RNS Medallist: Bernd Kluge 2015

This is part of an on-going series of summer posts about recent recipients of the RNS Medal.

In awarding the medal at the Ordinary Meeting of the Society on 15 December 2015, the President, Andrew Burnett, said:

Bernd Kluge, image used from Wikipedia.

Today it is my great pleasure to present the RNS medal to Professor Dr Bernd Kluge, for many years the Keeper of the Berlin State Coin Cabinet and himself an outstanding scholar of medieval numismatics.

Kluge’s career began with the arrival of the young Bernd as the newest member of the Berlin Coin Cabinet in 1972, the institution to which he was to devote no less than 42 years until his retirement in September of last year. In 1988 he became its deputy director, and then its Director a few years later, a position he held until his retirement.

The mere dates obscure the momentous history of Germany and Berlin during those long, difficult, years. In those days, as now, the Berlin coin cabinet was located on the Tiber Island, but then it was only a stone’s throw from the Berlin Wall and in easy sight of the Vopos, the border guards at Friedrichstrasse who would happily have opened fire and often did so, as you all know. The cabinet was an isolated institution acquiring virtually nothing and doing its best just to keep open and re-build its library (never returned by the Russians). So academic links had a political value to all of us in the numismatic community, far beyond their intellectual significance. I remember visiting for some weeks in the early 80s, when the warmth of the greeting from colleagues at the Cabinet stood in sharp contrast to the interview in a metal box that I had endured the day before, on my arrival at the airport; in those days even the letters my little children sent me were opened by the censor and their little pictures carefully examined and stamped. And I was only visiting. The experience of living there the whole time was something else.

The Wall came down and things got better, but in the euphoria of unification and its aftermath, it was Bernd Kluge’s job to re-establish the Berlin collection as a major international cabinet. This job had its physical and intellectual aspects. After decades of neglect, the museums were falling to pieces and a massive building programme between 1998 and 2006 saw the rebuilding of the coin cabinet. But the world had changed: the financial and collecting climate remained difficult, the internet had been invented and there was increasing need for sponsorship.

Once the rebuilding was completed, the cabinet began to construct a web site which now has tens of thousands of objects on line. There is a now permanent exhibition occupying several rooms on the top floor of the museum. All of this has been achieved with limited resources, a total staff of only 4 curators for one of the world’s greatest collections, and a total less than 10 persons in all.

Professor Kluge had already begun the publication of a new journal Berliner Numismatischer Forschungen in 1987 and this turned into major series of monographs which has now reached no. 11. This is now complemented by an additional series Das Kabinett devoted to publishing the Museum’s material. Colloquia were organised and the Cabinet made its first major acquisition since the 1930s, with the Friedrich Stefan collection. The decision to hold the International Numismatic Congress in Berlin in 1997, an event in which I was privileged to participate, was a wonderful recognition of what had changed and what was being achieved: but it was of course more work (not least the editing of the 1488pp of the Proceedings)!

Given all these pre-occupations, Bernd Kluge’s own publication record is remarkable. By our reckoning there are over 200. Don’t worry I won’t read them all out! But let me mention some of the major books:

SCBI 39 State Museum Berlin, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo Norman and Hiberno-Norse Coins (Oxford, 1987).

Deutsche Münzgeschichte von der späten Karolingerzeit bis zum Ende der Salier (ca. 900 bis 1125) (Sigmaringen, 1991).

Numismatik des Mittelalters. Band 1: Handbuch und Thesaurus Nummorum Medii Aevi, (Vienna, 2007).  ‘It is well constructed and clear, and it displays wide learning and sound judgment. Altogether a miracle of compression’ (Michael Metcalf, NC 2008, p. 489)

Am Beginn des Mittelalters. Die Münzen des karolingischen Reiches 751–814. Pippin, Karlmann, Karl der Große (Das Kabinett 15), (Berlin, 2014). ‘A full discussion by Bernd Kluge of all the coins of Pippin and Charlemagne in the Berlin collection, probably the best in the world, with full colour illustrations and discussion of types, mints, etc. Fantastic!’ (Simon Coupland).

For achievements such as these Bernd Kluge was appointed an Honorary Professor of Medieval Numismatics at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and a few years ago he was awarded the Archer M. Huntington Medal of the American Numismatic Society.  It is only right that we, the Royal Numismatic Society, should now honour him for all that he has done for our subject, and I so I am happy now to present the medal for 2015 to him.

In accepting the medal, Bernd Kluge said:

When Andrew Burnett so kindly wrote to me in the early part of this year that I was to be presented with the medal of the Royal Numismatic Society, I was quite surprised. I value traditions highly and consider today’s distinction by the oldest – and perhaps most famous -Numismatic Association in the world to be a great honor. I am myself a member of the Numismatic Society of Berlin which, while founded in 1848 and thus 12 years later than the RNS, is nonetheless the third oldest in Europe and the oldest in Germany. Thus if you think that I am not undeserving of this award, I can assure you that, in me, you have found an honoree who regards the RNS and its traditions very highly. Each time I stand in the library of the Coin Cabinet before the long row of the Numismatic Chronicle volumes and leaf through these impressive volumes (which also look quite impressive just from the outside), I am filled with veneration for this truly unique journal and the society which supports it. As of today, I am bound to it even more strongly, and for this I offer my heartfelt thanks.

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