Part 5: 1976-1986 

10th International Numismatic Congress, London 1986

The RNS president R.A.G. Carson chairing a plenary session at the 10th International Numismatic Congress in London (1986)

The history of the Royal Numismatic Society, as has been explained in the Preface, was written over a period of years, and presented as a series of Presidential Addresses. The first three periods lent themselves to fairly ready definition in terms of the Society’s history, but the final period from the end of the war in 1945 down to the Society’s sesquicentenary in 1986 has been arbitrarily divided at the year 1976, because this was the point reached at the conclusion of the author’s Presidency of the Society. It has, therefore, been necessary to add a fifth an final section to cover the decade from 1976 to the celebration of the Society’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 1986.

Two general trends in the Society’s affairs in this decade are worthy of mention. The first is the steady increase in the number of Fellows. At the beginning of the period the figure had just topped 900, but by the AGM in June 1981 it had risen to exactly 1,000. There has been some recession from this high-water mark in the last year, due, no doubt, to the pressure of higher subscription rates and inflation in general, but there is a marked contrast to the low ebb of the war years when Mattingly, in a Presidential address, expressed concern that numbers had slumped to 206, and urged the Society to give serious thought as to how the position could be remedied. The second trend is of a somewhat more parochial or domestic nature. Since the Society draws its Fellows from all over the world (it is estimated that at least fifty per cent reside outside the United Kingdom), the numbers attending the Ordinary Meetings of the Society can be only a relatively small proportion of the total Fellowship. The growth in attendance at Ordinary Meetings has, however, been an encouraging feature of the last decade or so. It is within the author’s recollection that in the immediate post-war years attendance figures were of the order of thirty or forty, whereas in recent years the average attendance figure has risen substantially above that. There is no signal reason for this. It is, of course, a natural consequence of the considerable growth in the total Fellowship, but it follows, also, from slight change in the character of the Society. While the Society maintains its high standard in its publications and in the papers presented at meetings, and enjoys the support of numismatic scholars at home and abroad, the majority of the Fellowship in modern times is made up, it would seem, of those who, while of more modern collecting interests than in earlier decades, are interested to learn of developments in other numismatic fields. Another contributory factor may be that the Society is a slightly more social organisation than it has been in the past. Both the December Ordinary Meeting and the Annual General Meeting in June are now followed by a sherry party for those fortunate enough to be able to attend and improve their acquaintance with other Fellows and their interests.

In the past decade the Society has continued the various projects which it had already undertaken to further the advance of numismatics. Chief amongst these has been the series of Special Publications. The steady increase in printing costs has somewhat inhibited the regular flow of these volumes, but, thanks in great part to generous support from various sources, a further nine titles have been added, bringing the total of this series to seventeen volumes.

The Society has also lent its support to a series of joint meetings with the British Numismatic Society and the Société Française de Numismatique. These have been held

in alternate years in England and France, and have taken the form of a series of papers by members of all three societies on subjects of common interest in the numismatics of the two countries.

A pleasant addition to the Society’s traditions was made in 1976. A bequest from Miss Doris Stockwell was applied to the creation of a badge to be worn by the President when officiating at meetings and similar functions. The Presidential Badge in gold, commissioned form Mr John Donald, was based on a design suggested by a sub-committee set up for this purpose, and executed in various types of gold to form a symbolic representation of the various categories of coins which are the subject of the Society’s study.

The Scientific Research Committee suffered a sad loss through the premature death of L.H. Cope, the initiator of the concept and the first chairman of the committee, but it continued its work, first under D.G. Sellwood and subsequently with W.A. Oddy as chairman. Special Publication No. 13 on Metallurgy in Numismatics represented only one facet of the of the committee’s work. In November 1978, in conjunction with the Research Laboratory of the British Museum, it organised a colloquium on Computers in Numismatics. In general terms it has continued to initiate and encourage the application of scientific techniques to numismatic study, and to collage and record the results of such activities.

The year 1986 brought round the Society’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, and it is an apt occasion to bring out a history of the Society. When it celebrated its centenary in 1936, the occasion was marked by the holding of the International Numismatic Commission. As will be apparent from a glance at the details of the Society’s beginnings, the Congress being held in early September falls a little short of the precise one hundred an fiftieth anniversary. What is to be regarded as the foundation meeting took place on 22 December 1836, when at a meeting of ‘the Friends of Numismatic Sciences’ it was resolved that a Numismatic Society be formed, though two preliminary meetings had been held on 26 June 1836 and 1 December 1836. There is, however, good Roman tradition, amply attested also on Roman coinage, for a slightly anticipated celebration of vota soluta, the discharge of vows for the accomplishment of endeavour.

The record of the Royal Numismatic Society’s first one hundred and fifty years is one of which its Fellows may be proud. It has provided a focus for and an encouragement to, numismatic research, not only in its own country but throughout the world. While it has preserved what is best in tradition, it has, especially in the last decades, struck out new lines. Through its publications above all it has made a great contribution to the advancement of numismatic studies. As it celebrates this anniversary, the society can justly feel that it has amply realised the hopes of the founding fathers.