Born in 1970 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dr. Stephan Coffman developed an enduring passion for exploration nurtured during his childhood by a travel-loving family. His father, a professor of entomology at the University of Pittsburgh, was a specialist of aquatic insects, dedicating his career to uncovering new species and classifying these remarkable animals. This love for organizing things extended to his private life as well, as Dr. Coffman’s father had a keen interest in coin and stamp collecting, which would, in turn, introduce the young Stephan to the identification and classification of something other than insects. After accompanying his father on a work trip to India in 1978, Stephan‘s fascination with the country led him to collect Indian stamps.
These early collecting pursuits were halted for a long time, however, when Dr. Coffman turned his attention to mastering the classical violin, before ultimately deciding to pursue a medical career. He specialized in General Surgery and has been practicing since 2001, eventually settling down in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Chelsea, and their two teenage sons, the youngest of whom is adopted from Ethiopia, a country which would come to play a large role in Dr. Coffman’s life. The family has taken many international trips together, passing on the Coffman passion for travel to the next generation. Dr. Coffman’s biography would not be complete if we did not mention his remarkable volunteer trips to Haiti, Bolivia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, where he performed countless surgeries on people in need. His stays in Ethiopia in particular impressed him deeply, as he came face to face with the archaeological remains of the Axumite Empire. In studying the history of Axum, he discovered its rich numismatic history, and soon his erstwhile passion for collecting was rekindled.
His collecting journey started with the acquisition of a copy of Munro-Hay’s Aksumite Coinage (1995) and the Catalogue of the Aksumite Coins in the British Museum (1999), before delving into auctions and acquiring his first coins. Hahn & West’s Sylloge of Aksumite Coins in the Ashmolean Museum (2016) provided the next impetus for his passion, and Dr. Coffman now set for himself the task of filling in all the gaps in his collection. In this he has succeeded remarkably well. The sale of some fine collections over the past few years have allowed Dr. Coffman to build the most extensive collection of Axumite coins in private hands ever formed, consisting of over 1300 pieces in total, which is sold by Leu Numismatic in October and December 2023.
The scientific importance of the Coffman Collection can hardly be overstated, as is evidenced by the fact that the great majority of his coins are cited in Hahn & Keck’s latest catalogue of Axumite coins, Münzgeschichte der Axumiten-Könige in der Spätantike (2020), with many appearing as plate coins due to their outstanding condition.
This article was first published in an auction catalog of the auction house Leu Numismatik.