducted on the user's behalf.

From the first acquisition in 1859, the ANS Library has developed into the widely important resource that it is today. It has survived two major moves in less than a decade and has been in the care of 21 different librarians over its 150 year existence. More than a century ago, the librarians were addressing similar issues on cataloging that we face today. A librarian's report from 1880 helps to illustrate the state of the library at the turn of the 19th century and, in particular, the need for a catalog. Mr. Richard Hoe Lawrence, who served as the ANS Librarian from 1880-1886, reports that: "Our books are not catalogued, and a library without a cataloguer is, as Carlyle says, a Polyphemus without an eye in his head. It is hoped that our infant Cyclops will soon have this important member placed in his forehead..." This observation resulted in the single, thirty-page index listing items in the collection in 1883. Since that time, the collection has grown to encompass some 100,000 items.

The active involvement of the ANS librarians has ultimately helped shape the collections, but it is the users that make these efforts worthwhile. With the library and numismatic collections coupled with the other events, lectures, exhibitions, and publications, there is much to be gained by utilizing the resources of the American Numismatic Society.

The ANS Library maintains non-circulating collections and is open to the public. Visiting hours are Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Additional information, including monthly new acquisitions, can be found at or by sending an email to the librarian at

Elizabeth Hahn is the head librarian of the American Numismatic Society. She has professional training as an archaeologist, a numismatist, and a librarian and holds an MSLIS degree with training in archives and rare books, as well as two Master of Arts degrees in maritime and classical archaeology. She has worked on various excavations both on land and underwater in Sicily, Israel, Bermuda and North America. Ms. Hahn is fluent in Italian and has reading proficiency in French, German, Latin and Ancient Greek. She is a certified Advanced Open Water PADI Scuba diver and outside of academia, has received a number of awards in rowing. She is an avid cyclist and also has training as a classical violinist.

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