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RNS Lecture, 16 Jan: Money and the Viking Great Army

Welcome to 2018! The Society lectures kick off in the new year on Tuesday 16th January at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. This lecture will be given by Andrew Woods of York Museums Trust on the title Money and the Viking Great Army: Interpreting the coinage from Torksey. This lecture is linked to the York Museums Trust exhibition on the Viking winter camp at Torksey (open from 18th May 2017), developed in collaboration with the University of York and the University of Sheffield. Society lectures are open to all and full information about the current lecture schedule can be found here.

Paper Abstract:

Dirham fragments recovered from the Torksey Viking winter camp. Image linked from Archaeology 2013.

Arriving in AD 865, the Viking ‘Great Army’ spent fifteen years campaigning in England. They moved around the various kingdoms, defeating many of the established kings and ultimately settling across much of Eastern England, an area that is often known as the Danelaw. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the movements of the army, noting that each year they made camp in a different place during the winter months. The precise locations of these winter camps have proved elusive but recently metal-detecting has increased their archaeological visibility.

 This paper will consider the evidence from one such camp, Torksey in Lincolnshire. In AD 872/3, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle records that the Great Army spent the winter there. The site at Torksey has been extensively metal-detected over many years, producing a huge number and large range of objects which offer an insight into life within a Viking camp. These have been recorded as a part of multi-disciplinary project to better interpret the Great Army phenomenon. Objects have been plotted alongside extensive survey and limited excavation work.

 Torksey has produced over 300 early medieval coins, as well as many hundreds of other objects which allow a nuanced understanding of the numismatic material. The types of coinage – a mix of Arabic silver, Northumbrian copper and English pennies – mark the site as unusual. This paper will explore the relationships between these coinages, and how they can be understood within the broader assemblages from the site. It will be argued that they are likely to represent a single phase, a narrow window of intense activity. The manner in which coinage was used within the camp will also be discussed with the importance of exchange, metal-working and consumption assessed. Ultimately, the extent to which a number of different ‘economies’ can be detected at Torksey will be considered, with variety of practice stressed.

Happy New Year from the RNS – and some article samples for those January evenings!

2017 passes with some great RNS memories, including the fascinating medallist’s talk and Christmas party on 19th December, but also with sadder memories, and Society members no longer with us, including Robert Thompson, whose work with the library will be missed greatly, as he will be for his kindness and intellectual generosity. We look forward to 2018 and a programme of future talks and events. If you have any events coming up connected to numismatics, which you would like to advertise to Society members, please contact Rebecca Darley (r.darley@bbk.ac.uk) to have these posted on the website. 

2017 has also been a exciting year for the website, with various ‘back-stage’ changes, which in 2018 we hope to capitalise on to roll out increased benefits to members. The first of these, as part of the Society’s ongoing relationship with Jstor, is the provision of sample Numismatic Chronicle articles. These will be freely available online, without Jstor log-in. Each will consist of 3-5 important articles for each of the subject areas covered by the Numismatic Chronicle. Each one will be accompanied by a short introduction to that area of numismatics, made available on the website as a guide to non-specialists and a way of welcoming new and future Society members. These samples can be downloaded or read online, shared with friends and fellow numismatists and made available in classrooms or via personal websites (preferably via a link to the Society website!).

A Byzantine solidus of the emperor Arcadius (r. 395-408), struck in Rome.

If you have specific numismatic interests and have sometimes wondered about other regions or periods, these catalogues are a great way to start browsing, or, if you are new to the Society, a good chance to begin exploring the fabulous wealth of scholarship available via Jstor in older issues of the Chronicle. The first of these selections is now available for Byzantine and Aksumite numismatics, along with a new summary introduction. Updating of the article list associated with each of these subject areas is also on-going.

If you are not yet a member of the Society, but find these articles interesting, please consider joining for free online access to the Numismatic Chronicle via Jstor. The Numismatic Chronicle is the journal of the Society and one of the most respected journals of numismatic research. Membership of the Society automatically includes a copy of the Numismatic Chronicle, which will be sent to you annually. Over the past few years the Society has worked with Jstor to digitise and make available online back issues of the Numismatic Chronicle, from 1836 up to, currently, 2013. This incredible body of scholarship is now readily available electronically to students, lecturers and teachers, collectors and enthusiasts worldwide.

For members of institutions with a subscription to Jstor (most universities in the UK, growing numbers abroad, and increasing numbers of schools and public libraries) these articles are free to read and download. For other readers they are available for the cost of a Jstor membership and pay-per-article options will also be available in the near future. For Society members, access to the Numismatic Chronicle via Jstor is another benefit of your annual subscription. Currently this requires requesting log-in details. If you have any difficulty doing this, please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca Darley (r.darley@bbk.ac.uk). We are also looking carefully at ways to make this log-in process easier and quicker for members, so watch this space…

Happy New Year!

RNS Lecture on 19 Dec and Annual Christmas Party

The third Society lecture of 2017/18, and the last before the Christmas break, will be delivered by the most recently awarded medallist of the RNS, Dr Lutz Ilisch of the University of Tübingen. Drawing on his extensive and celebrated work on the coinage of medieval Islam, he will be speaking on the title European silver exports to Syria and a Crusader-Ayyubid condominial mint. The lecture will be delivered at 6pm on Tuesday 19th December at Spink & Son Ltd., 69 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4ET. All society meetings are open to all. Full information on the current lecture schedule can be found here.

This lecture accompanies the Society’s annual Christmas party. Please join us at Spink & Son Ltd for drinks and refreshments and a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. This event is always an cheery and enjoyable end of the year. And finally, whether you are able to attend the Society lecture or not, may you have a very merry Christmas and an enjoyable and relaxing holiday period!

RNS Lecture, 21st Nov: The Currency of Communism 

The second Society lecture of 2017/18 will be given on Tuesday 21st November at 6pm at the Warburg Institute by Tom Hockenhull of the British Museum on the title The Currency of Communism. This lecture coincides with and discusses the exhibition, The Currency of Communismwhich is on display at the British Museum from 19th October 2017 until 18th March 2018 and supported by The Art Fund. RNS lectures are open to all and a full schedule of the lectures for this year can be found here


A 5000 dinar note of Yugoslavia, 1950 © Trustees of the British Museum, here linked through from The Art Fund page on the exhibition ‘The Currency of Communism‘.

Paper Abstract:

In the century since the Russian Revolution, various pragmatists have attempted to adapt Marxist theory to suit a set of diverse economic and geographic conditions, bringing a form of communism to more than twenty countries around the world. Communism proposes that money is a social construct, and therefore has no role in a utopian society. To date however, no communist state has successfully eliminated money from its economy. Rather, concepts of value and wealth are eroded and distorted, while the national currency becomes just one of several types of exchange, both formal and informal. Coinciding with the British Museum exhibition The Currency of Communism, Tom Hockenhull will discuss various aspects of monetary life under communism, including its function and design.

Robert Thompson, FRNS, MCLIP, FSA (1944-2017)

by Michael Dickinson

Robert Thompson (1944-2017), taken in 2008

Some fellows may not yet be aware of the death of Robert Thompson, at the age of 73. The circumstances were sad: his house was broken into on the 22nd of September. The burglar must have been shocked and horrified to find his body, which would have been in the same position since his death about 20 days previously. The burglar contacted the police, stayed where he was, and was arrested when the police arrived. The cause of death is unknown; there is to be an inquest in January.

Robert became Librarian of the Royal Numismatic Society in 2010, and in the following year also for the British Numismatic Society, serving both societies in this capacity until his death. He had been Librarian for the BNS from 1966 to 1981, and was awarded that society’s Sanford Saltus Gold Medal for 1999.

Robert’s passing leaves a huge hole in the world of numismatics, particularly in the field of tokens and other paranumismatica. Though small in stature Robert was a giant when it came to study and research. Much of his work was done in pre-internet times and he benefited greatly from his own vast library which fills the walls of two rooms in his house and partly occupies two other rooms as well. Having been a librarian by profession, he had a great love of books, and a passion to pass on his knowledge to others.

If asked a question about a numismatic matter – a token issuer for example – he would answer as fully as he could, as like as not making use of a reference book or source many of us would not have been aware of.

His large amount of written work will be his lasting legacy: Robert made hundreds of contributions to journals and other periodicals over the years, starting with an article ‘Coin collecting’ for his school magazine in 1959. He was an extremely thorough researcher, seeking information from far and wide. He was always careful to make clear the distinction between evidence and supposition. Arguably his most important article was ‘Central or local production of seventeenth-century tokens’, published in the British Numismatic Journal of 1989, in which he successfully established that the vast majority of these were struck in London, most of them by engravers and coiners working at the Tower Mint.

Robert was a keen attender at International Numismatic Congresses from 1979 onwards, and contributed articles to each of the published Proceedings of these, or to the Surveys of Numismatic Research in them. For most years from 1978 he attended the journées of the Société Française Numismatique in Rouen, usually with his numismatic friends Philip Mernick and the late Tony Merson. Often after these visits they would meet up with the French jetton and token specialist Jacques Labrot in Versailles.

Many of his shorter notes were connected with publication of the Norweb Collection of Tokens of the British Isles, 1575-1750. This collection – the largest ever in private hands – occupied eight volumes in the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles series. It was published at intervals from 1984 to 2011, and will be probably be seen as his greatest achievement. I was glad to be able to join him as coadjutor (Robert’s term for me) for the project in 1990, starting with Part III, largely due to the publication of my own Seventeenth Century Tokens of the British Isles and their Values in 1986.

Robert contributed the prefaces, the chapters explaining the arrangement of each part, and the large majority of all the other narrative in the Norweb volumes. In some parts there was an essay by Robert arising from a token or series of tokens covered in a particular volume, notably a masterly analysis in Part II of the farthings issued by the City of Bristol between 1651 and 1670.

I became the inputter-in-chief of data, originally working from the manuscript Robert had previously compiled from his detailed study of each of the 13,000-odd tokens in the collection. Robert agreed to some amendments and additional information I could provide for the entries, and checked my compilation of the indexes.

Robert’s 70th birthday, 2013

I came to know Robert quite well in the ensuing years. I found him to be a private person, but I learned much from him and found him constructive and inspiring to work with. We met on a regular basis for several hours during a day, usually at his house and with a good lunch at his local pub for fortification! He was stimulating company, especially in one-to-one situations when discussing tokens and some of his other interests, for example the topography of London and the local history of Hackney and Harrow – places where he lived and worked.

I shall miss Robert and his wisdom, as will countless other numismatic students whom he has assisted over the years.


Robert’s funeral will be on 17th November at Breakspear Crematorium, Ruislip, Middlesex, at 2.45pm. Attendees may wish to find refreshment afterwards at the Woodman pub nearby.