NUMISMATIC REMINISCENCES OF THE LAST SIXTY YEARS
By a Coin Dealer
The following paper, the script of a talk given by Leonard Forrer to the Society on 28 April
1 Although in its nature it is 1948, was brought to my attention by Mr. Peter Woodhead.
non-scholarly and Forrer’s interests were primarily classical, it gives a view of the numismatic scene in the early days of the Society which we both felt would be of interest to our members today and would be a fitting contribution to this Centenary Volume of the Journal. I have lightly edited and corrected Forrer’s original words and added explanatory footnotes where I thought they would be appropriate and of relevance to students and collectors of British coins.
Leonard Forrer was born at Winterthur in Switzerland in 1869. Enjoying very indifferent
health and with a short expectation of life he came to England in 1887, joining Messrs.
Spink and Son two years later. By the time he retired in 1952 he had been associated with
the firm for sixty-three years and was very much the doyen of European professional
numismatists. For generations of students and collectors Forrer was the admired grand
old man of Spinks. He died aged eighty-four on 17 November 1953.
Considering his full-time business responsibilities Forrer’s scholarly output – very much in
2 He the continental mode - was remarkable both in its scale and its breadth of learning.took most pride in his four-volume catalogue of Sir Hermann Weber’s Greek collections, a
model of its kind, which he completed in 1929. Even in his last years he was intimately
Coinage of the Roman Republic that involved in the editing and production of Sydenham’s
3 For British numismatists he will be best known for his monumental appeared in 1952.
1 I am grateful to Dr. Nicholas Mayhew and the Ashmolean Museum for permission to publish Forrer’s typescript (Heberden Coin Room: PUB Fol. Ai For).
2 Forrer was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society in 1939 and awarded that Society’s Medal in 1944. He was elected an Honorary Member of the British Numismatic Society in
3 L. Forrer, The Weber Collection: Greek Coins (4 in 3 vols. [text], 3 vols. [illus.], London 1922-29); E.
A. Sydenham, The Coinage of the Roman Republic (ed. L. Forrer and C. A. Hersh, London 1952).
, the eighth volume of which appeared in 1930 and Biographical Dictionary of Medallists
4. All which, although it may be faulted in detail, is still an indispensable mine of informationthis done, of course, in tandem with the production of innumerable auction catalogues and,
Numismatic Circular which he not only edited but for which he compiled for sixty years, the
. most of the coin lists and wrote many of the articles
Humphrey Sutherland in his obituary of Forrer described him as ‘the tranquil possessor of qualities of gentleness, kindness, courtesy, and personal modesty… a man who could as
5 These aspects of his character are well little reproach others as be himself reproached’.
brought out in his all too brief reminiscences. To an audience today they are perhaps over reticent and even for 1948 one might have wished him to have been a little more forthright and more fully to have captured the personalities of the likes of P. W. P. Carlyon-Britton, Montagu and Murdoch but this would not have been in his nature.
D. W. D.
My kind friends in this Society and especially our honoured President, Messrs. Winstanley and Whitton have suggested that I should give a short talk this evening on my numismatic
6reminiscences of the last sixty years. I will endeavour to comply with their wishes, but
warn you that I shall not be able to tell you much that you do not already know, especially since I have to confine my remarks to my experiences in this country alone.
4 Leonard Forrer, Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Coin, Gem, and Seal Engravers (8 vols.,
London 1902-30), first published serially in the Numismatic Circular from May 1898. A revised and
expanded edition of volume I was published in 1907.
5 BNJ XXVII (1952-1954), p. 226.
6 The Society’s President at the time of the meeting was Christopher Blunt (1904-1987), while Edgar
Winstanley (1892-1977) and Cuthbert Whitton (d. 1950) were, respectively, Secretary and Director. All three were JohnSanford Saltus medallists of the Society.
7, who during the last War frequently called at King A young American Air Force officer
Street in quest of Roman Republican coins, generally enquired before coming up to the office, whether the ‘old guy’ was in – meaning your humble servant, of course! Now, I do
not know at what age an American ‘guy’ is considered to be old, but as a Swiss ‘guy’, I
8only feel a little over middle age, although my two sons , whom many of you know, are
both between 50 and 60, and I happen to be a great-grandfather. I thank God for my long life and the retention of my faculties. This by way of introduction.
Sixty years ago, this country was somewhat different from what it is now. Great Britain was the unchallenged first nation of the world. Britannia ruled the waves – and still does,
whatever some Americans or Russians may think. The Rt. Hon. W. S. Churchill agrees with this, as he kindly told me in a letter written in answer to one setting out my own views on the subject. The British flag was supreme over four continents. British subjects numbered 400 millions and she owned one-third of the surface of the globe. Queen Victoria, the mother and grandmother of most of the royalties of Europe, had just been
9proclaimed Empress of India. The word of her statesmen was law. Even the great
Bismarck had to acknowledge England’s supremacy. Disraeli, Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, were men of unchallenged authority, Income Tax was at 10d. in the ?. And no capital levy!
Everyone was carrying golden sovereigns in his purse! It is true that the working classes
10were not so well off as in our days, but are they more contented now?
Such was this Country when I first landed on these shores early in 1887. England was the eldorado for a young Swiss, leaving the land of liberty to settle down in the then traditional home of freedom.
7 This was Charles Hersh (1923-1999), the distinguished scholar-collector whom Forrer introduced to the Roman Republican series and who collaborated with the latter over the editing of the first edition of Sydenham’s The Coinage of the Roman Republic.
8 The dealers Leonard Steyning Forrer (1895-1968) and Rudolph Forrer (1896-1974).
9 This had, in fact, taken place some eleven years earlier on 1 January 1877.
10 The assertive sentiments expressed in this paragraph are a not untypical reflection of the mind-set of many of Forrer’s generation brought up in the increasingly uncertain England of the last years of the nineteenth century.
After a stage at Broadstairs, Oxford and London, I joined on 7 May 1888 the coin business
11, whose wife of Messrs. Spink & Son, at the invitation of the late Mr. Samuel M. Spink was Swiss and a friend of my mother’s. My studies at Neufchatel and Zurich in classical and modern languages, history and archaeology had prepared me for the career I was to follow.
Although the firm of Spink & Son was established as early as 1772, and their name appears as buyers at coin sales in the early nineteenth century, the coin business was in its infancy when I joined and the coin stock was confined to a few cabinets of English coins and a display in the window of the shop at Gracechurch Street. However, it was the intention of the two brothers, Samuel M. Spink and Charles F. Spink, to develop the numismatic branch and, when they engaged me, they had already in their employ the late Charles Winter, who specialized in war medals, and W. C. Weight who, however, left very
12soon and settled on his own account at Brighton.
I immediately began to study Greek and Roman coins, deriving my first knowledge from such standard works as Head’s Historia Numorum, Babelon’s Monnaies Consulaires, and
13Cohen’s Monnaies Imperiales. The British Museum’s galleries, being open until 10 pm ,
gave me a rare opportunity to learn the types of classic coins from the collection of electrotypes then on exhibition and it was not long before I became acquainted with the
11 Samuel Marshall Spink (1856-1947) – always known within the firm as ‘Mr. Sam’ – was the driving
force behind the development of the coin and medal side of Spink and Son that issued its first coin list in 1885 with prices ranging from 6d. to ?1.
12 Spink & Son now traces its origins at least to 1666 and to one John Spink, a London goldsmith. Samuel Marshall Spink moved the business from 2 Gracechurch Street to 17 Piccadilly in 1899 and to 5-7 King Street, St. James’s in 1927 where it remained until its transfer to 69 Southampton Row in 2000. Charles Winter (1861-1933), a John Sanford Saltus medallist of the Society (1932), had, at the time of his death, been manager of Spink’s medal department for forty-eight years and had also
managed the firm’s medal-making factory for a considerable period. William Charles Weight (1859- 1923) later (c. 1911-12) moved his business to Letchworth. His stock was dispersed in three Glendining sales in July, September and October 1923.
13 Forrer’s memory was playing him tricks here; at this time the Museum was never open to the public later than 8 p.m. (and in the summer only). Evening opening was abandoned in 1898 because of the small attendances.
Keeper, Mr. Reginald Stuart Poole, the learned Mr. Barclay V. Head, to whom Greek numismatics owes so much and who was always ready to help one, Mr. Percy Gardner, Mr. Herbert A. Grueber and Mr. Warwick Wroth. These heads of the Department of Coins and Medals were succeeded by Sir George F. Hill, Dr. E. S. G. Robinson, Dr. John Allan, Mr. Harold Mattingly and Dr. John Walker, who have always shown me as much indulgence and invariable kindness and to all of whom I acknowledge my deep gratitude;
14 they are far above praise.
Messrs. Spink, having acquired in 1889 a fine collection of Roman and Byzantine gold coins, I compiled my first private catalogue of that series in that same year. In order to attract Continental clients and to cover my deficiency in English, I did it in French! My first visit abroad to attend an auction sale was in Paris, 1890, at the Photiades Pasha Sale, where I went entrusted with commissions from Sir Hermann Weber, Mr. Montagu and Dr.
14 For an appreciation of some of these scholars see their obituaries (where appropriate) in the
Proceedings of the British Academy; D. M. Wilson, The British Museum (London 2002), passim; J.
Walker, ‘The early history of the Department of Coins and Medals’, The British Museum Quarterly,
XVII, pp. 76-80; and G. F. Hill, ‘An Autobiographical Fragment’, The Medal, 12 (1988), pp. 37-48. At
this time – and until 1911 - Herbert Appold Grueber (1846-1927; Keeper of Coins 1906-12), strictly a Roman specialist, was the only British Museum staff member responsible for British coins. His relationship with P. W. P. Carlyon Briton was a fraught one, he never joined the British Numismatic Society or addressed any of its meetings (in common with his Museum colleagues) and was thought to evince little interest in the medieval and modern series. Hill (op. cit., p. 39) described him as ‘a painstaking plodder, with a certain facility for reading Oriental coins – with how much accuracy was
always doubtful’. This was not altogether fair; within its prescribed limits, the second volume of the British Museum Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Coins, which he completed with Charles Francis Keary in
1893, remained a standard reference until the Anglo-Saxon numismatic renaissance of the mid-twentieth century while Grueber’s Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British
(1899) was not superseded as a general overview of British coinage until his successor Museum
George Cyril Brooke’s English Coins appeared in 1931 (and for Scottish and Irish coins not for at
least another twenty and thirty years after that). His edition (with A. W. Franks and W. S. W. Vaux) of Hawkins’ Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland to the death of George II
(text 1885 and plates 1904-11) continues to be an essential enchiridion.
Wroth (who died in 1911 aged 53) and Mattingly (1884-1964) were never Keepers of the department.
15, a school-fellow of my father’s from whom I learned a F. Imhoof-Blumer of Winterthur
good deal. In December 1892, Spink & Son’s monthly Numismatic Circular, of which I was
co-founder and editor, first appeared. It ran for 47 years and was only interrupted in 1940 by the Second World War, to be replaced by the Numismatic Circular List. As you know,
the old Numismatic Circular is again published, from the present year, in a smaller size, and now printed in England, and not in Macon, by Protat Frères, as formerly.
The coin dealers in 1890 were Peter Whelan, representative of Rollin and Feuardent of Paris, of whom I could tell many tales; Mr. Talbot Ready, who confined himself then, as Whelan, to classical coins; James Verity, a specialist in English coins; Lincoln, who dealt chiefly in English and Continental coins; Mr. Baldwin, who specialized in the copper coinage and laid the foundation of the present world renowned firm; E. J. Seltman, of Great Berkhamsted, who dealt in Greek and Roman; and W. J. Webster, who at a subsequent date and on the invitation of Mr. Montagu, came into the business of Spink &
16Son, and was the official cataloguer for Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, etc.
Foremost among collectors in the nineties was Sir John Evans, President of the London Numismatic Society for 25 years, from 1875 to 1902. Through his influence the Society obtained a Royal Charter from King Edward VII in 1904. His knowledge was prodigious. There was not a branch of numismatics with which he was not conversant. He collected Greek and, especially Roman aurei, early British, Anglo-Saxon, English medieval, stone implements, Celtic jewels and ornaments, weapons and relics of Great Britain and Ireland.
15 Friedrich Imhoof-Bloomer (1839-1920), the great Swiss collector and student of Greek coins; RNS Medallist 1888.
16 Timothy Peter Whelan, father of Francis Edward Whelan (1848-1907), dealing from Great Russell Street; William Talbot Ready (1857-1914) who took over representation of Rollin and Feuardent after Francis Whelan’s death; James Verity (1845-1910), a Yorkshire dealer (Dewsbury and
subsequently Leeds) active at London coin sales; Frederick William Lincoln (d.1909), effective founder of W. S. Lincoln & Son of New Oxford Street; Albert Henry Baldwin (1856-1936); Ernest John Seltman (d. c. 1944), father of Charles Theodore Seltman (1886-1957), the Ancient Greek historian and numismatist; William John Webster (1848-1919), son and business successor of the Great Russell Street (and subsequently Bedford Square) dealer William Webster (1821-1885) and great-nephew of William Till (d. 1844). He gave up his own business then in Bloomsbury Place to join Spink in 1892.
Mr. S. M. Spink and I valued his collection for probate after his death, to the value of ?145,000. I shall ever remember with gratitude the encouragement I received from Sir
Numismatic Chronicle, when I ventured on my John, translated into words in the
Biographical Dictionary of Medallists. Sir John and Lady Evans often visited us at
Gracechurch Street and later at Piccadilly. I recollect with what pleasure he exhibited, at every meeting of the Numismatic Society, his latest acquisitions, whether British or Roman. Once, Sir John gave me a commission for a very rare ancient British coin at a Munich sale, which turned out to be an electrotype, made by Ready, from a specimen still in his collection. Sir John’s unique collection of early British was ceded to the British Museum by
his son Sir Arthur; the early prehistoric ornaments in gold went to the Ashmolean at Oxford, We were entrusted with the sale of the English collection, which was purchased by Pierpont Morgan, senior (the American Railroad King) but which was brought back later by his son and sold conjointly to the British Museum and to Mr. R. C. Lockett. This collection comprised 4,222 pieces (279 AU, 3,422 AR and 51 AE), including two Henry III gold
17pennies (one from the Cuff and Wigan cabinets and the other acquired in Rome) , a gold
florin of Edward III (only two known), half and quarter florins; nobles of second and third coinages; a half noble of the fourth issue; an unpublished noble and half of Richard II; a heavy noble and half of Henry IV with many other unique gold coins of Edward IV and V and a unique cinquefoil sovereign of Henry VII. In silver, English rarities from William Rufus to Charles II, including two portcullis groats. The Roman aurei were sold in Paris, except for a number of pieces retained by Sir Arthur. The rarities disposed of, many of which were purchased by Mr. Robert Jameson of Paris, included an AU Balbinus (only two known), Didius Julianus, Didia Clara, Pescennius Niger, Victorianus Senior, Tetricus Senior, Magnia Urbica, Carausius, Allectus, and others. Some came from Francesco Gnecchi of Milan, others from Paris sales and from finds in Egypt. My contacts with Sir John were manifold. He has left in my heart an indelible sense of profound gratitude. In 1908, I dedicated to his memory an obituary notice, published in the Gazette
(1909), in which I gave a complete list of his scientific works from Numismatique Française
181849 to 1907.
17 The second Henry III gold penny, now in the Schneider Collection (SCBI, Vol. 47, no. 1) came to
Evans via Lord Grantley.
18 Reprinted as Sir John Evans, K.C.B. (1823-1908) (Châlon-sur-Saône 1909). For Evans see also
DNB; Proceedings of the Royal Society LXXX (1908); NC 1908, Proceedings, pp. 25-31. His
I first became acquainted with Sir John Evans’ son, Sir (then Dr.) Arthur Evans in 1898, when I compiled the sale catalogue of one of his collections of Greek coins, known under the name of ‘Archaeologist & Traveller’. Sir Arthur died in July 1941 at the age of 90. Throughout the forty years of our business relationship, he honoured us with his confidence and only two months before his death he entrusted us with many orders for the
19 His original collection of Greek coins was disposed of, through Rollin & W. L. Gantz sale.
Feuardent, to Mr. Jameson, for the modest sum of ?10,000; what would it be worth now? This sum would now barely represent the value of some very few coins, such as the famous Demareteion, the incuse Taras, the facing head staters of Metapontum (Jameson Catalogue 81 and 326) etc. These particular gems are now in the possession of the famous oil-king, Mr. Nubar Gulbenkian.
In 1922, I compiled the sale catalogue of Sir Arthur’s collection of Roman and Byzantine
ieiegold coins (Naville & C., Lucerne, Ars Classica III), another in 1926 (Naville & C.,
ieLucerne, Ars Classica XII) and a third in 1934 (Naville & C., Lucerne, Ars Classica XVII
(lots 1001-2722)), in which re-appeared the aureus of Quintillius (from the Comte de Viry’s Collection 1909) and which is now in the Ashmolean Museum. Through our intermediary, the late Dr. A. H. Lloyd purchased a further collection of Greek coins, built up by Sir Arthur since 1908, and of which I compiled a private catalogue; this was sold for ?17,000.
Sir Arthur Evans acquired world fame for his excavations in Crete on the site of Cnossos, the subject of his monumental work on the palace of Minos. Sir Arthur’s contributions to Greek numismatics are too well known to be mentioned. His last paper, published after his death, was in the form of ‘Notes on early Anglo-Saxon gold coins’ (Numismatic Chronicle
1942, pp. 19-41). Possessed of ample means, Sir Arthur was able to form collection after collection of Greek coins, engraved gems, and other works of art. His generous benefactions greatly enriched the National Collection and the Ashmolean Museum, of which latter he was Keeper for many years. He was in our offices in May 1941 on the day
Coinage of the Ancient Britons (London 1864; Supplement 1890) remained the standard survey of
the series for virtually a century.
19 The Rev. William Lewis Gantz (1873-1940) whose wide-ranging collection was sold by Glendining in May and June 1941. Gantz’s questionable behaviour over the non-payment of his Society
subscription was a momentary cause célèbre in 1932.
the news came through of the bombardment of the ruins of Cnossos and the destruction of the museum at Candia. He was terribly perturbed and immediately took a taxi to the offices of the Hellenic Society to enquire after the safety of the personnel of the British School of Art. The charm of his manner, his retiring disposition his genial personality, endeared him to all who enjoyed his friendship and I esteem it a great privilege to have
20 been associated for half a century with two generations of Evans.
Sir (then Dr.) Hermann Weber was probably my first client. In 1899 and subsequent years, we used to obtain monthly consignments of Greek coins from A J Lawson of Smyrna, J P Lambros of Athens, and other sources, which we submitted to him first, then to Mr Montagu. On receipt of a consignment, I advised him and he gave me appointments at 10.12 or 10.25 but, as you may guess, I always had to wait half an hour or more in his waiting room before I could see him. He bought largely, but we never added more than 10% on the prices fixed by the consigners. He also commissioned us to buy for him at London and continental auction sales. At the Ashburnham Sale (1895), he gave us an order for a beautiful Amphipolis tetradrachm, limiting us to ?55. I bought the coin for ?62. He came the next day, insisting on our ceding it to him at his limit of ?55, attributing to my youthful enthusiasm the excess price realised. This coin would now be worth many hundreds of pounds.
As is well known, we purchased Sir Hermann’s collection after his death, undertaking to compile and publish a catalogue of it, a task that devolved on me, but in which I was
21greatly assisted by Mr. Robinson of the British Museum. The National Collection, with a
grant from Parliament, availed itself of the option to incorporate all the coins not already represented at Bloomsbury. Sir Hermann lived to a great age and at 90 he was still taking
20 For Sir Arthur [John] Evans (1851-1941) see DNB; Obituary Notices of the Royal Society (1939-
41); Proceedings of the British Academy XXVII (1941); Joan Evans, Time and Chance; the story of
(London 1943). Evans’ extreme shortsightedness in no way Sir Arthur Evans and his forebears
prevented his identification of the minutiae of Greek coins and medals.
21 Sir [Edward] Stanley [Gotch] Robinson (1887-1976), a member of the department of Coins and Medals 1912-52 (Deputy Keeper from 1935 and Keeper from 1949). Of independent means Robinson was a consistent donor of Greek material to the British and Ashmolean Museums, a degree of munificence eventually (1972) recognised by a knighthood.
22 Next to him, I must name the great his ‘constitutional’ every morning in St James’s Park.
collector Hyman Montagu, the shrewd solicitor, who within a few years formed a vast assemblage of Greek, Roman and English coins that was unsurpassed in his time. He
23purchased collections en bloc, such as the Addington in 1883 , and was a heavy buyer
at the Bergne (1873), Marsham (1888), and other noted auction sales. His Roman aurei came from the Ponton d’Amécourt (1887), De Quelen (1888), and other Continental
sources, in Italy and Egypt. I often visited him in his office in Bucklersbury, City, where, however busy he was, he would always find time to examine coins. During his lifetime, he parted with his series of milled English coins, of which the late Mr. S. M. Spink compiled
24the catalogue for publication. Many of his Greek coins passed through our hands. A fine Croton stater, which we sold to him for ?25, brought ?75 at his sale (no 73). Two magnificent Amphipolis tetradrachms realised ?53 and ?18 10s respectively; what would they be worth now? Amongst Montagu’s priceless English treasures, the Henry III gold
25penny fetched only ?250 , and one of the most remarkable pieces of his collection, the ‘Juxon’ Pattern Five Broad piece by Rawlins realised ?770 and was purchased by us for the British Museum. Mr. Grueber compiled the catalogues of the Montagu Collection, except that of the Roman aurei, sold in Paris by auction through Rollin and Feuardent in 1896 when 1,291 coins realised 300,000 francs (?12,000). With the Greek and English, the Montagu Sale brought over ?55,000. Mr. Montagu, after a good classical education,
studied for the Bar, and about 1878 began to collect English coins. His Greek and Roman
22 Sir Hermann Weber (1823-1918) was an eminent consultant physician (specialising in consumptive diseases). His son, Dr. Frederick Parkes Weber (1863-1962), who presented a general collection of some 5,500 coins and medals to the British Museum in 1906, was also a consumptive specialist, and surpassed even his father’s extreme longevity.
23 And William Brice’s main collection in 1887. The remnants of Samuel Addington’s collection were
sold by auction in 1886.
24 [S. M. Spink], H. Montagu: Catalogue of Milled English Coins from George I to Victoria, including
(London 1891). Patterns and Proofs
25 Acquired by Murdoch, subsequently in the Leslie-Ellis and Lockett collections, and at present continuing in a private collection.