President’s Review of the Year 2020-21

Last year the pandemic hit us in March and we cancelled our meetings in March, April and May. By June we had recovered to the extent that we did hold that meeting online on Zoom and we were able to attract a good number of listeners.

This year the Society has been meeting entirely online, and both our ordinary meetings and Council meetings have been held on Zoom. And of course we have had to get used to attending meetings held that way. It is a very different experience from having meetings in the flesh, so to speak, and most of us miss the personal interaction that is possible with physical meetings. Giving a talk on Zoom can be a slightly soulless experience for the speaker – one has very little sense of the audience’s response. But there are advantages to meeting this way, particularly for a Society such as ours which has members across the whole of the United Kingdom and abroad. 

Indeed our Council has decided to continue meeting online for the foreseeable future, even if all the restrictions on physical meetings are relaxed. We have always sought to include people from across the country on Council and coming to London for a one hour meeting from the north of England or Wales or Scotland required considerable dedication. It’s much easier to ensure a wide representation from across the country now we are meeting online.

As far as our ordinary meetings are concerned, despite the drawbacks which I’ve mentioned, there are also benefits to meeting online: our audiences are rather larger than when we met in London and it has been particularly encouraging to see members from overseas joining us. At this time, we’re not totally certain where we will be meeting next year: we don’t yet know whether the IALS will make available their lecture theatre to us, they say they will decide in July. We would like have a mixture of online meetings, as we have an international panel of speakers next year, and hybrid meetings, where we will have physical meetings in London, but these will also be available to attend online. The joint summer meeting of ourselves and the BNS in Oxford next month will be a hybrid meeting and we will see how that goes. We’re very grateful to William Mackay of the BNS for organising that.

For the rest, I am glad to report that the Society has been able to continue most of its business in the usual way. Because we weren’t able to hold an AGM last summer, most of our Council members very nobly agreed to stay on for an extra year and I’m really grateful to them for doing that. Because of the continued disruption caused by the pandemic and particularly the lack of access to our post at the British Museum, we are not holding an AGM now. We do have nominations for next year’s Council and we will hold an EGM in the autumn, hopefully at our first meeting in October at which you will be able to elect a new Council.

The one change we’ve had is in the Treasurer role, where Peter Knapton retired last June and we co-opted Paul Hillin his place. I’m very grateful to him for taking on the job in very difficult circumstances and for his great helpfulness and cheerfulness. For the last year we have had very limited access to the British Museum, which remains our postal address, and this has meant that processing anything that has come in the mail, including letters and payments by cheque, not to mention books, has been very difficult to access. As a result, we aren’t currently in a position to complete our 2020 accounts (the Charity Commission are aware of this) and are now able to present you with our 2019 accounts. Our financial position remains healthy and are investments are looked after by Smith and Williamson. Thanks to Stefano Mazzola for continuing to act as the independent examiner of the accounts and to Tristram Hillgarth and Andrew Burnett for their wise advice on the Finance Committee. 

As ever I would like to thank the officers of our Society, as without all their very hard work, the Society’s affairs would not run as smoothly as they do. Our Honorary Secretaries Megan Gooch and Henry Flynn not only organise the meetings but also look after the membership, meetings, grants and many other things. 

Brad Shepherd has continued as Joint Librarian of both our Society and the British Numismatic Society and it has been very frustrating for him that the Warburg closed soon after the agreement with them over the management of the library was completed. Brad has done what he could over the last year, including filling some of the main gaps in our holdings, and we were glad to announce that the Library was able to reopen, albeit in a restricted way, in April. Please use it! We hope library cataloguing will be able to restart with the aim of ensuring that all the Society’s books are visible on the University of London’s online catalogue.

Your Vice Presidents Martin Allen and Helen Wang and our Hon. Vice President Andrew Burnett have all played an invaluable role in advising Council on medallists and honorary members and other matters. 

For the majority of our members, especially those overseas, the Society’s main publication, the Numismatic Chronicle,is probably the most important benefit of membership. This continues to come out with great regularity early in the year and it always contains excellent peer-reviewed articles on a wide range of subjects; it has the reputation of being one of the premier numismatic journals in the world. Richard Ashton, Marcus Phillips and Sue Tyler-Smith have edited the Chronicle very efficiently for many years now (Richard since 1998, Marcus since 2002 and Sue since 2014) and we owe them a huge debt. Richard has now stood down – NC 2020 was the last issue which he co-edited – and Marcus and Sue are standing down after NC 2021. 

Clare Rowan, who has edited two SPs, has taken over from Richard and now leads the editorial team. I am glad to say that Simon Glenn has taken on the role of Reviews Editor and Shailendra Bhandare of the Ashmolean Museum has agreed to join the editorial team to provide expertise on Asian numismatics, while the fourth member of the team will serve as Production Editor, on a paid basis, Dr Murray Andrews. Murray is author of Coin Hoarding in Medieval England and Wales and teaches at the University of Worcester.

Three new Special Publications were published in the last year: Ken Sheedy and Gil Davis (eds), Metallurgy in Numismatics 6 (SP 56) and Andrew Burnett’s ‘The Hidden Treasures of this happy Island.’ A history of numismatics in Britain from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (SP 58), a monumental three-volume work which we are publishing with the British Numismatic Society. I have edited these two works. Both these volumes are selling well, I’m glad to say. Thirdly, Jack Nurpetlian’s Coinage in late Hellenistic and Roman Syria: the Orontes Valley was published at the end of 2020, edited by Clare Rowan. There will be at least one more SP next year, by myself on the coinage of Gordian III and I’ll say more about that after this Review.

Very warm thanks to Matt Ball, for continuing to edit the Society’s monthly E-newsletter, an excellent way of keeping the Society’s members in touch with our activities, more important than ever during lockdown. Matt also looks after the Society’s website. We now have e-mail addresses for most Fellows, but there are still some for whom we don’t have an e-mail; please send your address to the Secretary if you didn’t receive this. We also continue to send out the biannual Money and Medals Newsletter to all members for whom we have email addresses. Thanks also to Matt andMegan for looking after the Society’s Twitter account and they have a plan to revamp the Society’s website next year.

We have had a full programme of meetings, all on Zoom, and these have been organised by our secretary Megan Gooch. Many thanks to our speakers: Fleur Kemmers, Jonathan Callaway, Emily Tilley, Maria Marsh, Hiroki Shin, Keith Rutter, our medallist, Anja Thomson-Rohde, Johanne Porter and Robert Iliffe.

In 2018 Council decided to commission a new medal and we are very grateful to Abigail Kenvyn, of the Royal Mint Museum, and Henry Flynn for helping us through this process. Natasha Ratcliffe and Robert Elderton submitted drawings for a medal and we chose Robert Elderton’s designs: the new medal will now be produced this coming year. 

The Society has long supported the work of the Money and Medals Network, which is run from the British Museum and produces a twice yearly newsletter, maintains a website with details of collections of coins and medals in regional museums around the UK, and also organises training events for curators of museums with such collections and other interested parties. In April Council learned with great concern that the Arts Council had declined the latest bid for funding, and the project would end imminently. Council agreed to offer a grant of £50,000 over 5 years, which would have been by some margin the largest grant we had ever offered, but, for reasons which escape me, the British Museum decided to close the project in September. This is very disappointing and the Steering Group is looking to see whether another organisation might pick up the project.

The Society has also given grants from the Casey, Kreitman and Marshall funds totalling £10,100 to:  Gunnar Dumke, Abdurahmon Sharifzola, Joe Cribb and Rebecca Neill.

We also awarded the Gilljam prize to George Watson for his book Connections, Communities, and Coinage: The System of Coin Production in Southern Asia Minor and the Parkes Weber prize to Bridget McClean.

Congratulations to François de Callatay on receiving our Society’s medal for this year; we look forward to hearing him speak in the coming session. 

I would also like to thank the other members who remained on Council this year: Claire Rowan, Matthew Ball, Simon Glenn, Abigail Kenvyn, Stanley Ireland and Jenny Adam

Lastly, I am sad to report the loss of 4 Fellows who have died over the last year: 

Dr Stewart Lyon died in March at the age of 94 was a doyen in the field of English numismatics. An actuary by profession, his interest was in Anglo-Saxon coinage, and he published a sylloge of his collection of over a thousand coins in the SCBI series, while the collection itself was deposited at the Fitzwilliam Museum. He also pioneered the technique of estimating die populations and was the first person to apply the formula developed by I J Good in 1953 to die-studies. I shall talk more about that in my presidential address. Stewart had a very strong sense of public service; he was active both in the actuarial profession and in numismatics, serving as president of our sister society, the British Numismatic Society. But more importantly he was a great mentor of younger scholars and always took time to help them, as I can myself testify. He will be sadly missed.

Michael John Anderson died in April at the age of 82. He was a frequent attender of our meetings and had a career in the diplomatic service and in 1986 appeared in the quarter-finals of Mastermind where his special topic was the plays of Harold Pinter. Closer to our interests, in 2013, he wrote a book, A Numismatic History of Ecuador. 

David Leslie Forbes Sealy died last November at the age of 87. He had a career in the Natural History Museum, but coins were his chief love and he was a great expert on Victorian pennies. He was also a stalwart of the London Numismatic Society.

John Goddard had a career as a biochemist at Glasgow University, and he was also an enthusiastic collector of ancient coins with a particular interest in mis-strikes and brockages. He published at least one article in the NC , but his main work, completed in his retirement, was the superb SNG in two volumes of the Glasgow University (mostly Hunter) collection of Roman Provincial Coins.

Lastly, I will also mention the death of Professor David Shotter of Lancaster University, although he was not a member of our Society. He was an expert on the Romans in the North West, and author of several books, including one on Nero, but in our context his main contribution was in publishing four volumes of finds of Roman coins in the North West of England, the first in 1990, and he pioneered the recording of single finds of Roman coins in Britain. He will be sadly missed.

Roger Bland,

President

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