Much ado about the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale

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by Ursula Kampmann

February 24, 2010 – Recently, throughout the numismatic world emails were sent that referred to a website spreading the news that the Cabinet des Médailles was in imminent danger of being closed. This information even made it into the political press. In its June 2010 edition the magazine Spiegel reported that the entire academic world mobilized against the announced closure which the Director General Jacqueline Sanson wants to be understood as a “renovation” and a “new presentation”.

Ceremonial courtyard of the Bibliothèque nationale

This is puzzling. What is really behind all this? A simple look at the official website of the Bibliothèque nationale can clarify things.
Anyone who has visited the Parisian Cabinet des Médailles can vouch for the fact that a renovation is long overdue. Plus, after the relocation of a part of the departments the building has many large, empty rooms that are intended to be put to good use again. A total renovation of the old Bibliothèque nationale will be carried out, therefore, that has already started in 2009. Responsible is the architectural office of Bruno Gaudin who is quite experienced in building or renovating big libraries in France.

Renovation plan of 1880

Michel Amandry, Conservateur général of the Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antique, announces that the renovation will consist of two stages of which only the second concerns the Cabinet des médailles. This second phase is likely to commence in 2013/14 and will be finished by 2017. During the renovation the coin cabinet continues to be accessible, albeit with limitations. At present, the academic staff selects from their 600.000 objects those that are most frequently asked for by researchers. While the work is going on, roughly one third of the material will be available.

Mazarine Gallery

Following Michel Amandry, the return of the coin cabinet to the old rooms shining in new splendour is secured. Admittedly, there will be limitations with the museum. It will seize to exist in its present form. Instead, it is planned to assort some highlights of the collection with the treasures of other departments of the BN in the Mazarine Gallery where much more visitors will have access through a sort of passageway. It seems safe to assume that this situation is expected to attract considerably more visitors to the museum. The Grand Staircase from the 19th century will disappear as well. In return, different galleries devoted to special exhibitions will provide extra space for presenting the material of the Coin Cabinet.
Hence, the Cabinet des Médailles is about to undergo a change – but it certainly is in no danger of being closed altogether. After all, changes are inevitable if an institution wants to survive the next century.