Coins and medals ranging very widely in quality have come into Basel public ownership from private hands over centuries: as an element of the Amerbach Cabinet in 1661, of the Museum Faesch in 1823, in the diverse collection of one Colonel Brüderlin in 1917, from the comprehensive Schorndorff Cabinet in 1911 and 1943; or as the fruit of the labours of collectors who concentrated an one particular theme, including antiquaries and historians such as Daniel Bruckner (1778), Johann Jakob Schmid (1857), Wilhelm Vischer (1864), Auguste Quiquerez (1880), Johann Jakob Bachofen (1921), Andreas Alföldi (1982) and Leon Der Grigorian (1989); but also from connoisseurs of coins of Basel and its region such as Hieronymus Falkeisen (1815), Louis Ewig (1894 and 1917), Friedrich August Lichtensteiger (1957) and several other specialists. Every collection was a product of the numismatic interests of the original owner and his heirs and consequently in the Coin Cabinet at present there are both individual rarities and complete series, but also noticeable gaps in the history of both coins and medals. The public coin collection used to be housed in the public library in Basel, as is still the case today in some other places. In 1849 it was transferred to the new museum in Augustinergasse as part of the Antiquarian Collection and finally to the Historical Museum founded in 1892.
The Basel Coin Cabinet comprises some 60'000 items dating from the 7th century BC to the present day. There are also a few examples of banknotes and written documents relating to the history of money. Within the coin collection proper, there are approximately 11'000 antique coins and 20'000 medieval and modern coins; coins minted in Basel, Roman and Renaissance coins and bracteates from the Alemannic-Swabian region are particularly well represented.
The topographical department consists of about 13'000 coins and numismatic objects with an identified provenance, particularly the canton of Basel-Stadt, or old finds from other parts of Switzerland and from abroad.
The medals collection numbers some 12'000 items, constituting a collection of international standing with superb examples from the Italian and German Renaissance as well as important works by later medallists.About 500 dies for coins and medals from Basel mints have been preserved. These were supplemented in 1950 by about 350 dies made by the Basel medallist Hans Frei (1868–1948). Sixty examples of the most important kinds of balances in use between the 16th and 19th century are present in the collection.
Carved stones, of which there are more than 600, about 60% antique, 40% modern, form another section of the Coin Cabinet. A few private collections of plaster or sulphur casts after famous antique and modern gems attest to the flourishing interest in glyptics in the 18th and 19th century.