by Björn Schöpe
translated by Annika Backe
May 25, 2017 – Do you know Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘The Flâneur of Paris’? At the beginning of the 20th century, artists still took the time to wander through their urban environment without any particular aim, to be inspired by their surroundings, to gather impressions. And sometimes they immortalized this strolling in a literal form, as Apollinaire did. I felt reminded of this when I read the curious book ‘Elogio della numismatica’ by Damiano Cappellari.
Damiano Cappellari, Elogio della numismatica. Elogium Nummophiliae. Edizioni AlboVersorio, Milan 2015. 200 pages, color illustrations throughout. Paperback, 18.8 x 21 cm. ISBN: 978-88-99029-11-1. 20 euros.
Right at the start, I noticed two things. Firstly, the table of contents doesn’t reveal any content structure. And secondly, the book is written in an Italian language that is often poetic, sometimes self-mocking, and always sounds like a slightly out of date scholarly high-level language, recalling the great masters of the past.
In his second book, the young Italian explains why he wants to distinguish between ‘numismatics’ and ‘nummophilia’: While numismatics can also be pursued as pure science without any emotions, with nummophilia he rather emphasizes the enthusiasm for coins that opens up whole new worlds for the relevant followers. By that the author of course polemizes. Yet you don’t hold this against him for there is one element that runs through his book like a recurring theme, so undividedly excited and exciting: the love for coins.
Repeatedly, central questions arise: What do you expect from nummophilia and what does it say about the nummophiles – what is the essential nature of this passion? Is it “a game through which you hope to find a piece of your own?” an “appetite of the eyes”, or even “a lake of mercury, in which we swim naked and row with the lungs of our mind”?
The quotations make it clear – this is not a numismatic book, which can be classified according to any common pattern. It thrives on its enchanting language and can be described more appropriately on the basis of what it does not do: This Elogium is not an introduction to numismatics, no analysis of a historical subject-matter, not a manual or a catalog. It’s nothing less than a declaration of love. And similarly to the love between people, within the front cover and the back, this booklet evidences that the love for coins also has no meaning (and doesn’t have to have), it simply is.
The text is filled with quotations from the, mainly Italian-language, literature from the Renaissance to the beginning of the 20th century. When Cappellari uses such specialized books to study the coins of Titus, we don’t gain any new historical knowledge. (Rather, you have to be careful not to fall behind the current academic knowledge.) But we read what approach you may have to these minted objects – may, not must.
In the subtitle Cappellari has called his book ‘Elogium Nummophiliae’. As a matter of fact, he less focuses on the coins themselves but on the love for coins. The love, which is different from the money investment in that to the nummophile the purchase is the easiest part of the hobby. The tough phase of taking possession of the coins intellectually comes afterwards, because coins want to be understood and infused. From start to finish, the book expresses the author’s radically subjective approach. Perhaps of no great scientific value, his approach nevertheless is a rousing declaration of love to his hobby. A question at the end perhaps illustrates this best, a question more than one ‘nummomaniac’ (which is another term newly created by Cappellari) may ask himself: “Why do I realize only now that I view my coins with the same wonder and the same emotion as I look at my sleeping wife in the evening after a working day?”