Museum to put pounds 100m on show

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The Independent Online
MARIANNE MACDONALD

Arts Reporter

The British Museum is to create a permanent exhibition on the history of money in an attempt to exploit its unrivalled and underused collection of coins and banknotes worth more than pounds 100m.

The exhibition, the first of its kind in one of the world's great museums, is due to open to the British Museum's six million visitors a year in January 1997. The announcement follows three years' discussion with the financial and banking group HSBC Holdings - whose members include Midland Bank - which has agreed to donate more than pounds 2m to fund the project. The move follows the success of temporary exhibitions on the subject in 1986 and 1987.

The HSBC Money Gallery will trace the development of money from the earliest records of payments - found in the tablets of ancient Mesopotamia - to contemporary methods of electronic transfer.

But the museum yesterday emphasised it would go beyond narrow displays of coins and banknotes to delve into the history and techniques of forgery, the artistry of money design, inflation, piracy, banking and tax. The London exhibition will allow the museum to display its treasures properly for the first time, although they have always been accessible by request if not on display. The collection includes coins worth more than pounds 1m each, with examples of the exquisitely executed silver owl coins of fifth- century BC Athens and banknotes made by the Chinese after their invention during the 11th century, and the first type of coin made in the seventh century BC by the Zhou kings of northern China in the shape of weeding hoes.

The Money Gallery is to be given a prime position at the top of the main flight of stairs leading to the entrance hall, replacing a "rather old- fashioned" permanent exhibition of terracottas, said Dr Andrew Burnett, Keeper of the Department of Coins and Medals.

His department's holdings number just under one million objects and date from the museum's foundation in 1753.

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