By Dick Hanscom
My wife said to me, “You’re going with me this year. When can you go?” She had “done” Cornwall the previous year with a family friend (looking for Poldark and Doc Martin).
So stuffing my dislike for traveling way, way down, I gave her a range of dates to encompass the Coinex coin show in London Sept. 22-23 and the Token Congress in Warwick two weekends later (Oct. 6-8). This was designed so that we (my business partner and I) could get our October auction printed and in the mail before I left, and I would return in time to assist in the run-up to our auction on Oct. 21.
We first flew south from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Anchorage, and then “over the pole” to Reykjavik, Iceland. After several flight delays, and compensation making Icelandair a little less profitable, we arrived in London Friday night about six hours later than expected.
Saturday morning, I went to Coinex while my wife Jan wandered around the area. I get overwhelmed at shows. I am not aggressive enough. I told her to give me two hours.
Coinex is a nice show, but small by U.S. standards. Obviously the emphasis is on British numismatics, which goes back way further than ours. They have a 2,000-year history to choose from. All of it was on display and offered for sale. It was really a great opportunity to see stuff we don’t normally see in Fairbanks.
I met John Mussel, publisher of Coin News, a British coin magazine. I had written a few articles for them 20 years ago, and promised an article or two. Have to scour the newsletter for something appropriate, or do something original.
That afternoon, we took the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, just to get a feel for what we would do on Sunday. This was a pretty good orientation and set us up for walking about five miles the next day.
On Sunday, we took the tube to the Tower of London and spent a few hours there. The “Tower” is the White Tower, in the center of the castle. It gives its name to the castle complex. It houses an armory display on the first and second floors, and other displays on other floors, including a screw press.
We walked the walls and went into some of the towers on the walls, with graffiti from the “inmates.”
The Crown Jewels are housed here, not in the tower, but another building on the grounds. Surprisingly (to me), the mint was not in the tower (you know, “Tower” mint), but along the outside wall. There was a display of old mint implements, a display for “Trial of the Pyx,” and displays of interesting coins.
We left the Tower castle and proceeded to walk around London with no real destination. We ended up at Spitalfields market. We stumbled on a wool and fleece market. And then we walked some more. We walked by and looked at the Christopher Wren monument. I had a Winnie the Pooh moment, thinking Christopher Robin (hey, they are both bird names). I really can’t tell you where else we walked, but it was an enjoyable afternoon.
It was getting near 5 p.m. and time to head back to the hotel. Jan said, “The chapel where they filmed The Da Vinci Code is over there” (across the river). It had been pointed out to us on the bus tour the previous day. So we walked over the bridge and got to the approximate location, then did nearly a complete circle around where the chapel was without finding it. I asked a couple in a short alley if they knew where it was, and they gave us directions that got us right to it, right down to the guard house. The attendant informed us that the chapel was closed, but we could look at it from the outside. We figured that was better than nothing, so we walked in, saw the outside of the chapel, and headed out. On the street, Jan looked at a map and said, “I think our hotel is two blocks that way.” Duh! So if you go to London, we can recommend a Premier Inn that is two blocks from the Da Vinci chapel.
Monday was a travel day. We went to the train station to catch a train to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where we would be renting a car. Stratford-Upon-Avon is near Warwick, where the Token Congress would be in two weekends, and a convenient place to drop the car when we were done. An hour and a half or two hours later, we were there, caught a cab to the rental car, and picked up the car.
The first time getting in was odd, being on the right (wrong) side of the car. For the next two weeks, I heard my wife say, “Getting a little close to the curb; close to the white line; swing out to miss the car parked halfway in your lane,” etc. I was always hugging the left side of the road. But the best was when taking a right turn: “Stay in the left lane.” Now if you think I am complaining or ridiculing her, you are mistaken. Without her help, the car would have more than just a couple of cosmetic brush scrapes. I seem to recall a gasp when I cut a corner a little close coming off a bridge, narrowly missing the stone wall. Not to worry, I had it all under control. But her best help came at roundabouts: “Stay in the right lane, take the third exit,” or “Follow that car!” (or truck or bus).
So thus began our two-week drive around northern England and Wales. The first stop would be Metheringham to visit David Greenhalgh, a.k.a. Dave the Moneyer. The drive up was uneventful. Boring is good. Just getting the feel for driving on the left, navigating roundabouts, bouncing off the left curb ...
Dave said we should meet in the local pub because he did not want to try to give me directions to his house. Metheringham is a tiny village, with cars parked on both sides of the street. Driving through was like slalom skiing! I found the White Hart Pub, walked in, and Dave was there with his laptop, using their WiFi. He was easily recognized, and since I had on an Alaska T-shirt, so was I.
After introductions, the publican looked at Dave and said, “He’s going to have trouble at your house.” I am about 6'1" tall, and the doors at Dave’s house, which dates back to the 1600s, are not. I think Dave would have been disappointed if I did not whack my head at least once. Once was enough. I am a fast learner.
We followed Dave to his house. Solar panels were on the roof!
We arrived just before dinner, so we talked and got to know each other. Dinner was an excellent meat pie with “veg” and rice pudding for desert. After dinner, we talked a bit more, but Jan and I faded quickly, still not used to the time change.
In the morning, it was a full English breakfast: bacon, sausage, black pudding, eggs and fried tomatoes and mushrooms. I may have forgotten something. I don’t know how anyone can eat all of that. It was way too much, so I eased in with moderate portions. I can’t recommend the black pudding.
Following breakfast, we got a first-hand look at various aspects of “moneying.”
In the backyard is Dave’s shelter that he uses for his demonstrations. He fired up his forge to show how easy it is to bring it up to temperature to melt silver. Bellows and coal, a technique as old as his tokens look! As an exercise in authenticity, he even went to Norway, obtained iron ore, smelted it into iron, and made dies as they would have in Roman times.
But rather than smelting his own steel, he is using mild steel for dies. He can get 20,000 strikes from a set of dies. He has his “mint” set up in the atrium, with dies on shelves lining a wall. So many dies ... at least a few hundred. Dave’s tokens resemble coins from ancient Britain up through medieval times, and even some non-British. These are struck in pewter, copper, silver and gold.
Dave demonstrated how he gets the distinctive (medieval-looking) lettering on his dies with only a nail filed flat to impart a small triangular impression when held at an angle. This is a tool that I might just be able to make and use.
Dave has created a full-time job for himself as a moneyer at renaissance fairs and other historical activities. He spent seven weeks this summer at Sutton Hoo Ship Burial site. A look at his web page, www.grunal.com, will show the scope of his endeavor.
Just before noon Tuesday, we headed to York. This was the beginning of our tour of northern England and Wales. We bounced between castle and abbey and cathedral for almost two weeks, with the miscellaneous numismatic stops along the way.
On our way to Chester, we detoured to Warrington. I have been corresponding with Bob Lyall for over 40 years. Our interests overlap in the south polar regions. He collects British colonial tokens, primarily from the small colonies. I collect polar, which included Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island, which are British colonies. We have maintained contact, keeping an eye open for items that might be of interest to each other.
We stopped in just before lunch and, after a short time, we departed for his local pub for fish and chips (and mushy peas – don’t ask). Bob drove ... zoom, zoom, zoom. At least it felt like that after driving tentatively, cautiously, slowly, for two days. At this pub, and as we found out in London, and we would find throughout our visit, the portions were too big. An 18-year-old me could have put it away and more, but not at my age.
We left right after lunch for Chester. We would see Bob again at the Token Congress.
From Chester, we headed to Conwy and from Conwy to Aberystwyth, via Snowdonia National Park. Narrow roads and sharp turns. Kind of reminds one of the Denali National Park road, but it was paved.
And there were stone walls along either side. “Don’t get too close to the rock wall,” my navigator said, many times. The drops are pretty serious, though. And like Denali National Park, there are sheep. In Snowdonia, there are sheep all over the mountains and even up close. Sometimes they are even on the side of the road. So what if they are not Dahl sheep.
Who needs Denali National Park? If you want to see sheep, don’t come to Alaska. Go to Snowdonia. Sheeps is sheeps. Sadly, the official photographer did not choose to take a photo of them.
After leaving Aberystwyth, we headed south. There were two gold-related stops to be made. The first was Rhiannon Welsh Gold Center in Tregaron. Rhiannon fabricates Welsh gold into very attractive jewelry, many with traditional Welsh designs. I wanted to purchase a specimen, a small piece of raw Welsh gold. Only the sales staff was in when we arrived. The owner (Rhiannon) was due to arrive shortly. We went next door for a coffee. Unfortunately, we could not wait for her to arrive.
Our next stop was the Dolaucothi Gold Mine. This was my chance to pan some native Welsh gold. What I got was native Welsh pyrite! But that is okay. The Dolaucothi Gold Mine dates back to Roman times and was also mined in the Victorian era. They do two tours. We arrived just after the Roman tour began, so we had to settle for the Victorian tour. Our tour guide gave a history of the mine, back to the “pesky Romans” stealing the Welsh gold. The rest of her banter was in the same lighthearted vein and very entertaining. She eliminated our disappointment of missing the tour of the Roman workings.
They suited us up with boots, hard hats and lights. It was low ceilings all the way. I did not bang my head once! But at 5 feet tall, Jan did. She is not used to ducking. But no harm done. She was wearing a helmet.
I had brought a few small Alaska gold nuggets with me and showed them to our tour guide and staff. They were suitably impressed, as all that is ever found there is “flour gold” – very tiny specks.
Our friend, Glen Wilson, met us in Cardiff. I have corresponded with Glen for over 40 years. He is originally from Australia but went to the UK to investigate his family genealogy, got a job, and stayed. We met Glen when he visited Fairbanks two summers ago with Gail (his sister from Australia) and Carol (his cousin’s wife from the UK – we will meet Carol later in this trip). They were doing the usual cruise/land tour and tacked on a few extra days in Fairbanks. Jan visited with them last year when she was “doing Cornwall.”
The next morning, we headed to the Royal Mint in Llantrisant. I had booked the 10 a.m. tour, and that was a good thing. There was only one other couple in our group, but by the time we came out, the size of the groups had grown significantly. The tour took about an hour, while we looked at minting machinery (from a distance while standing behind glass) and the tour guide gave her speech. At the end of the tour, we struck our own new 12-sided, bimetal, one-pound coin with improved security features. An attendant would place a blank in the press while we stood behind a railing, 10 feet away from the press, and pressed a button. The press would press the coin once, recede slightly, and press it again. Yee-ha.
The best part of the whole tour was the displays that followed the tour, with many coins going back to about 1000 C.E., including the first coins from the Royal Mint and carrying on through the years, showing many historic coins and rarities.
We left Cardiff the next morning (Friday) to drive to Stratford-Upon-Avon to drop off the rental car. Only a couple more hours, and I would not have to use that £100 deductible for accident coverage! With Jan navigating and Glen in the back seat also navigating, the navigators did not always agree. One was always ahead of the other, and not always the same one.
As we were getting close to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Jan cackled sinisterly. Over the next 30 miles, there would be 12 roundabouts. A true test of fire to see if I could get the car back undamaged. And before noon! Well, we didn’t make it. We would have made it before noon if I had not missed the last turn. But then we would not have found the gas station to “bring it back full.” We were only about 15 minutes late, and there was no problem. Carol picked us up for the short drive to Warwick.
We arrived at the Warwick Hilton shortly after noon. It was too early for check-in, so our bags were put in storage. I met Dave Smith, the organizer of the Token Congress, with whom I had been communicating for several months.
I was pleased to see my Schmetzlandia token and article on Page 3 of the show program. When I first contacted Dave, I asked if he would like to have me strike a token at the Congress and sent him a copy of the article. He declined, saying that they had done that before and it was a bit noisy. Later, he asked if he could use the article in the program. I said of course, and I would provide silver tokens to include with the article.
Carol then took us to Stratford-Upon-Avon for a short walk-around tour. We saw "Shakespeare" this and "Shakspear" that and still more "Shakspere." Seems he did not get hung up on the spelling. It was really a neat city, well preserved or well restored.
Back at the hotel for dinner and then the auction, I examined the offerings, but there was nothing for me, so I skipped it in favor of an early night. After all, I would be giving my presentation on Alaska tokens at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Saturday morning after breakfast, it was off to the presentations. There are so many facets of British token collecting that it would be difficult to list them all. The program of presentations covered the gamut. “Investigating boring market tokens” was anything but boring. “A Sentimental Journey” was a surprise, as “Sentimental” was a magazine that gave away medals with subscriptions.
Time came for my presentation, and it seemed to zoom by. I think it went well. They now know more than they ever wanted to know about Alaska tokens. It seems that it was well received. Feedback was positive, but no one is going to come over and say, “That was boring.” I will take it as a win.
Other presentations included, “Tokens of the Black Country iron industry,” “Engraved coins,” “Norfolk’s 17c Tokens,” and others. These were followed by the “Gala Dinner.” Too much silverware ... what do I do with this fork? Clearly out of my element.
After dinner was the bourse, from 9 p.m. to midnight. Really? But that was the only way to fit it in. And the room did not empty out until nearly midnight. For most of the night, there were clusters of customers in front of each dealer.
I was there selling my two books, Tinnahs & Sealskins, Gold Dust & Bingles and Striking Gold in Alaska, and trying to sell my gold tokens, gold nuggets and Savoonga 1¢ tokens. Why Savoonga 1¢ tokens? Because Savoonga was mentioned in my presentation and because they are cheap – £2!
At the bourse, Andrew Wager gave me a copy of his book The Mystery of Henry Morgan, a numismatic detective story (not the pirate), so I reciprocated and gave him a copy of Striking Gold. I have had a passing interest in the silver token issues circa 1812. After reading Andrew’s book, I will have to consciously restrain myself. The book was fascinating. It’s a good thing I hadn’t read this book before the bourse, as I might have started looking for silver shilling tokens! The one from the Isle of Wight is really cool.
Jan and Glen manned the table while I wandered around looking for the one item I had decided would be my souvenir from this trip – an Anglesey penny token in Mint State. Unfortunately, there was none to be found. There were some nice XF tokens, but none as good as I wanted. Ironically, within a week of arriving home, I purchased an Anglesey penny token on eBay. Listed as uncirculated, it is only an AU, but the price was right until I manage to find a Mint State example.
Jan took no photos at the Token Congress. Glen, the habitual photographer, did not take any, either.
Fortunately, Carol took one photo at the bourse. It just happened to be of Glen, Jan, me and Bob Lyall. Pure luck!
The following morning, the presentations started again at 9 a.m. While the speaker acknowledged that these were not the most favored of British tokens, “The evolution of British lead and pewter tokens, 1200-1850” was extremely interesting. I was disappointed to find out in “James Wright Junior, a scholar but not a gentleman” that he was not a scoundrel, just not of the gentlemanly class.
With a few presentations to go, we had to leave to catch a bus to Gatwick for our flight the next morning.
I would go back again, but not without a navigator. Without Jan in the passenger seat, I would have been in panic mode all the time. As it was, I was in near-panic mode at times. But it was all endurable and worthwhile.
I found British drivers to be most courteous. They know the conditions and adapt to them. That said, I was mostly outside of cities, and one would expect better-mannered drivers in the countryside.
I would really like to go to the Token Congress again. It was a most enjoyable weekend, very informal and low-key. The most stress was trying to see the tokens at the bourse.
Give me a vote, and I will vote to keep the $1 bill. Having a pocketful of £1 and £2 coins was annoying. I supposed one gets used to it.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1601-1700 is your guide to images, prices and information on coins from so long ago.
• More than 600 issuing locations are represented in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1701-1800 .