Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Money Shot

Museum of Currency / Museo Casa de la Moneda
12/16/11 – Calle Doctor Esquerdo, 36

My Pericles obsession. Vatican Museum.
(Cameras allowed)
I was in the Rome last week, on my first visit to the Sistine Chapel.  Photographing Michelangelo’s masterpiece is strictly prohibited.  I feared a Japanese tourist might be drawn and quartered after she chose to disregard this edict.  Instead a guard yelled at her across the chapel, “NO!” 

I understand the reasons for no-camera rules, but what accounts for variation from museum to museum?  Some allow flash photos; others permit photos but no flash.  Some make you check the camera at the door.  Some let you carry but not use it, trusting that you won’t betray their trust.  Some museums don’t have a guard in every room, but watch you via secret camera.  A guard runs in to stop you, politely, the moment you withdraw the apparatus from your bag.  

Museum of Currency entrance (right)

50 reales
At Madrid’s free Museum of Currency, housed at the National Mint (Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre), the objects on display are too small for amateur photographs anyway. If you are over 40, bring reading glasses. The panther's head on a Greek coin became a crab when I took a second look. A notable exception: silver, coaster-size fifty reales coins from 17th c. Spain.  The museum presents the history of money in 17 roomsItems are described in Spanish only.  A huge collection of coins, medals, paper bills, machinery, and postage stamps represents every era.  Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals all struck their own metal coins on the Iberian peninsula.  During Islamic rule in Spain, coins held large amounts of text but no images. For the first time I saw actual “pieces of eight”; a United States three-dollar bill printed in 1776 in Philadelphia; a 6-shilling bill from the same year, printed in New Jersey; paper money from the French Revolution and the early years of the Russian Revolution; and a treasure chest (disappointingly empty).   

The bland euro, Spain's currency for now, can't hold a candle to the gorgeous coins of yore. 
Until 12 February 2012, the Museum of Currency has a retrospective of Madrid artist Alfredo Alcain: “ALCAIN, MIRADAS SOBRE PAPEL. Retrospectiva gráfica 1969-2011.”  His work is both witty and accessible.  A poster is available at the information desk--no money needed.   

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