The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 29, July 22, 2007, Article 15


Bob Neale writes: "I, too, enjoy reading of your adventures in merry
England. I wonder whether there is anyone in the numismatic world
that you don't know, or know of and recall?"

Well, it only seems that way.  I've only actually met a small number
of my E-Sylum readers in person, but back in my single days I made
it a point to seek out and meet the U.S. numismatic luminaries of
the day.  Sadly, a number of them are gone now, including collectors
John Pittman, Harry Boosel, John Ford, Walter Breen, Jules Reiver
and Donald Miller and bibliophiles/literature dealers Armand Champa,
Frank Katen, Ken Lowe, Jack Collins and John Bergman.  I'm not that
old (really), but I'm starting to feel that way.   My London
assignment has given me the opportunity to resume that quest in
England while I have some time away from my family obligations.
Once back in the U.S. my numismatic activities will shrink back
to email interactions.

Regarding my translation of "Llantrisant", Peter Gaspar writes:
"I thought others would write you about your definition of "llan"
= land.  During my nearly 20 years visiting the Mint at and working
 with Graham Dyer I have always heard that "llan" means "church",
i.e. Llantrisant "the church of the three saints."  I don't have
a proper Welsh dictionary, but my Welsh grammar book does refer
to llan as church.  You might want to check it out."

[I was paraphrasing my recollection of Harry Mernick's discussion
of the Llantrisant Longbowmen medal, so I'm not surprised that I
may have gotten something wrong.  Thanks for setting us straight!

My numismatic adventures began on Tuesday this week.  I'd received
a submission from Dick Johnson about an upcoming exhibit on the
famous philatelic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.  Dick wondered
if the exhibit had a connection to coins as well as stamps.  It
turned out that it did, and when I noticed that the exhibit was
about to open in London, I went on a scouting trip after work.

The exhibit was at the London College of Art.  I poked around to
find an address and could only find a listing on "Kensington Gore".
I didn't know if that was a street, a building, a campus or what.
There was no street number, but maps showed a Kensington Gore
street winding for a few blocks near the Royal Albert Hall.

I'd seen the Albert Hall on my earlier walks through Hyde Park.
Along the Kensington side of the park is the immense Albert
Memorial built by Queen Victoria to honor her late husband who
had died at 42 of typhoid fever.  Across the street is the Royal
Albert Hall, a concert venue built in 1871. If you're familiar
with the Beatles' "A Day in the Life", you'll remember the lyric,
inspired by a mundane news report about filling potholes:  "Four
thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire / They had to count them
all / Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall"

Anyway, it was a beautiful evening and I decided to walk home
again along a different route, in search of the Royal College of
Art.  I set out toward Piccadilly Circus again, but this time
winding up and down various arcades, alleys and sidestreets.  I
cheated a bit by taking the tube two stops to a point near Harrods's
department store.  Harrod's is synonymous with luxury.  I had been
nearby before but hadn't bothered to stop in.  My wife teased me
and said I should at least take a look. So I did.

Outside, a crowd was gathered.  A bored-looking woman was modeling
clothes for a photographer.  He snapped his camera while another
man filmed with a video camera.  The crowd snapped shots of their
own.  Supermodel? a nobody?  I didn't know or care - in I walked to
the store.   I passed through an enormous room offering nothing
but perfume. I didn't check the prices.  Then I entered a room
full of purses and gave her a call on my cell phone.  I told her
about a nice one on sale for 365 GBD (over $700).  She wanted five
of them, but she was teasing again (I think).

Exiting Harrods I kept walking toward Hyde Park.  I came across the
Brompton Oratory, a huge Catholic Church.  Next to the Oratory was
the Victoria and Albert Museum (or V&A as it's known locally).
Beyond that were the Natural History and Science museums.  I found
Kensington Gore Street and started walking, keeping an eye out for
the Royal College of Art.  I eventually found it, right next to
Albert Hall.   A banner attached to a fence announced the exhibit:
"The Timeless & Classic: Elizabeth, Queen & Icon"  (see the next
item for more information).   It wouldn't open until Thursday, but
at least know I knew where to find it.  I marched across the street
into Hyde Park and crossed over to my neighborhood for dinner
(Indian again, and one more Cobra beer).  If felt good to get to
my hotel and change out of my suit and dress shoes.

Wednesday turned out to be a long day at the office, but we had a
pleasant lunch meeting at Kettners in Soho.  Just yards from our
office, it's one of London's oldest restaurants, founded 140 years
ago by Auguste Kettner, former chef to Emperor Napoleon III.
Kettner's Book of the Table: A Manual of Cookery was published in
1871 and remains one of the world's most famous cookbooks.  Luckily
we ate well, because I didn't get out of the office until 9:30 that
night.  I met my colleagues for a beer at Prince Alfred in Bayswater
near our hotel.  Dinner was a bag of potato crisps and two cool pints.

Having worked so late the night before I didn't feel too guilty
ducking out at 4:15 Thursday.  It was opening day of the "Timeless
& Classic" exhibit, and it closed at 5:00.  I hailed a cab and said
"Albert Hall, please".  After slogging through rush hour traffic I
arrived with only about 20 minutes to spare.  The exhibit was in
the lobby of the Royal College of Art building.  I grabbed some
brochures, pulled out my notepad and started furiously writing as
I marched through the exhibit.  I skipped the philatelic parts to
concentrate more on the numismatic aspects.  It was a beautiful
exhibit (see the review below).  But at 5pm I was given the bum's
rush out the door.  Fittingly, it was now raining.  I put my notes
in my packpack and pulled out my folding umbrella.  Across Hyde
Park I walked again, this time stopping for Chinese food before
returning to my hotel.  That evening I worked on the E-Sylum draft
while doing laundry.

Friday brought a hellacious rainstorm to central London.  Just before
noon the sky darkened until it looked like night.  Soon the skies
opened up and just poured.  Too hungry to postpone lunch I reached
for my handy folding umbrella, but it wasn't there - I must have
left it at the restaurant Thursday night.  Luckily, we have some
spares in the office.  I crossed the street through heavy stop and
go traffic and gladly entered a nearby restaurant. The waiter told
me there was already flooding in many towns. In a number of areas
water rose to people's knees.  Later, portions of the underground
closed due to flooding.

Not long after lunch the sun came out again.  At 7pm my colleagues
and I left the office to join some friends at the Lowlander Pub on
Drury Street in Covent Garden.  Belgian beer flowed and for dinner
I had the Belgian version of a British staple - Bangers and Mash
(sausages and mashed potatoes).  This version used Wild Boar sausage
and apples in a bowl of smooth potatoes and gravy.  About 9:15 my
gravy-stained white polo shirt and I headed back to the office to
pick up my bag.

I passed a number of only-in-London sites.  Big as life on the
outside of three different buildings, were life-size reproductions
of Old Master paintings, frames and all, along with those ubiquitous
museum-style description plaques.  They were part of a twelve-week
publicity program by the National Gallery called The Grand Tour.
Coincidentally, the first painting I came across was John
Constable's 'The Hay Wain'.  At my last job in Pittsburgh the
gang put up a copy of the painting and called it "Hey, Wayne!"
(I am not making this up!).

Next I passed through Seven Dials, an intersection where seven
streets converge on a circle.  At the center is a tall stone
monument sporting at the top six sundials (the original 1690s plan
was for six streets, but one more was added for good measure).
By the time of Charles Dickens the area was a notorious slum.
The original column was pulled down in 1773, but replaced in
1989 with a column matching the original design.  Why build a
crazy intersection with seven roads?  The developer wanted to
maximize the number of houses to increase his profits.  See,
in The E-Sylum everything eventually comes back to money, if
not coins.

Passing several book stores, many of them had signs saying they
would reopen at midnight to sell the seventh and final book in
the Harry Potter series.  Television showed lines of young people,
many dressed in Potter-inspired outfits, waiting in line at a
Piccadilly Circus store.  I'm hoping that's why one young man
in the subway had his face covered in green makeup.  After
stopping for some groceries I went back to my hotel where I
organized my backpack for Saturday's journey.

On Saturday morning I took the tube to King's Cross Station and
boarded a train to Cambridge.  Ten minutes from London and I was
viewing fields of cows and horse.  The trip took about 45 minutes
altogether.  Disembarking at the Cambridge Station, I bought a
local map from a vending machine in exchange for a one pound coin.
But the map turned out to cover only the city center didn't show
me the complete journey.  I asked a young lady for assistance,
and she was very helpful.

Up the street to the war monument I went, then turned right.
Once I was deep into the city I realized I'd missed my turn -
the street I wanted hadn't been marked with a sign.  But with
map in hand I managed to wind my way closer and closer to the

When I turned onto Trumpington Street, I couldn't help but notice
the running water in channels at along the stone curbs.  Later I
would learn that these were the part of the original means of
transporting water into the town and they'd never been covered
over or replaced.  In places the channel was clogged with leaves
leaving a stagnant pool of water, perhaps a remnant of yesterday's
downpours.  Hobson's Conduit was built from 1610 to 1614 by
Thomas Hobson to bring fresh water into the city (see links below
for more information).

The channels travel right past the front of the stately Fitzwilliam
Museum building.  I climbed the steps to the front entrance and
asked for Professor Buttrey in the Coin department.  Soon we were
shaking hands in the grand marble lobby.  Ted was quite welcoming
and gave me a short overview of the history of the museum and its
collections.  The original core holdings of art and literature
began with an 1816 bequest to the University of Cambridge by
Richard Fitzwilliam (Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion,
thank you).  Today the museum is one of Britain's finest, holding
masterpieces of painting from the fourteenth century to the
present day, drawings and prints, sculpture, furniture, armour,
pottery and glass, and of course, coins and medals.

The grand main building opened in 1848 and has been added to since
then.  Just off the mail lobby is the Founder's Library which
includes a number of numismatic works.  It being a Saturday, that
room was unfortunately closed. Ted guided me back to the coin
department and unlocked the door.

Inside was a wondrous sight - a large rectangular room with
twelve-foot ceilings and all four walls lined with floor to ceiling
shelving holding coin cabinets and numismatic literature. The long
walls each hold about forty mostly small wooden coin cabinets.  The
short wall to the left holds about twenty coin cabinets of mixed
sizes, including two 16th-century leather coin cabinets; in front
of it is a double-sided freestanding bookcase topped with decorative
coin cabinets including one stunning custom-built cabinet in the
form of a Roman temple, complete with columns.  In front of the
final windowed wall are a set of desks and additional shelving.
In the center of the room is a long library working table.

Along the top of the short wall is this inscription: "This room in
which are kept the Greek coins given and bequeathed by John Robinson
McClean, M.A. of Trinity College was built at the cost of his
brother William Newsam McClean, M.A. of the same college in 1923."
Atop a set of new freestanding bookshelves in front of the desk area
is an inscription reading "The bookcase were built at the cost of
grandchildren and a great grandchild of William Newsom McClean M.A.
in 2006."

Buttrey introduced me to Assistant Keeper Dr. Martin Allen, who was
hard at work at one of the desks.  We sat at the library table and
Ted explained some of the history of the collections.  Cambridge
University is a collection of many small colleges, independently
founded and functioning as separate organizations.  Each college
had its own libraries and collections.  A number of the Dons collected
coins and bequeathed their collection to their college.  A modern
day example of this tradition is the late Professor Philip Grierson,
who died last year at the age of 95 and left his numismatic library,
notes, and collection of Medieval European coinage to the University.

One of the earlier donors was William Martin Leake, an early 19th
century British topographer and antiquarian.  He traveled to the
middle and far east to map the territory for the British, and he
used numismatic evidence to enhance his knowledge of the history
of the areas.  He published Numismata Hellenica in 1854 and bequeathed
six cabinets holding 10,000 Greek coins to Cambridge University.  At
the time it was the largest collection ever acquired by any University
to date.  Another donor, Mr. Lewis, gave six cabinets of coins,
including the Roman temple cabinet. Christopher Blunt donated a
large collection of Anglo-Saxon and early Norman coinage. Today
the collection consists of about 250,000 coins and medals, about
20,000 of which are viewable online.

Professor Buttrey has been associated with the department for nearly
twenty years.  He was appointed Keeper of the Department of Coins
and Medals in 1988 and was the first to hold a doctorate.  Today a
staff of eight (both paid and volunteer), oversees the collection.
All eight hold doctorates.

Buttrey retired in 1991 but continues as a volunteer.  Every year
he teaches an introductory course in Greek and Roman numismatic
with Assistant Keeper Adi Popescu.  Dr Mark Blackburn has been Head
of the Department of Coins and Medals since Buttrey's retirement
in 1991; his particularly interest is with the Medieval and Oriental
coins and historical medals.

Updating Roman Imperial Coinage Volume II, Part 1 is Buttrey's
primary research project.  He has traveled the world visiting
collections to verify and update information on the known specimens
of the coins of Titus, Vespasian and other rulers covered in the
volume.  The revised work will not only be much larger, but more
accurate and better annotated.

A related project of interest to bibliophiles is Buttrey's work
in acquiring and cataloging numismatic auction catalogues of the
world.  When he arrived at the Fitzwilliam there were about 5,000
catalogues in the holdings; today the total is about 40,000.

The main room where we were sitting was only one part of the coin
department.  Ted led me on a tour before we took a break for lunch.
Behind the main room were a series of smaller rooms and the office
of Keeper Blackburn.  Beside a window stood a stand for taking
photographs of coins. Everywhere was lined with shelving holding
more numismatic books.  One room held periodicals on both fixed
and moveable shelves.  The British Numismatic Journal were present,
as was the Armenian Numismatic Journal.

A stairway led upstairs and I just had to ask what in the world
was the purpose of a metal crank sticking out of the stairway wall.
It's there to close the iron shutters - every night the building
is locked up tight as a drum, and thankfully, there has never
been a break-in.

The cramped room upstairs holds the catalog collection on sets of
fixed and movable shelves.  The catalogs are stored in labeled
boxes placed on the shelves.  Near the door is a shelf holding
an absolutely beautiful group of about 150 leatherbound 19th
century catalogues.  Most came from a 1933 donation by J. S.
Henderson.  The earliest of the group was a priced and named 1756
Martin Folkes sale; also present was an 1811 Leigh & Sotheby sale.

Recently a visitor from a bank in Cologne, Germany provided a
photocopy of an obscure catalogue of German numismatic auction
catalogues prior to 1945.  So much information, so little time!
The list would be ideal for entering into a database.

Buttrey updates his catalog of catalogues daily as new acquisitions
are logged.  Each month an updated version is posted to the museum's
web site.  Despite the size of the collection, there are numerous
holes. A number of donors have come forth to help fill the gaps;
occasionally packages will arrive with a note stating that they'd
noticed a gap in the online catalog and shipped some catalogues
to donate to the collection.  You can view the online catalogue
We stepped outside for some fresh air and lunch.  The genial Buttrey
insisted on buying.  We walked down the street to Martin's Coffee
House, proudly named once as one of Britain's "finest greasy spoons".
 Looking forward to his usual jacket potato (stuffed baked potato
for those in the U.S.), Ted expressed mock horror on being told that
the last potato had just been sold.  We ordered chicken and
mayonnaise sandwiches, his on plain bread and mine on a baguette.

Conversation topics included the project I'm working on for my employer,
and my background in the software industry.  We talked a bit about
John Ford and the Western bar controversy, but that hubbub has
fortunately died down for him.   We also talked about the 2006
Chinese Vase incident at the museum, and on our way back in he
showed me the staircase where it occurred.  A visitor, claiming
he'd tripped on a loose shoelace, knocked over and smashed three
Qing dynasty vases.   The museum does have a sense of humor about
the unfortunate incident.  Pulling me into the gift shop, Ted
bought me a souvenir, one of the shop's best sellers - a jigsaw
puzzle picturing the three vases!

Back at the coin department I asked for a quick look at some of
the coins, and Ted quickly obliged.  After taking a quick look in
Crawford to get a reference number, he opened one of the coin
cabinets and slid out a tray, placing it on the table.  I pick up
and examined a gorgeous example of the Brutus Ides of March denarius.
The accompanying slip indicated that it came from the Hart collection
at Queen's college.  The coin is one of the few specifically mentioned
in ancient texts.

To view the Ides of March denarius, see:
Ides of March denarius

Next I reviewed a tray of Ceasar portrait coins, including one in
gold.  After putting the trays away, I spent some time making notes
while Ted went about his regular work.  I noted some of the handy
volumes on shelves in the main room, including a set of BM Greek
and SNG (the Sylloge Nummorun Graecorum).  A well-worn set of three
volumes comprised the Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Greek
Coins (S. W. Grose, 1923-1929).  The volumes were prepared in 1914
but publication had been delayed until after WWI.  The collotype
plates illustrate two-thirds of the coin in the collection.

Lying on the library table was a draft of a work researched partly
at the Fitzwilliam: The Coinage of Offa and his Contemporaries by
Derek Chick, edited by Mark Blackburn and Rory Naismith. It is to
be published by Spink for the British Numismatic Society later
this year.

Before long we said our goodbyes and I went off to explore a bit of
the Fitzwilliam Museum and Cambridge.  I marveled at the collection
of armour on display, one of the finest collections in the world.
After I left the Museum I wandered around the courtyards of some
of the colleges, and took a tour of King's Church.  Finally it was
time to catch my train home and grab some dinner.

Sunday morning I worked a bit on The E-Sylum, then walked the few
blocks from my hotel to Paddington Station.  I boarded a train and
called Doug Saville from my cell phone to let him know I was on
the way for the second visit we'd arranged.  He met me at Reading
Station and we drove to his office.

Since my last visit, Doug had purchased a 1,000-volume numismatic
library, and the books were neatly arranged on shelves.  Many
standard works on ancient numismatics were there, including a
 beautifully bound reprint of Corpus Nummorus Italicorum.  Another
item I'd never seen before was Numismata Cromwelliana: Coins,
Medals and Seals of Oliver Cromwell by H.W. Henfrey.  It was
printed in an edition of 250 copies in 1877.  Manville's Numismatic
Guide to British and Irish Printed books 1600-2004 lists three
titles by Henfrey, a numismatic prodigy who died in 1881 at the
age of just 29.

A working library belonging to a dealer-collector, there was
understandably little relating to U.S. numismatics, although Doug
did point out a bound copy of the 1954 Sotheby Farouk sale with a
few annotations about American coin lots.  Taped to the inside
back cover was a newspaper article noting that the Egyptian
government was refusing to pay Sotheby's, complaining that
"buyer's rings" kept sale prices artificially low.  For price
list, email Doug at

Next we hopped back in Doug's car and drove to Oxford, about
half an hour away. We passed a number of picturesque farms and
villages, including at least three homes with thatched roofs.
We parked along a busy street in Oxford.  It was time for lunch
and a pint of beer, and we stepped into the Eagle and Child pub,
a favorite haunt of J.R.R. Tolkien.  We weren't disappointed -
our sandwiches (and beers!) were excellent.

Our first stop was Britain's first museum, the Ashmolean.  Now
undergoing a major expansion, the Ashmolean's Heberdon coin room
was closed for the duration of the construction.  We did see a
few numismatic items on display among the collections.  The hall
of Egyptian artifacts was very interesting.  Other rooms
displayed a disparate mix of objects.

The first numismatic items we encountered were "two of the
surviving casts" of a medal of Federico da Montefeltro, thought
to be made by Florenine sculptor Pietro Torrigiano.  The same
room displayed a violin by Antonio Stradivari, made in 1716
and purchased from Paolo Stradaveri in 1775.

One room held a group of objects traceable to the first days of
the museum.  Numismatic items here included a gold medal of Henry
VII minted at London in 1545, and gold presentation coins of
Persia circa 1795-1796.  Also on display was a clay pot with a
hoard of Viking-era bronze coins.  One item I found very interesting
was "Powhatan's Mantle", a 17th-century deerskin with shell
decorations from "Virginia, USA".

After exiting the Ashmolean we visited the nearby Sheldonian
Theatre, the ceremonial hall of Oxford University. It was the first
major design by Christopher Wren, built 1664-1668.  Graduation
ceremonies are still held here.  We walked up the steps to the
rooftop cupola and looked out at the architecture of the city.

Back on the street we walked into the Museum of the History of
Science to view an astonishing collection of antique scientific
instruments such as telescopes. Astrolabes and orreries.  Finally,
we toured Christ Church cathedral and the Christ Church College
dining hall.  The hall and other parts of the college were used
in filming the first two Harry Potter films.

We next walked back to Doug's car and drove to his home in Reading,
where his wife Sue was busy preparing a dinner of pheasant and
venison sausage. Doug took over for a few minutes while Sure showed
me their peaceful garden.  Soon Doug appeared and placed a glass of
wine in my hand.  The three of us had a wonderful dinner, finishing
up with fruits and cheeses.  All too soon it was 9:30 and time to
catch the next train to London.  Doug dropped me off at the station.
I got back to my hotel around 11pm and worked on The E-Sylum before
calling it a night.  It had been a long but pleasant weekend of
numismatic fellowship.  Many thanks again to Professor Buttrey
and Doug and Sue Saville for all their friendship and hospitality.

To see a picture of London's Friday downpour, see:

For more information on the National Gallery's Grand Tour, see
More Info

For more information on Hobson's Conduit, see:

For an image of Hobson's conduit, see:
Image of Hobson's conduit

For more on William Martin Leake from the 1991 Encyclopedia Britannica, see:
William Martin Leake


For more information on the Wren's Sheldonian Theatre, see:
For more information on the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford, see:

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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