The Princeton University Library Numismatic Collection has acquired
the Benjamin R. Bell Collection of Ducats, by bequest from the late
Benjamin R. Bell. Bell, who worked as a coin dealer and died at a
young age earlier this year, was a collector and scholar of the
medieval ducats of Venice and their manifold imitations.
Bell chose to leave his collection to Princeton because of the
presence in their numismatics collection of a substantial number of
related coins, which have already served as the basis of research by
students and faculty.
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The Bell Collection of 190 gold coins issued as currency is
particularly rich in the ducats attributed to Italian, Greek, and
Turkish minters and later examples struck on the Indian sub-continent.
It also includes many examples of significantly lower weight and
fineness than Venetian ducats, which Bell argued were minted
to fit into the Byzantine monetary system.
According to Alan Stahl, Princeton’s curator of numismatics
and a specialist in the coinage of Venice, the Venetian ducat
established itself in the course of the 14th century as the dominant
coin of Mediterranean trade, eclipsing in importance Islamic and
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Some Mediterranean mints identified their rulers on ducat issues
copied after those of Venice, but others retained the name of Venetian
doges, with only subtle changes in style and inscriptions that allow
modern scholars to distinguish them from authentic issues.
“It is through the careful comparison of the dies and punches used
to produce surviving specimens that attributions can be made to the
actual issuers,” Stahl said in a statement from the university. “The
research potential of the Bell collection is greatly enhanced by
accompanying information on the provenance of individual pieces. ...”
The large collection of imitation ducats acquired by Princeton as
part of the Latin Orient Collection in 2007, with the support of the
Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund, has already served as the basis of
the research of Sarah Kampbell, who received her doctorate in history
“With the Bell Collection added to its existing holdings, Princeton
University now has by far the largest public collection of the series,
which is increasingly understood to have played an important role in
the commerce of the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East in the
medieval and early modern periods,” the announcement said.