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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.

RNS Research Grant Award: coin hoards from Palermo

by Antonino Crisà

In February 2016 I made an application to the Royal Numismatic Society to request funds in order to study two coin hoards found in Palermo province during the second half of the nineteenth century. The first eighteenth-century Sicilian coin hoard, discovered at the railway construction site in Cerda (Palermo) (1869), was supposed to be preserved at the Archaeological Museum ‘A. Salinas’. Following an accurate survey in the museum storehouse, the hoard has not been found there. However, I have already published archival records on the Cerda hoard (A. Crisà, ‘An eighteenth-century Sicilian coin hoard from the Termini-Cerda railway construction site (Palermo, 1869)’, American Journal of Numismatics, 26 (2014): 339-62).

I therefore focused all of my research on the second hoard, found at ‘Via Maqueda’ in Palermo (1872). The hoard currently includes 76 silver coins, dated to the sixteenth century and minted in Sicily (scudi, tarì, etc.), Spain (8 reales, 4 reales, etc.) and Malta. Issuers are mostly Charles V (1516-56), Philippus II (1556-98), Jean de la Vallette (1557-68) and Jean Levesque de la Cassiere (1572-81). Antonino Salinas (1841-1914), who was the Museum Director at that time, had supervised the huge construction site at Via Maqueda. He finally acquired the hoard in 1872 and performed preliminary cataloguing, although the hoard is still entirely unpublished.

The hoard is extremely interesting and is certainly worthy of publication. In fact, it sheds new light on the archaeological context, the history of Sicilian archaeology, and coin circulation and hoarding trends in sixteenth-century Sicily.

Philippus II (1556-98), AR 10 tarì, Messina (1571) (inv. 68331, Museo ’Salinas’, Palermo)













I carried out my work in Palermo in stages in September 2016 and 2017, as follows:


1. Palermo Museum: preliminary coin cataloguing: all coins measured, weighed and analysed.


2. Palermo Museum: further coin analysis: all coins studied accurately.

3. Palermo Museum (Archive): archival research: I found 15 crucial records relevant to the hoard discovery.

4. Palermo City Council: archival research at the local historical archive. The institution holds 10 records on the construction site at Via Maqueda.


5. Palermo Museum: lastly, after having obtained a special authorization by the Museum Director Francesca Spatafora, I photographed all of the coin hoard.

Following this promising research, I am currently working on a paper regarding the Via Maqueda Hoard (1872) and all relevant archival records, to be published in an international journal. Documents offer crucial data to reconstruct the hoard’s discovery, its acquisition by the Palermo Museum and the interaction between museum and state authorities dealing with casual archaeological discoveries.

Lastly, I want to thank the Royal Numismatic Society for granting this award, which allowed me to perform my research in Sicily successfully.

Aksumite coins at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

by Rebecca Darley

Obverse of a gold coin of King Ousanas, fourth century AD, 17mm. Used from Vincent West’s ‘Aksumite Numismatics‘, West 319.

Those with an interest in Aksumite coinage were fortunate on 6th September had a chance to attend a lecture in London organised by the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and presenting some of the foundational research of Prof. Wolfgang Hahn, of the Institut für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte, Vienna, into Aksumite Numismatics. Prof. Hahn gave an engaging and detailed talk concerning the date of the conversion of Aksum to Christianity, using coins and archaeology to offer a compelling re-interpretation of dates traditionally derived from textual evidence alone. The effect of this was to suggest a re-dating of some thirty years, placing the conversion around AD 360 rather than in the 330s. The work to date, catalogue and publish the coins of the Aksumite empire of East Africa, which issued coins between the fourth and seventh centuries, owes much to the decades of work done by Prof. Hahn. It has brought to increased public and scholarly attention a state which was involved in diplomatic, commercial and, at times, military relations with the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Byzantine Empire and which has much to tell us about the history of the Indian Ocean, East Africa and the world of Late Antiquity.

The talk was also an excellent opportunity to promote the recent publication of the sylloge of Aksumite coins in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. This invaluable new publication, including discursive sections and beautiful colour images, expands markedly the body of Aksumite coinage which can now be accessed via high-quality publication. It was created by Prof. Hahn, in collaboration with Vincent West, another prominent scholar of Aksumite numismatics, and keeper of the incomparable internet bibliography of Aksumite Numismatics.

It will soon also now possible to see some of the coins of the Ashmolean collection on display in a new exhibition, ‘Aksum: a Late Antique Empire of Faith in Africa’, which opened in Gallery 7 of the museum. The exhibition, showcasing the museum’s extremely good selection of gold coins, opened on 26th September and runs until 31st January 2018. Exciting times for those of us already fascinated by Aksumite numismatics, and a great opportunity to for exploration if you have not already discovered the coinage and culture of this powerful and dynamic Late Antique state!

Lecture programme for 2017/18 now available and first lecture, 'Stories of the City'

The programme of lectures to be delivered at Society meetings in 2017/18 is now available here. Unless otherwise specified, these meetings take place at 6-7.30pm on the third Tuesday of each month at The Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WCIH 0AB and are open to all.

Beginning the lecture programme this year is Jennifer Adam from the Bank of England, who will be presenting on the title Stories from the City: Bank of England in Literature. This paper links to the Bank of England exhibition, Stories from the City, which opened on 19th July 2017 at the Bank of England. Further information about the exhibition, including visiting times, can be found here. The lecture will take place on Tuesday 17th October at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. 

Lecture Abstract:

In September 2017, the Bank of England issued a new £10 note, featuring Austen on the reverse. This presented an ideal opportunity to explore the theme of money in Austen’s work. Her discussions of money are more than drawing room gossip – they provide witty social commentary that captures the social, political and economic reality of her time.

Stories from the City is an exhibition that celebrates the launch of the new £10 note, and explores the Bank of England’s literary connections – from its appearances  as a setting, an inspiration, and – as an institution – a kind of character in itself. 

 Austen is not the first writer to appear on a Bank of England note – the display features the William Shakespeare £20 and artwork from the Charles Dickens £10 note. Dickens had accounts at the Bank of England, and wrote about the institution in both his fiction and journalism. Robert Browning narrowly escaped a career here; Kenneth Grahame, author of the Wind in the Willows, spent his working life as a Bank of England official. Elsewhere in the City, Charles Lamb, PG Wodehouse, and TS Eliot both worked and wrote. Other writers, from Jules Verne to Neal Stephenson, imagine thefts from the Bank; real-life frauds and counterfeiters have also inspired writers to tell their tales. Meanwhile, from Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot, to David Hare and John Lanchester, literature continues to provide an outlet to explore the impacts of financial crises.

 These and more will be discussed in a lecture that explains how the Bank of England, its currency, buildings and reputation gained a presence in the literary world as well as that of economics.