New light on old coins, medals and badges

Several of my colleagues have been working with the University of Brighton’s Cultural Informatics Group to create an experimental website that sheds new light on some of the coins, medals and badges in our collection.

Cap badge of 19th Prince of Wales' Own Hussars
Cap badge of 19th Prince of Wales’ Own Hussars

Collectively known as our numismatics collection, these objects are rarely displayed. Even when they are displayed, small items like these are hard to see behind a glass case, and it’s usually only possible to see one side of the object.

The aim of the Coins, Medals and Badges website is to allow users to zoom in on these items, and see both sides. But it also enhances the experience with an unusual application of 3D digital technology.

Why 3D?

Coins, medals and badges may seem like an odd choice to display as 3D objects, as most of us would think of them as being more or less flat. Yet if you examine something like a new pound coin in your hand, you’ll see there is a detailed relief that can only be seen by holding it in the correct position for the light. Much the same exercise is required for examing a coin that was minted thousands of years ago, and the same applies to many medals and badges.

Ancient Greek coin depicting the head of the goddess Hera, c360BC
Ancient Greek coin depicting the head of the goddess Hera, c360BC

The Coins, Medals and Badges website simulates this process by using a technique known as Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). You can read a more detailed description of RTI here,  but a basic explanation is that each object is photographed multiple times with a different light source used in each image. A viewer is then used to rapidly swap between these images as the mouse (or finger on a touchscreen) is moved over the digitised object so that new features and details are revealed or covered by shadow.

The video clip below shows the website in action.

Thanks

Our enormous thanks is owed to the University of Brighton’s Cultural Informatics Group, particularly Dean Few, a PhD student who designed and built the website; Myrsini Samaroudi, a PhD student who worked with Dean to train Royal Pavilion & Museums staff and volunteers to digitise the objects using RTI; and Research Fellow Dr Karina Rodriguez-Echavarria.

Royal Pavilion & Museums work on this project was led by curator Andy Maxted, with the digitisation and web content produced by two volunteers: Aisling Byrne, and Rana Bellem-Hussein.

Details of the software used can be found on the credits page of the Coins, Medals and Badges website.

Please note that as this is an experimental website using some new technology, there may be compatibility issues with some web browsers, particularly Internet Explorer. We recommend using Firefox or Chrome.

Although the website has worked well on the PCs and tablets we have tested it on, you may find some layout issues if using the website on a mobile phone.

 

Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager