Coin Collection at Davis & Elkins Tells Story of Roman Empire

Date Posted: 

Friday, January 9, 2015

ELKINS - A set of Trajan coins at Davis & Elkins College provides a glimpse into the society of the Roman Empire between 98 and 117 CE. Donated by Board of Trustee member and alumnus Bill Sudbrink, ’59, the display is a recent acquisition by The Stirrup Gallery in Myles Center for the Arts.

“I am extremely pleased that Mr. Sudbrink has given us the honor of displaying coins he has collected throughout his life,” says Coordinator of Special Collections Mark Lanham. “This is going to be one of the crown jewels of the museum.”

The gold, silver, bronze and copper pieces in the Howard-Sudbrink Collection circulated as currency for many years during and after Trajan’s reign. Sudbrink has also included a list, retrieved from a restaurant wall in Pompeii, Italy, during an archaeological dig. The list shows the cost of various commodities in 79 CE, when the Pompeii area was mostly destroyed and or buried under 13 feet to 20 feet of ash and pumice by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Each coin is unique in several aspects.

“The coins not only helped facilitate commerce, but they were also propaganda,” Sudbrink says.

Most notably to those interested in the study or collection of coins is the design on the reverse of the currency and what it symbolizes.

“The subject matter frequently emphasized what was going on in the Roman Empire in conjunction with the Emperor’s and Senate’s interest, such as justice for all, military victories, civic accomplishments, gladiator games, etc.,” Sudbrink explains.

Once the Senate and the Emperor would agree on design elements, production would commence.

During the times of the ancient Roman Empire, slaves with the use of two dies and a hammer, minted coins. Consequently, not every image was aligned straightly. Additionally, since there is no letter J in the Roman alphabet, the spelling of the emperor’s name varies from “Traian” to “Traiano.”

The rarity and degree of preservation of the coin determines the collector value of the pieces. Although not a hard-and-fast rule, usually the degree of preservation wins out unless the piece is extremely rare.

A collector since boyhood when he was intrigued by Indian Head pennies, Sudbrink has focused for several decades primarily on Trajan coins. He plans to donate his entire Trajan collection to the College in the future. He hopes the collection will become a scholarly research tool for future generations, and enhance the position of Davis & Elkins College worldwide.

“The College is fortunate for Bill Sudbrink's commitment as a trustee and alumnus, and for the special gifts we have received for The Stirrup Gallery this academic year,” says D&E Vice President for Development Carol Schuler. “The Collection continues to grow in significance and interest thanks to the generosity of those who are supporting this community resource.”

Dedicated in March 2013, The Stirrup Gallery in Myles Center for the Arts is home to The Darby Collection consisting of nearly 10,000 North American treasures representing everyday items used by mankind from the Stone Age through the early 20th century. The Gallery also houses the Lincoln Collection, Eleanor Gay Collection, Foster Collection, Senator Davis Collection, Swezy Collection, Gary North Collection and J. Richard & Dotty S. Kendig Collection. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and evenings and weekends by appointment. For additional information, call Mark Lanham, Coordinator of Special Collections, at 304-637-1980 or 304-642-6705 or email

Related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Davis & Elkins College is located in Elkins, 2 hours east of Charleston, 3 hours south of Pittsburgh and 4 hours west of Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit the College website at or call 304-637-1243.