The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 25, June 24, 2007, Article 22


You know what they say about all work and no play.  So on Monday I
led my team on a lunchtime excursion to the London headquarters of
Sotheby's, several blocks from our office.  In the pouring rain.
Arriving dripping, I expected we'd either be turned away like street
urchins or forced to run a gauntlet of identification checks.  Instead,
we were welcomed in and directed to our destination: lot viewing for
Tuesday night's sale of Impressionist and Modern Masters.

I guess I don't know what I expected, but soon we were in a beautiful
upstairs gallery lined with, well, Impressionist and Modern Master
paintings by Degas, Matisse, Modigliani, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Sisley,
and others.  My thinking was that, where and when would we ever get a
chance to view most of these paintings again?  While some might find
their way to museums, most could end up back in private collections or
held by some faceless hedge fund.

One of my favorites was an 1899 portrait of Madame Poupoule by Henri
Toulouse-Latrec (lot 10).  Estimate?  2,000,000 – 3,000,000 GBP ($4-6
million).  Call me jaded, or just someone who's seen too many of his
Water Lilies paintings, but I wasn't impressed by the highlight of the
sale, a 1904 Monet (lot 7) estimated at 16,500,000 GBP ($33 million).
The Monet brought $37 million but the Toulouse-Latrec was apparently
unsold.  Maybe I should have bid (yeah, right...)

Sotheby's 19 June London Sale Lot 10 (registration required)
Full Story

Sotheby's 19 June London Sale Lot 7 (registration required)
Full Story

Lunchtime Tuesday was reserved for another visit to Baldwin's and a
lovely lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant with Caroline Holmes.
Caroline was born in Australia and worked at Spink for a time before
coming to Baldwin's.  She faces the daunting task of cataloging and
organizing the firm's numismatic library in addition to selling their
stock of numismatic literature.

We had a nice chat on a number of topics including the rare coin
business, and the aging membership of many clubs.  This led to a
discussion of the great things organizations in the U.S. are doing
to attract and encourage young numismatists.  I explained the various
events I've helped arrange with the Pennsylvania Association of
Numismatists (PAN), where we've had hundreds of young collectors attend.
We agreed to promote the topic in the U.K. with coin fair organizers
and publishers.  I am pleased to see that Spink is planning "Young
Coin Collector Open Days" 16th-18th July 2007 - the event was 
advertised with a flyer at the London Coin Fair.

Following lunch we took a different route back to the Baldwin office
through Victoria Embankment Park.  This is the lovely secluded park I'd
stumbled on a few weeks earlier before I visited the Benjamin Franklin
house, also in Covent Garden. We passed the 1626 Water Gate marking
the former bank of the Thames, before it had been filled in to create
the Embankment in the 19th century.

Back at Baldwin's we took a quick look at their numismatic library,
shelved floor to ceiling in a downstairs room.  The shelving obscured
the interesting vaulted ceiling of the room which was once the restaurant
and dance floor of the Australian Visitor's Club (quite appropriate
considering where Caroline is from!)  Topics covered the whole range
of world numismatics from ancient to modern times.  I saw full runs of
all the key references one would expect, including a set of the ANS
Numismatic Notes & Monographs.  A couple of shelves were filled with
rare bound and plated catalogues, and other catalogs were stored in
multiple boxes and shelves.   There were a few shelves of books on
U.S. numismatics, including an original Crosby's Early Coins of America.

They have a lot of work in front of them to organize and reshelve the
material, but it's a marvelous working library.  Caroline and Edward
Baldwin hope to write an illustrated article for a future issue of The
Asylum about the past, present and future of the Baldwin's numismatic

Wednesday's lunchtime excursion was to Cecil Court, a quaint little
pedestrian street off Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square.
Filled with tiny book and antique shops, it's a browser's dream.  I
enjoyed looking through stocks of engravings in a few different shops.
I didn't come across anything numismatic, but was on the lookout for
old coin sale broadsides or plates from numismatic books.  In one
tiny basement shop I purchased a holed 1830 U.S Dime as a souvenir.

My primary objective though, we to visit the upstairs street-level shop
of bank note specialists Colin Narbeth & Son.  I talked with Simon Narbeth,
who was very friendly and quick to share information.  At first I asked
for London merchant paper scrip, which I hadn't recalled ever seeing.
Having recently purchased an 1820s token, I was curious to learn if
there were scrip notes as well.  Simon's response was very helpful.
Basically, there were no London merchant scrip notes of the period
because they had been outlawed in the city.  Plenty of tokens, but no
notes.  He said the closest thing to what I asked for were London
goldsmith notes, and he pulled an album off the shelf behind him
containing several examples.

Turning the pages I soon encountered an original Cruikshank 'hanging
note'.  George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was one of the finest illustrators
of his time. For example, he drew the illustrations for the 1838 first
edition of Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist'. Cruikshank produced this
satirical 'Bank Restriction Note' in 1819 to protest Britain's harsh
punishments for counterfeiting, after he saw a woman hanged for passing
a forged note.

When I showed an interest in the note, Simon pulled out a book, an 1878
'Memoir of George Cruikshank Artist and Humourist with Numerous
Illustrations and a £1 Bank Note' by Walter Hamilton.  The 64-page
softbound pamphlet included a copy of the famous 1819 note, which is
sometimes sold as an original by unknowledgeable or unscrupulous

One book prominently displayed in the shop is the new work "Silent
Witness — World War II Civilian Camp Money" by Ray and Steve Feller.
This was the first chance I'd had to see a copy, and it's a beautifully
done book.  Printing the illustrations in color was a wise decision.

Another book I spotted was "Krueger's Men: The Secret Nazi Counterfeit
Plot and the Prisoners of Block 19" by Lawrence Malkin.  The 2006 book
details the history of Operation Bernhard, the Nazi WWII counterfeiting
scheme.  Simon provided illustrations of the Operation Bernhard notes
pictured in the book.  Pulling out another album, Simon showed me several
of the notes, pointing out the various denominations, signatures and
branches.  Seeking to avoid calling attention to the distribution of
large numbers on one particular issue, the Nazis counterfeited multiple
types of notes in circulation in Britain at the time.  He also taught
me how to tell the difference between a genuine and counterfeit.  I
ended up purchasing the Cruikshank book and one of the Operation Bernhard
notes, which I'd known about for many years but had never before

The shop that day was packed with customers, including one woman looking
for paper money picturing ships.  I stopped by the next day (Thursday)
and asked to have another look at the Cruikshank note.  It turned out
that the ship lady had bought it because it contained a small ship
vignette; she's an artist and collects the images for inspiration in
her work.

Flipping through Narbeth's stock again I saw a note denominated in
"hours".  It was used to pay workers at 1830s co-operative society
organized by Robert Owen, the "father of English Socialism".  Alterative
currencies have always been an interest of mine, and I bought one of the
notes.  That's all for this week. Cheerio from London!

Colin Narbeth & Son web site:

To view images of Cecil Court and the Narbeth shop, see:
Cecil Court and the Narbeth shop

For more on Robert Owen's Co-operative moevement
Full Story




  Wayne Homren, Editor

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