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Stealing the Catalog along with the Coins


"Incredible as it seems to the uninitiated, there was no overall inventory of the University coins," wrote Professor George M.A. Hanfmann in an August 1974 report to Fogg director Daniel J. Robbins. In standard numismatic practice, detailed catalog information was written on the small envelopes that contained the coins. The envelopes had gone with the coins. Detailed separate records did exist for the coins belonging to the Dewing Foundation, but for only a few belonging to Harvard, Hanfmann explained, although that situation would change in future (as indeed it did).

Estimating the number of Harvard coins stolen was a frustrating job. The keeper of the Coin Room, Patricia Mottahedeh, was aided by Ursula Pause-Dreyer, who had become familiar with the collection the previous summer while organizing a Fogg exhibition for a convention of visiting numismatists, and by various Fogg staff members pitching in. The estimate was based on such records as existed, most of which lacked specificity and had not recently been checked against actual holdings. File cards suggested that a certain group of modern coins, part of the large Harvard College Library coin collection, should have been in the Coin Room, but one worker hypothesized that they had been removed many years before the theft. Hanfmann agreed that that could very well be true "although no records can be found to confirm this." The estimate was also based on the number of coins that the available drawer space, once full but now empty, could contain.

Hanfmann wrote, "What lack of time and funds made seemingly not feasible for 25 years--to make a real survey of Coin Room holdings--is now finally being done under unfavorable conditions after most of the holdings have been stolen." He praised Mottahedeh for her hard work, but seized the occasion to argue, in vain, that the Fogg needed a part-time, professional numismatist to look after the coins. Professor David Mitten sees today a shining opportunity for a full-time professor/curator of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine numismatics and thinks the absence of one is inappropriate.