by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Annika Backe
December 15, 2016 – Alarming news are reaching us from Geneva. Matteo Campagnolo, current curator of the Geneva Coin Cabinet, is planned to be sent into early retirement, against his will. Helping a young numismatist getting a job is not the underlying idea. Rather, the Geneva administration wants to save his labor costs. In Geneva, this has become a tradition. Before Matteo Campagnolo was appointed, the position of a numismatist had been vacant for years at the Musée d’art et d’histoire. Right now, a research assistant is the only person to look after the Museum’s important collection of arms and armor after their curator José Godoy – who had been responsible, among other things, for their presentation at the New York Metropolitan Museum – had been sent into retirement.
The history of the Geneva Coin Cabinet stretches back as far as the 16th century when the coin hoards that had been found during bricklaying were incorporated into the Cabinet de curiosités de la Bibliothèque de l’Académie.
At present, the Musée d’art et d’histoire houses a numismatic collection comprising some 100,000 objects, including by far the world’s most important collection of Genevan coins and medals. To Switzerland, the Geneva cabinet is of particular significance, housing the legacy of some members of the Bovy family. The Geneva-based medalists of the Boyy dynasty were involved in the creation of coin and medal emissions throughout Europe. The design of the first series of Swiss francs, for instance, harks back to Antoine Bovy.
It’s a symptom of our times that the state hinders private collectors in assembling a collection to an increasing extent. But a state that pretends to become the sole custodian of our cultural heritage should be willing to bear the cost involved. Closing down the Geneva Coin Cabinet is an irresponsible act. Cultural heritage comes with an obligation. And this obligation not just extends to large-scale paintings but also to coins and medals.
If you want to see the position of curator of numismatics at the Geneva Musée d’art et d’histoire preserved, please send Sami Kanaan, who is in charge of culture and sport in the city of Geneva, an email.