In my last posting I mentioned Philip Mernick, who runs a marvellous website about hunting jugs. I had never heard his name until a couple of weeks ago, and have not yet met him, but I would very much like to meet him, because it’s clear that both Philip and his brother Harold are collectors and local historians (for East London) in a serious way. And when I say serious, I mean serious.
Looking through Philip’s British Brown Stoneware Jugs website, I discovered that it is one of a much larger group of sites hosted at www.mernick.org.uk by the Mernick brothers. Here’s the list of their other specialist websites, each of which is a goldmine of images and information for those who happen to be interested in that particular subject:
Browsing the list, I noticed with a jolt the name of the London Numismatic Club, of which Philip Mernick is a leading member and the webmaster. And I was instantly hurtled back 55 years to 1962, when I became the Club’s youngest and least knowledgeable member.
I was 13 years old, and living over a pub in Charing Cross Road, London, with my brother and with my parents who were the pub managers. I had been an enthusiastic but non-systematic collector of coins since around the age of seven. I had devoured all the books about coins in the library, and was expanding my collection as fast as my very limited funds of pocket-money would allow. In growing my collection, I was greatly assisted by having unrestricted access to the pub’s cash register, which I trawled daily, substituting common pennies and threepenny bits from my pocket money for any rarities that I found mixed in with the daily takings. I won’t say more here about this profitable and entirely honest early pastime because I’ve written about it in detail in my book Random Treasure – Antiques, Auctions and Alchemy which will be published in August 2017.
Back in 1962, the LNC offered a varied programme of early-evening meetings at the St Bride Institute in Fleet Street, about 20 minutes’ walk from home. At each meeting there was a talk by a member on his personal coin collecting area of expertise, some of which were very specialist and obscure indeed. There was a coin swapping session after the talk, and once during my period of membership there was an auction.
Sadly I don’t look back upon my attendance at LNC meetings with any particular nostalgia or fondness. Enthusiastic as I was about coin collecting, I tended to find the specialist talks by keen collectors rather too dry and esoteric for my unformed, juvenile tastes , even when enlivened by images of coins projected through the ancient epidiascope. And I always felt rather embarrassed about how my own extreme numismatic ignorance must be all too apparent to the scholarly, sober and somewhat humourless membership attending the meetings.
I was also very self-conscious about being by several decades the youngest person present. So I was very surprised to hear from Philip, with whom I have been exchanging emails, that several members from my time are still active in the Club. Indeed Mr Peter Clayton, who was on the LNC committee at the time of my membership, was the editor of its newsletter until last year. So perhaps not all the members in 1962 were quite as elderly and decrepit as my 13-year-old self perceived them to be.
After about a year of regular attendance I stopped going to the Club – I simply began to lose interest, my acquisitive enthusiasm having moved on from coins to antiquarian books. Perhaps it was around then that I developed an early awareness that I’d never be a proper collector of coins or indeed of anything, since I don’t feel any of the compulsion for completism which is the mark of the true collector.
I finally relinquished my LNC membership in 1965, when I moved with my parents from the West End of London to a rural pub in Berkshire. And that was that, and I had scarcely a further thought about the London Numismatic Club until just a couple of weeks ago when I discovered the fact of its continuing existence.
That’s not quite the end of the story. I remembered that for more than half a century since my membership ended, I had kept in a file on my bookshelves a continuous run of Club newsletters from 1962 to 1965. And it turned out that Philip Mernick, as the Club’s archivist, didn’t possess copies of these early publications. So I was very pleased to be able to present them to the Club for its archives, thus freeing up one book-thickness on my shelves to be filled by a volume selected from the huge piles of unsorted books on the floor of my study.
My clearest memory of a meeting of the London Numismatic Club is the occasion when there was auction of objects brought in by members. Perhaps it’s memorable because this was my first-ever auction, number one of many hundreds attended in the subsequent half-century and more, and my very first experience of the thrill and excitement of bidding for and winning an auction lot. I couldn’t afford any of the coins that were on offer, but was determined to bid for something, so I ended up buying for a few shillings a bundle of old books about coins. They were odd volumes of little interest and in poor condition, but I still have a couple of them and consider them to be among the most treasured of my random treasures.