Beatrice Schärli. On the Death of a Defining Personality of Swiss Numismatics

Photo: Katie Phillips / Pixabay.
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My first encounter with Beatrice Schärli was probably in 1986. A 14-year-old, I had the daring idea of attending a meeting of the Circulus Numismaticus Basiliensis, the numismatic association of Basel. I found myself surrounded by mainly older gentlemen who wanted to share their knowledge with the newbie. But what really shaped this association and what had a lasting influence on this newbie were not so much these gentlemen but their association president Beatrice Schärli. She – who was pretty much the only woman in the association at the time – had the squad of older men firmly under control. With a combination of curiosity, expertise and determination that was typical of her, she navigated the Circulus Numismaticus through many, partly rough decades: since then, an academically demanding lecture program has been just as much a feature of the association as the encouragement of general participation, for example in the form of regular meetings where everyone is invited to share their opinions and suggestions.

Beatrice Schärli was a historian by profession, who completed her studies in Zurich and Fribourg with a thesis on Zofingen’s late medieval coinage. In 1972 she became curator at the Historisches Museum Basel, whose coin cabinet she headed for 32 years. During this time, she revised the museum collections, took stock and renewed the permanent exhibition. She published numerous works, for example on medieval and early modern numismatics, on medals, on the history of collectors and collections and especially on coin hoards. In 1985, she was a co-editor of the Festschrift for Herbert A. Cahn, and in 1989 of the “Schuldgeldlein”, a catalogue of the school tokens that were once awarded at the Basel grammar school.

In 1988 she curated an exhibition on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Circulus Numismaticus and co-edited the accompanying publication “Basler Münzensammler heute” (Basel Coin Collectors Today). This exhibition was an example of how Beatrice Schärli combined her profession with her voluntary work (which, by the way, she continued until 2013): high scholarly standards should not be detrimental to the pleasure of amateurs. Whoever was seriously interested in numismatics could rely on her support – and not only in Northwestern Switzerland. She who has always been a competent and resolute person to talk to has now fallen silent: Beatrice Schärli passed away in Zurich last week. She has made a lasting impact on Switzerland’s numismatic landscape.