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The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 17, April 26, 2020, Article 16

SUBSCRIBER PROFILE: PAUL WITHERS

Money & Medals is a monthly newsletter for numismatics in Britain from the Money and Medals Network based at the British Museum and in association with the Royal Numismatic Society, British Numismatic Society and a number of key partners.

The April 2020 issue features three dealers giving "their different perspectives and experiences of the trade, talking about what got them hooked on the subject, and how this has developed over their career."

One of them is Paul Withers, who is familiar to E-Sylum readers for the great numismatic books he publishes with his wife Bente. With permission we're republishing the piece here. -Editor

Do you believe in predestination? Coins are one of my first memories. I have always loved them. I badgered relatives, and my parents' friends. Cupboards were searched and plundered. I liked my coins shiny, so all were polished and were stored in a tin with jubilee portraits of George V and Queen Mary on the lid. I was, I hasten to add, only four years old, and I don't think I ruined anything of quality.

Aged 6, staying with my widowed great aunt Clara, she found an 1897 medalet depicting four monarchs, a real treasure. I couldn't be parted from it. I even took it with me to the outdoor privy. Trying to admire it in the dark and pee at the same time, it fell. Splash! Devastated, sobbing, I fished it out and scrubbed my arm almost raw, and the medal got a special clean with harpic!

Withers 1897 privy medalet with caption Aged 15, I was good at science, but wanted to earn money so didn't stay in school, going to work in the metallurgical laboratory of a steel works. Three years later, earning little, I had only really enjoyed the brief time when I was seconded to the research department, so decided that education was the way forward after all, so ‘O' and ‘A' levels at night school whilst I tried out life as a student teacher. Five years later I was an impecunious teacher, and collecting coins at a time when people were checking their change and collecting date runs. I attended a meeting of the newly-formed coin club. People looked at my album and were impressed. I explained that these were duplicates. People thrust money at me. I had become a part time dealer.

Withers Early Printed List with caption Fast forward a few years and I was married, and although I loved teaching I was earning so little that had our infant son been of school age, he would have been eligible for free school meals! I had a Sunday morning pitch in Cutler Street market, London. This produced as much income as a week of teaching. One Christmas we went to Denmark, my wife's home, accounts in hand, to discover that my hobby was subsidizing my job. I left teaching. Fifty years ago dealers sent out printed lists. I had a 1930s typewriter bought from auction for 30 shillings. £3 bought an ex- army electric duplicator. I wrote short articles and sent out sales lists by post.

What makes a professional numismatist these days? Firstly, you have to keep up to date with modern technology and move with the times, learning new skills when necessary. My wife and I have had a good deal of experience over the past half century, becoming, out of necessity, Jacks and Jills of all trades, from coin photography to specialist, multilingual typesetting, and printing. When the duplicator wore out £25 bought us a small, second-hand offset printing machine. A few years on we had the same electronic type-setting equipment as our local newspaper. There were only four such IBM machines in the entire county of Staffordshire. Then computers arrived. We were the first coin dealer in the UK to use one.

We bought a bigger and better machine and began printing sales lists for other dealers, as well as the ONS Newsletter, The Medal, and then, our own books. This involved learning skills such as editing and specialist typesetting. We even contemplated bookbinding!

Withers Coin-Weights of Ireland with caption Withers Anglo-Gallivc Coins with caption

Being a numismatic publisher is like being a detective who applies the ABC principle. What's that? Assume Nothing. Believe Nothing. Challenge and check everything. Do that well and the book stands a reasonable chance of being good, providing you read and understand the previous literature on the subject. That of course, implies that you have a good library - and we have one of the best in Wales, all thanks to Howard Linecar, and Peter Seaby who encouraged me 45 years ago.

Paul and Bente Withers work very hard on their books and the results speak for themselves. We can only wish every numisamtic author had the same principles and relentless pursuit of the truth. It's hard to think of better (or easier to remember) guidelines than ABC.

Bente and Paul Withers
Bente and Paul Withers

To subscribe to Money & Medals by email just send your name and email address to the editor at MMN@britishmuseum.org. -Editor

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: whomren@gmail.com

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