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Perry Collection

Commodore Perry's Collection

During his lifetime, Commodore Perry amassed more than one thousand coins. Over half of his collection, almost 600 coins, were world coins dating from the medieval period to the nineteenth-century. He collected examples from all over Europe and South America, from Russia, the Caribbean, from India and the Far East, and from the Ottoman Empire. In addition, Perry obtained almost a hundred American coins, which made up just under ten percent of the collection. His American coins were also immensely varied, ranging from copper cents to silver dollars, and covered the period from 1652 to his own day.

The label from the wooden box in which Perry kept his coin collection, in his own handwriting
(The label from the wooden box in which Perry kept his coin collection, in his own handwriting.)

Around a third of Perry's collection, over three hundred coins, were Ancient Greek or Roman, dating from the 5th century BC to the fifth century AD. His collection of Roman coins was especially comprehensive, covering almost the entire Roman period. He obtained a specimen of the coinage of over forty-two different Roman emperors, from Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD) to Theodosius II (408-50 AD). He also obtained over fifty coins from the Byzantine Empire, which dated from the late fifth to the early ninth century. Perry drilled holes through many of his coins, especially his Greek, Roman and Byzantine specimens, and attached identifying hand-written labels to them, many of which still survive as a tangible link to the man himself, his numismatic knowledge and his collecting practice.

Obverse of bronze as of the Emperor Claudius (41-54), with Perry's label attached

(Above, obverse of a bronze as of the Emperor Claudius (41-54) from the mint of Rome: Perry's label identifies the ruler from the bust and inscription, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG, Titus Claudius Cæsar Augustus; below, Lyman Low's envelope for the coin.)

Obverse of bronze follis of Emperor Licinius II, Cyzicus mint

(Above, obverse of a bronze follis of Emperor Licinius II, Cæsar 317-24, from the Cyzicus mint, with Perry's label attached, identifying the battle-ready emperor from the inscription DN VAL LICIN LICINIVS NOB C, Lord Valerius Licinianus Licinius, Noble Cæsar; below, Lyman Low's envelope for the coin.)

Lyman Low's envelope for Perry's as of Claudius I Lyman Low's envelope for Perry's follis of Licinius II

After his death in 1858, Perry's coin collection passed to his daughter, Caroline Perry Belmont. The Belmont family had the Perry Collection valued in 1898 by the New York coin dealer Lyman H. Low. Low identified the coins and put each in a hand-written, numbered and colour-coded envelope, most of which have also survived, providing further evidence of the history of the collection. Perry's coins remained in the Belmont family until they were sold in 1994, and put up for auction in 1995 with the American auction company Bowers and Merena.

Collection label from the Bowers & Merena auction house for the Perry Collection
(Collection label from the Bowers & Merena auction house for the Perry Collection.)

Perry's collection of 1035 coins was divided and sold in 187 lots, which also included the box he had kept them in. Sixteen lots, which totalled 580 coins or just over half of the collection, were acquired by a private collector and generously placed on deposit at the Fitzwilliam Museum. This has enabled us to examine this portion of the collection, which includes the majority of Perry's ancient coins and a good proportion of his medieval and modern world coins, in more detail.

The boxes and envelopes of the Perry Collection
(The boxes and envelopes of the Perry Collection now. Photograph by Jonathan Jarrett.)

The links below will take you to pages where you can find out more about those of Perry's coins which are currently at the Fitzwilliam.

Highlights from the Perry Collection

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Perry Collection Database

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