The Numismatic Luther Exhibit

Special display in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
Numismatic Luther 1
Frederick J. Schumacher (right) pictured with Kenneth Woodrow Henke, curator of special collections and archivist

Lutheran pastor and Princeton Seminary alumnus Frederick J. Schumacher ’78 DMin, began what became a lifelong hobby some forty years ago when one of his sons expressed an interest in coins. A coin club met in his church in White Plains, New York, so the two of them decided to attend one of the meetings. It was there that one of the collectors, a Jewish member of the club, asked the young pastor if he knew about the upcoming auction of Luther and Reformation medals to be held in Paris. Not even knowing there was such a thing as Luther medals, the young pastor confessed his ignorance of the matter. He soon was sent a copy of the Paris catalogue, with pictures of medals dating back to the sixteenth century. “I am eternally grateful to him,” said Schumacher, “for introducing me to the fascinating study of Luther in numismatic art.”

Over the years Schumacher has accumulated a sizeable collection of Luther and Reformation-related coins and medals. He has also photographed large collections of Luther medals at Lutheran seminaries in Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis and is currently preparing a descriptive book on the subject. Not satisfied with describing and collecting the coins and medals produced by others, he set his hand to designing new Luther medals for congregations celebrating special anniversaries and for the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.

A particularly interesting project was the design of a series of commemorative medals depicting significant events leading up to Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.

A particularly interesting project was the design of a series of commemorative medals depicting significant events leading up to Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. They were produced in gold-anodized aluminum with the intention that these inexpensive medals may be given to children throughout 2011 and 2017 as a lead up to the 500th anniversary celebrations of the Reformation. Images pictured on the medals include Jan Hus, the young Luther caught in a lightning storm, Luther’s so-called “Tower Experience,” Frederick the Wise blocking the indulgence-selling monk Tetzel from Saxony, and the posting of the 95 Theses. With the issuing of each medal came suggestions for a hymn verse that could be sung by the congregation and ideas for children’s sermons.

Numismatic Luther 2

Schumacher has also enlisted the next generation in his projects. One of his recent medals is a Reformation 500th anniversary medallion issued by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. It celebrates the renewed attention to Protestant-Roman Catholic dialogue after the many centuries of estrangement, as symbolized by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. The face of the medal features both Martin Luther and Pope Francis, with olive branches below and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove from above, and the inscription “From Conflict to Communion.” The reverse of the medal contains a depiction of the Bishop’s Palace in Augsburg, Germany, where the Lutherans presented their confession of faith to Emperor Charles V in 1530, and the city where the Joint Declaration was signed. The drawings for the two sides of the medal were done by Emma Tomiko Schumacher (age 15) and John Taylor Schumacher (age 17).

In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, an exhibit of a portion of Schumacher’s coin and medal collection is on display in the Special Collections Department of the Princeton Theological Seminary Library. It is open to visitors during regular special collections hours. Photographs of the items on display have also been placed online as a digital display. Select “The Frederick J. and Joyce Schumacher Collection” on the website and it will allow you to view each of the items, both front and back. 

View Digital Display

Kenneth Woodrow Henke is the curator of special collections and archivist at the Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

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