The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 28, July 15, 2007, Article 16


Monday morning brought this nice note from Jim Duncan of New Zealand.
He writes: "Your letters from London are excellent.  Just like "Letter
from America" by broadcaster Alistair Cooke!   Keep up the fantastic
work - numismatic and otherwise."

I've gotten a number of great compliments on my London diaries.
Thanks to all for their interest and support.  I'll do my best to
keep them coming. I actually didn't think I'd get much numismatic
activity in this week, but on Tuesday I was able to sneak away at
lunchtime and set off toward Spink.

Founded in 1666 by John Spink as a goldsmith and pawnbroker shop,
it narrowly escaped destruction when the Great Fire of London swept
through the City.  By 1770 Spink and Sons had developed a jewellery
and coin dealing business.  In the 1880s Spink purchased the Soho
Mint in central London and started to design and produce medals.
The company now holds three royal warrants for medal services to
Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales.
These are the three crown logos that adorn the company's business
cards and letterhead.

In 2000 Spink moved to a renovated four story building at 69 Southampton
Row  in Bloomsbury.  I'd heard from several of my London contacts that
Spink had invested a great deal in their facility, and this was easily
confirmed by simply stepping through the front door.  The lobby alone
was spacious, far larger than any mere coin shop.  More typical in the
high-priced real estate market of London was the tiny shop of Colin
Narbeth and Sons, a single small room shared with another dealer.  A
dozen Narbeth shops would fit in the Spink lobby alone.

Off to the left was a large display of numismatic literature for sale,
both new titles and used and antiquarian works, case after case, floor
to ceiling.  A freestanding case exhibited an antiquarian numismatic
work. Beyond was a wide showroom, dim, but with spot lighting
highlighting exhibits and counter space.  On the left wall were
glass exhibit cases displaying numismatic items of all kinds, including
coins, medals and paper money.  There was a nice set of Palestinian
Mandate banknotes I'd never seen before.  Here too, in the center of
the room was a freestanding exhibit case with more numismatic items.
On the right was a counter with chairs.  A salesman talked with a
client.  They seemed lost in the huge room.

I walked back toward the front door and stepped up to the reception
desk.  My mission was to visit Philip Skingley, head of Spink's
Publications Department.  We'd met briefly at the meeting of the
British Numismatic Society on 22 May.  I'd been wanting to visit for
some time.  Due to the rescheduling of a planned meeting I had some
time over lunch.  This visit was completely unplanned and I hoped
to surprise him.  Surprise! - he wasn't in.

The receptionist informed me that Philip was at the warehouse,
where all their modern publications are stored and shipped.  But
she called up Philip's assistant Catherine Gathercole and handed
the phone to me.  I introduced myself and apologized for the
unscheduled visit.  She was quite helpful and offered to come speak
with me.  Within minutes we met and she was showing me around the
book department.

First we reviewed the works for sale on the lobby shelves.  I pointed
out a copy of the 2004 Anniversary issue of The Asylum, noting that I
edited the electronic companion, The E-Sylum.  Next she showed me an
upstairs room lined with more shelves of books.   Time was getting
short, and I didn't want to overstay my welcome.  I accepted her gift
- a copy of the 2006 edition of Coins of England.  I'd mentioned that
I was interested in getting a copy to learn more about the modern
coins I was seeing in circulation, and perhaps learn how to recognize
genuine examples from the counterfeits.  I thanked her again and
made plans to read it on my flight home Thursday.

Before leaving Spink I took the lift to the basement auction room
where a sale of musical instruments was going on.  Another auction
firm uses the Spink space when available.   Some fifty bidders of
several nationalities crowded the room.  On tables beyond a number
of violins and other stringed instruments were displayed.  The
auctioneer called the lots from the front of the room, and along
a side wall were arrayed several assistants representing phone
and internet bidders.  Three Japanese men huddled over a catalog,
consulting on bids.

Feeling like an interloper, I stayed only a few minutes and was
soon on the street heading back to the office.  I amused myself
by reading the names of businesses along the way.  I chuckled at
the sign of "Moon, Beever, Solicitors".   I picked up a boxed
salad at a street vendor, and rushed back to the office.  Enough
numismatic fun for now - tomorrow's another day.

When Wednesday dawned I faced little but the prospect of work.
I donned my suit for a planned afternoon meeting.  But as luck
would have it I wouldn't need to attend, allowing for a bit of slack
in my schedule.   Having completed a good number of tasks before noon,
I made a phone call.  Dialing the number of Dix Noonan Webb, I asked
for Peter Preston-Morley.

I'd never met him, but a couple years earlier I'd recommended to Mary
Ann Spence, widow of my late friend Dr. David Spence, that she contact
Peter and other dealers about the sale of David's Conder token collection.
David and I were members of Sphinx, a Pittsburgh-area coin club founded
in 1960 by Ray Byrne.  Mary Ann talked with a number of dealers, and
eventually settled on Dix Noonan Webb.  They sold David's collection
in two sales.

Peter was busy at lunchtime, but offered to see me around 2pm.  I brought
in lunch and finished a few more tasks.  About 1:45 I set out on foot.
Soon I was passing through Piccadilly Circus, then past the Ritz Hotel.
Along the way a Middle Eastern woman motioned to me and pointed to the
baby she was pushing in a pram.  She didn't seem to speak English (or
wanted me to think that).  She gestured again and held out a hand filled
with coins. She was begging for change.  I didn't quite know what to do;
if it was a scam she'd found a despicable prop.  I felt a bit guilty but
moved on.  But my journey got stranger yet.  Just past Bond Street, a
tall young man in a suit looked toward me, opened his arms and said,
"Sir, Let's become friends!".  I thought, "You're in Mayfair pal, Soho's
the other way," thinking of the neighborhood close to our office known
for its gay bars and entertainment. I wish I'd said it, but by then I'd
motored far past him and was still quickening the pace.  I arrived at
DNW just about 2pm.

The Dix Noonan Webb office is in a row of classic London homes on
Bolton Street off Green Park, which leads to Buckingham Palace.  After
ringing the bell the door unlocked and I stepped inside.  The front
parlour held a reception desk.  I asked for Peter and browsed through
a set of DNW auction catalogs while waiting.

Soon Peter came downstairs to greet me, and we stepped into a nearby
room to talk.  Lined with book shelves, the room held a library of
biographies and many years worth of government publications such as
The Army List and The Navy List - all useful for cataloging military
medals and decorations.

I had told Peter I was a friend of the Spences, but he assumed I was
a family friend - he didn't know I was a fellow numismatist.  We ended
up talking for about half an hour.  I told him about The Sphinx Society.
We talked about David and fellow Sphinx member Charlie Litman, who
helped David acquire the core of his Conder collection from a collector
in the Boston area.

We also talked about the sale of the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh's
numismatic collection.  I was only a budding numismatist at the time
the sale was announced (1978), when I was taken under the wing of
Glenn Mooney and his fellow members of the Western Pennsylvania
Numismatic Society.  We also talked of Glenn's friend and mentor,
William W. Woodside.

At the time of the Spink Carnegie Museum sales Peter was with Spink
and cataloged parts of the collection, including the encased postage
stamps.  I had let him know about my interest in U.S. Encased Postage
Stamps, and he noted that the Carnegie collection was a superb

By an unfortunate happenstance, the U.S. encased pieces were sold
by Spink in London, a terrible venue for the collection.  They had
been included with a large group of material shipped to London.
They would have sold much better in New York, but the mistake was
to my benefit.  I told Peter that I'd bid in the sale though a
dealer, and had gotten a great bargain on one of the pieces.

I noted that when Glenn Mooney died I'd helped the family liquidate
his coin collection.  Along with the collection were some numismatic
books, including a ledger of Bill Woodside's collection that his
widow had given to Glenn.  I placed it in a George Kolbe sale where
it brought over $2,000, more than any single coin in the collection.
The thick binder held rubbings and provenance data on Woodside's
coins. Peter said that over the years a number of Woodside's collections
had come to market and while cataloguers knew that some of the pieces
had come from prominent collections, they were at a loss because of
the lack of documentation.  It's a shame that the information had
gotten diverted, but at least the ledger survived and could perhaps
be of use to researchers in the future.

Our time had come to an end, but before I left Peter gave me a present.
I'd mentioned my recent acquisition of Operation Bernhard notes from
Simon Narbeth, so Peter dug out a copy of the 16 March 2006 DNW sale
of British and World Banknotes, which included a very comprehensive
collection of these notes formed over many years by a knowledgeable
collector.  Simon had attended the sale, and perhaps some of my
notes had come from this collection - I'll try to follow up.  I
walked back to the office, this time uneventfully.

On Thursday I flew back to the U.S. for a weekend visit with my family.
I read through much of Coins of England and parts of Burn's 'A Descriptive
Catalogue of the London Traders, Taverns, and Coffee-House Tokens Issued
in the Seventeenth Century'.  The original 1853 book I'd purchased from
Douglas Saville is probably not what one would typically see on a flight
across the Atlantic.  I also typed up the bulk of this diary entry and
watched all or part of three movies (it's a loooong flight).  I'd highly
recommend two of the films for viewing.  "Amazing Grace" is the true
story of the fight to abolish slavery in England, and "The Illusionist"
is an excellent fictional mystery/love story featuring a talented magician
in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna.

It was great to see my family again.  On Saturday my wife and I made
an overnight trip to Alexandria, VA (along the Potomac River near
Washington, D.C.) to celebrate our recent 10th wedding anniversary.
We had a nice dinner at the Union Street Public House and walked past
Gadsby's Tavern on North Royal Street, a favorite haunt of George and
Martha Washington - his birthday parties were held there until his death.

We took a carriage tour around town (more of a donkey cart, actually)
and saw a couple numismatic landmarks. The Old Dominion Bank Building
on Prince Street is a fine unaltered example of Classical Revival
architecture.  It closed in 1862 when Union forces took over the city.
The cashier buried the bank's assets, keeping the institution solvent
during the war.  We also saw the Bank of Alexandria on North Fairfax
Street.  Founded in 1792, George Washington was one of the bank's
directors.  It failed during the panic of 1834, but the building again
houses a bank today.  I enjoyed imagining the interesting numismatic
items that must have passed through the banks' tills in those early
days of the country.

That's all the numismatic activity for this week.  I've been signing
much of my email "Cheerio from London" recently, but I can't say that
today.  This note is coming from U.S. soil.  But by the time many of
you read this I'll be on my way back to London and hoping to find
time for some more numismatic adventures.  Stay tuned, everyone.

To visit the Spink web site, see:

To visit the Dix Noonan Webb web site, see:

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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