Proof copy of the catalogue of the Pembroke collection of coins

Item author: Nicola Haym
Item date: 1725-35?
Grant Value: £5,000
Item cost: £7,500
Item date acquired: 2016
Item institution: British Museum
Town/City: London
London borough: LB Camden

One of the most important art collections in Britain of the 17th century was that of Thomas Howard, 8th Earl of Pembroke (1656-1733) (of Pope’s ‘statues, dirty gods, and coins’ fame). He had a particularly strong collection of coins, and his is the best documented of any early British coin collection. In 1746 Numismata Pembrochiana was published, consisting solely of over 300 plates. It is attributed to Nicola Haym, author of Il Tesoro Britannico (1719-20), an account of the previously unknown ancient coins in English collections, including that of Pembroke. Haym, who is probably better known as the librettist of several of Handel’s operas, was planning to publish a more substantial book on numismatics, but was prevented from doing so by his death in 1729. The Pembroke collection was later offered to the British Museum, but declined on grounds of cost. It was subsequently broken up at a Sotheby’s sale in 1848, and although a certain quantity of material was then acquired by the Museum, the loss of ‘the choicest lots’ to ‘foreigners’ was the cause of its being fiercely criticized.

The 1746 book was published many years after the death of Haym, but something is known of an earlier history of the volume from the correspondence of William Stukeley. He records on 2 December 1732 spending ‘Tuesday night with old Carvilius [Pembroke]’, who ‘showed me all his medalls engraved in 5 large vols qto upon 300 plates, a most surprising sight for number and value’. Stukeley relates how they ‘were all drawn by Signor Haym’s own hand’, and how after Haym’s death some of the plates were lost and others destroyed by his widow. A very few ‘proofs’ of the early version have been discovered, all in private hands until now. Two have a single additional title page signed by Haym, but two others contain extensive additional written material, mostly written on the printing plates, but some added by hand. Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the National Libraries, one of these has now been acquired by the British Museum.


The additional material gives much new information about the origins of many of Pembroke’s coins, and throws new light on Haym’s own numismatic work. It thus provides valuable evidence concerning the early development of coin collecting and scholarship in Britain as well as the specific printing history of what eventually became the 1746 book – a history that will almost certainly involve more vicissitudes once the copies are analysed in detail. This volume also contains several pages of manuscript material, including an autograph paragraph by the 9th Earl. It is an important addition to the Museum’s world-class collection of antiquarian numismatic books.