February 25th 2021.
Upcoming club meetings:
Monday 1st March – 8pm.
· Subject - This will be another ‘Zoom’ meeting, open to all members. We will be having a talk from Chris as well as bringing members up to date with any developments.
John opened the meeting which was attended by fifteen members, with one apology for absence.
We then moved to John’s talk for the evening, ‘How I made my Collection’.
My collection is based on the coins I used to spend when I was young, and could collect from change, so UK only. I first formed it between 1966-1971 from the coins I found in change. This meant it was composed of pennies and halfpennies going back to 1860, brass threepences going back to 1937 and sixpences/shillings/florins/halfcrowns going back to 1920. It was virtually unheard of for any pre 1920 silver to turn up by the time I started the collection. My plan, a common one at the time, was to collect all the coins for all the years, essentially putting together a ‘year set’ for each of the years. I have never specialised in any one denomination. All of this to be done before ‘D-day’ No! not that one. I decided that a sensible start year would be 1902 when Edward VII ascended the throne but then realised I ought to include third farthings that were really only intended for Malta, farthings which I could only just remember, silver threepences including some from Maundy sets, otherwise unobtainable and even crowns. I never considered gold because at £5 a sovereign that was impossible on ten bob a week pocket money! I was aided by some of the local shops who looked out for things for me and nobody could come near our house without little Johnny ‘Checking their Change’!
It all started on a wet Wednesday afternoon when I was round my best mate’s house because it was too wet to go and play football. Football was the number one thing then because England had won the World Cup and Coventry were in the First division. However my best mate (now a professor of law in Bristol) had a cunning scheme. He had heard that old coins could be valuable and he had lots of them. He produced a shoebox filled with pennies and we worked out that the head side had kings and queens on them (got to start somewhere) and the tail side had dates, which we proceeded to put into order. Our oldest one was from 1860, to be honest a bit of a guess it was so worn and we also realised that quite a few dates were missing. A suitable ‘Bible’ was purchased and the hunt for coins began in earnest. I became obsessed, one of those teenage things after all I was just about the age when the facts of life were being revealed to me, namely
Girls don’t like football much
Girls aren’t too keen on collecting coins either.
With all these distractions, my collection grew slowly. Not helped when ‘big brother’ would pinch halfcrowns to go out with his mates on a Saturday night (he says he gave them all back). I discovered there were coin shops in Coventry and got to know the owners and as ‘D-day’ approached I got the little blue plastic sets, containing the new decimal coins from the bank and marvelled at the new five and ten ‘new pence’ coins entering circulation. I recorded the collection on slides and miraculously still have the slides. A ‘photo archive’ with lots of pictures of worn out coins.
‘D-day’ was a bit of an anti-climax as it all went so smoothly and then in almost no time at all the coins I collected had gone forever.
Coinwise I became a member of the Royal Mint coin club and faithfully bought the yearly proof sets, continuing my theme of collecting year sets. New sets used to come out in the year they were made for but then they have gradually been coming out earlier and earlier. It wasn’t very interesting. Collecting from change was especially boring – Oh! Another 1971 twopence!! Meanwhile I had a ‘gap year’ job at Courtaulds, went to university, did a bit of physics and a bit of computing. While working at the university, I was reduced to picking up foreign coins from my colleagues when they went to overseas conferences.
My other hobby is music and I’ve played in various bands over the years and coming back from a gig where I’d crashed out on someone’s floor in South London I went through London Bridge train station. It was a Saturday morning and the place was full of coin dealers. After something like fifteen years I once again marvelled at the items on offer and realised that I could now afford to spend more than ten bob on a coin. In fact the prices for the coins had not gone up by that much in the intervening years and I resolved to upgrade the old collection. If you do the arithmetic there are just under 700 coins needed (including proofs) to cover the pre-decimal back to 1902 and I’ve managed to secure almost all of them in EF or above and currently I’m only missing the ’34 crown. It has taken me from 1988 till now to replace everything and these days all I do is tinker at the edges gradually replacing pieces with better grades. A brief stay in California found me putting together a collection of ‘pennies’, just keeping my hand in, so to speak.
So, what’s changed?
When I started collecting I used PVC pockets like everyone else, then moved onto Whitman type folders, then individual year sets in cardboard but these days I use proper coin cabinets, bought from Peter Nichols in St. Leonards. My first cabinet was a present for my fiftieth birthday, the second was purchased from the proceeds of selling my guitar amp and so on. The layout for each tray was a result of some negotiation with the cabinet maker himself. He told me that bespoke trays like this were a fairly common request.
The photo archive has moved on too, slides are no longer used now as I can carry high quality digital photos of the collection and I’ve written an ‘app’ to allow me to access the photos on my phone. The ‘Bible’ has been replaced by a bookshelf full of all kinds of numismatic references. I even have foreign coins, somewhere between five and ten thousand, and some banknotes, no idea why? I don’t do much with the RM these days, my last year set was from 2016, a leaving present when I retired from my job as a dispensing optician, though I have bought a commemorative 50p for Rosalind Franklin and am currently waiting for the commemorative 50p celebrating 50 years of decimalisation. Coins from the old collection now form a set of spares from which I make year sets to give to friends when they have a ‘big’ birthday. Rather than collect from the coins in my change I buy coins these days mainly at coin fairs or the club. Coin shops have all but disappeared and I haven’t developed the trick of buying coins online, though I do go in to Coincraft from time to time, to gasp at the prices rather than the coins. My latest acquisition though is from the local hardware shop, who look out for things for me, the 2020 Diversity 50p.
So in many ways, the collection is essentially complete. Having just become a grandfather for the first time has prompted us to rewrite wills and consider what will happen to the collection after I go. Nobody in the family has shown any interest in coin collecting and if I haven’t already disposed of it I have decided to leave the collection to my nephews and niece, so they can sell it and split the proceeds between them.
A soldier serving with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) during the First World War was fortunate to have with him a number of coins in his pocket.
The occasion was the battle of Cambrai which involved a British attack followed by the biggest German counter attack upon the BEF since 1914.
The town of Cambria in the department of Nord, France was an important supply point for the Hindenburg line and capture of the town, and the nearby Bourlon Ridge, would threaten the rear of the German line to the north.
The battle took place between November 17th and 7th December 1917 on the western front. It was the first large-scale effective use of tanks for a military offensive.
During the hostilities, a Lieutenant Harold Kidd May serving with the 5th Berkshire Regiment, was shot in the thigh. The full force of the bullet struck the coins presumably preventing more serious injury.
The illustration clearly shows the extent of the damage, although individual coin types can still be identified:
An English penny of Edward VII with Britannia visible and dated 1910
A young head Queen Victoria silver florin (2/-) of gothic design from the period 1851-87.
A French silver 1 franc showing a leafy branch dividing denomination and the date of 1916.
A well-circulated French silver 1 franc of Napoleon III dated 1866; the crown and mantled arms are barely visible.
The final item was a metal tag or club pass (possibly the Savile Club, Piccadilly, London), some of the letters of which were impressed into the reverse of the 1916 franc when the bullet impacted.
It was whilst the writer was visiting a friend in Kidlington, the late Cicely Lee, that upon learning of my interest arrangements were made for me to view, identify, and photograph the items. Apparently, Lieutenant May returned home on crutches. It is not recorded how many coins he had with him.
Upon recently re-visiting the story there was more to be told.
Born on 20th March 1898 in Holywood, Co. Down, Harold was a member of the Belfast University Contingent of the Officers’ Training Corps and received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 26th August 1915.
He was sent to the front in April 1916 and wounded the following June. He was reported missing on the 3rd July at the Battle of the Somme but reappeared unhurt a few days later. In the August he was promoted to Lieutenant. During October he was wounded in the shoulder.
Subsequently, in February 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation published in Supplement to the London Gazette of July records:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a company in an attack. He moved about fearlessly under heavy machine gun fire, directing the advance. When the advance was held up he went forward to reconnoitre, and then directed his platoon to their objectives. He superintended the consolidation with great energy, and set his men a splendid example throughout.’
He was wounded for the third time on 1st December 1917, but more seriously, receiving gunshot wounds to both legs. This provides more detail to add to our first unfolding account of the pocket full of change. A further local link is that he was transferred to England for treatment at a hospital in Oxford.
· 20 years ago – ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ quiz devised by Michael and John.
· 50 years ago - The History of Calculating Machines by Mr. A.F.J. White