Dramatic Cuts at the National Museum of Denmark

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November 1, 2018 – Each year the State of Denmark reduces the endowment to cultural and educational institutions by 2%. The purpose is to control public spending. The National Museum, which hosts the Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, is also affected by these annual cuts.

Nearly one out of ten of staff is “rationalized”

The cumulative effect over several years of this decrease in subsidies has forced the Museum to reduce its staff by some fifty positions (about 9% of the staff). Voluntary departures and non-replacements of retirements account for about 15 positions. Hence, in October of 2018, the Museum had to announce its intention of firing 34 employees. Indeed, in Denmark, civil servants can be dismissed simply based on budget restrictions or restructuring of services. At the moment, the negotiations on the conditions of staff reduction are still on-going.

Heavy cuts afflict numismatists

The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals was already affected by heavy cuts in 2011. Unfortunately, it is once again severely hit this time. Among the 34 dismissed agents is senior researcher Jens Christian Moesgaard, an outstanding expert on Viking Age and Medieval coins, who was awarded the prestigious Jeton de Vermeil by the French Numismatic Society last year. The National Museum is the only institution in the country to employ specialized personnel in this field. Senior Researcher Helle Horsnaes is now the last one working at the Collection. Line Bjerg of the Treasure Trove Office identifies many of the new finds. Moreover, the Museum has officially decided not to reopen the galleries dedicated to coins and medals, which had been closed temporarily in 2014. Thus, these measures reflect a very sharp loss of quality within the numismatic discipline in Denmark.

A Danish hobby: metal detecting

This becomes even more regrettable in the light of the immense success story of metal detecting in Denmark. This hobby is legal in Denmark, but the declaration of the finds is compulsory. Within the Danefae (Treasure Trove) provisions in the Museum Act, the finds become state property after a reward has been paid to the finder. Danefae is administered by the National Museum, who has received tens of thousands of artefacts with precise find spots recorded by GPS. The finds derive from ploughed land where any archaeological context has since long been destroyed by agricultural machinery. The finders save theese items from decay!

A threat to the documentation of Danish history

Coins make up a very large part of said finds. New hoards turn up regularly, but perhaps more important are the thousands of individual coins which are discovered. Most of them are probably accidental losses from coin circulation. This find category was relatively scarce before detectors were invented, but now it stands out, demonstrating a much more vivid coin circulation, e.g. among Vikings and Medieval peasants, than was previously assumed. Thus, Denmark possesses a documentation of the history of coin circulation unparalleled in the world. With the cuts, the basic identification work is under pressure. Moreover, this material should not remain unseen in a museum storage room! In order for it to enter the scholarly debate, this unique evidence needs to be researched and analyzed!

The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals is also one of the most renowned coin cabinets in the world, known among other things for its outstanding collection of Greek coins. Its history goes back to the King’s collection, which can be traced back to at least the mid-17th century. As early as 1788, it was constituted as a separate collection with its own staff and premises. During the 19th century and the early 20th century, great efforts were undertaken to build up a systematic collection of coins and means of payment from all places and all periods, albeit with a special focus on the national series. Recently, registration of finds and research regarding evidence of monetary, economic, social and cultural history have been the main focus.

In 2015 Ursula Kampmann went to Copenhagen where she visited the Coin Cabinet and the museums of the city.

This is the website of the National Museum.