MU exhibit showcases ancient coins

The exhibit will run until July 31.

"CIA: Counterfeits, Imitations and Alterations of Ancient Coins" is the most recent exhibition to open at the Museum of Art and Archaeology. But don't be fooled; the coins are no sham.

According to the museum's website, the exhibit, which will remain open until July 31, focuses on aspects of ancient coins not typically seen in a museum setting. Instead of genuine coins people typically find on display, these coins are imitations, counterfeits and alterations.

"Some kinds of exhibitions, especially art exhibitions, are very accessible and engaging," Museum Director Alex Barker said. "You can get a sense of whether it's art that speaks to you, whether there's a resonance you feel toward the work. This is much more informational and it's a little harder to get a handle on how well it's being received."

About 110 coins are on display, spanning more than 2,000 years of history. Most are from or based on the ancient Greek and Roman world.

Barker said looking at the coins and considering how people in the past tried to use them for their own purposes provides a deeper understanding of how complex the ancient economic world really was.

"The world is a much smaller place than we sometimes imagine, and they faced all of the problems we face today with a globalized economy," Barker said.

According to Collection Specialist Kenyon Reed, some of the counterfeit pieces were created during their respective time periods to cheat governments and traders, much like a counterfeit $20 bill today. However, some counterfeits were made quite recently to fool collectors.

"(This exhibition) shows that a lot of the things that are going on today, counterfeiting, the trickery of the consumers, is nothing new," Reed said. "It's been going on since even before coins."

Reed said he hopes this encourages people to look into the reasoning why counterfeit coins are made.

"That ties in to the 'CIA' title," he said. "You have that sort of suspense and investigation hinted at. It's a little bit of the sleuthing and the investigation side of things. What I hope is that people will come in and learn to look at the material they see a little bit more in-depth."

A space is set aside for contemporary exhibits in the museum. This space consists of three galleries, but not all exhibits fill these three galleries.

"That really lends itself to an exhibition on coins because you need to have a small space," Reed said. "You don't want to have a big, long gallery filled with hundreds and hundreds of examples to just overwhelm people."

Reed decided on this exhibit partly out of his own scholarly interests. He first wanted to examine the physical alterations of coins after they leave the mint.

"From there, it grew into the imitations and the counterfeits mostly because the categories overlap to some degree," Reed said. "They all seem to naturally fit together."

Most of the coins belong to the museum, which has purchased them or received them as donations over the years, though a number of these coins are on loan from local collectors.

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