Changes to the library

The reason I started this blog was to advertise the wonderful resource that is the BNS / RNS library as there are changes afoot.  I have just been advised of the (?final) details of those changes. They are:

  1. As of NOW (with no warning to the membership), we are no longer able to borrow books.
  2. The library has to close for a time whilst the Warburg is undergoing refurbishment.  On re-opening the RNS / BNS library will be housed within the Warburg collection on open access.  The books will be kept together but the journals will be dispersed around the Warburg.  Unfortunately, the Warburg’s cataloguing system is bizarre and unique so expect to spend several hours (if not days) trying to find where they are.

Although I am pleased that one of my concerns has been met (splitting the library up completely), the fact that members can no longer borrow books is a major concern and a major hindrance to research.  Inter-library loan is a red herring waved around by those who have access to other major numismatic libraries (it is slow, expensive and the books will come covered in “do not photocopy” labels).

Surely, a major change like this should be subject to a vote by the membership of both societies?  The fact that it has been pushed through with no consultation I find very disturbing.

I’d be interested in other people’s views.  If you feel strongly on this matter, please write to the Councils of your respective Society.


Those book cards

Although it seems old fashioned — well let us be honest it is old fashioned! — the cards which are used to lend books to members are a fascinating historical document in themselves.  I thought it would be fun to look at a few examples.  I thought I would start with Sture Bolin’s State and Currency in the Roman Empire to 300 A.D. The card from this volume reads like a list of the great and the good of British numismatics.

David Sellwood, Roger Merson, John Casey, Robert Kenyon, Roger Bland, Richard Hobbs, Adi Popescu…  Quite a collection of names.  Quite humbling when I compare it to my own book which has never been borrowed (and, despite being sent as a review copy, never reviewed in NC!).

I then decided to look at an older volume, Francesco Gnecchi’s I Medaglioni Romani, volume 1, from 1912.

This volume has a lovely dedication to the library from the author.

The loan record only starts in 1941, which makes me suspect that a prior card was full and then disposed of.  It starts with a Miss Toynbee, who I assume is Jocelyn Toynbee although by this date she was 44 and a distinguished academic which makes the “Miss” a little problematic.  It is a notable contrast that the next person to borrow the volume is given his title of “Professor.”

Gnecchi’s volume is, like Haeberlin, beautifully illustrated.

One other thing I like about the early RNS library volumes is their customised binding.  I hate to think what it would cost to do this now.

Two pieces of news.  Firstly, the 2017 volume of the Numismatic Chronicle has been published and should have arrived with members by now.  Secondly, it seems fairly certain that the Warburg will be closing from the summer of 2019 to summer 2020 for refurbishment, and thus the library will have to be packed-up for a year.

Kris Lockyear, 21st February 2018.

Auction catalogues

In a recent posting to the RRome mailing list, Andrew McCabe wondered if the RNS / BNS library carried auction catalogues. As an “applied” numismatist, I have never had a use for them myself but I do realise that for other branches of the field, they are a key resource.  I doubt that the collection we have can rival that held by the Fitzwiilliam Museum, Cambridge, which was until recently curated by the late, great, Ted Buttrey.   As you can see from the image above, many bays of our rolling stacks are dedicated to them.

The older catalogues are often bound, as can be seen in the next picture.  The more recent ones are not.

I did look to see how far back some runs go, and we do have a few early examples.

On the whole, auction catalogues are not themselves catalogued, so you’ll have to come and look for yourselves if there is one which interests you.

Duplicate catalogues are left out for members to help themselves, and auctions not including coins are similarly disposed of.

Kris Lockyear. February 9th 2018.

Haeberlin 1910

This week’s featured book is Haeberlin’s Aes Grave: das Schwergeld Roms und Mittelitaliens from 1910.  This is a huge tome.  I had to photograph it from the top of the library’s step ladder!  This volume consists of the plates for the book, the text is in a separate volume. You get a sense of the scale of the book from my glasses which I deliberately left on the cover for scale.  As might be expected for a huge book which is 108 years old, the cover is falling-off and some of the plates are loose.  Hopefully, we can send it for conservation at some point.

The book was a gift from the estate of the late, great, Harold Mattingly and is a fine addition to the RNS / BNS joint library.






The plates in the book are reproduced at 1:1, hence the size.  Roman Republican aes signatum were approximately 1.5kg in weight, or 5 Roman pounds and were about 16cm by 9cm. Illustrating those at 1:1 was a luxury I doubt any modern publisher could contemplate now.



 The volume also illustrates many contemporary artefacts such as these bronze alloy lumps (“rundkuchen”) which are possibly Roman proto-coinage.




Other contemporary coinages are also illustrated, such as these coins from Etruria.

Somewhere in the library is the accompanying text volume, but I have yet to track that down.  The plate volume is too delicate (and possibly too heavy!) to loan out, but well worth a browse next time you are in the library.

Kris Lockyear, 30th January 2018.

Coin hoards and Hoarding in Roman Britain

A recent publication, and addition to the joint library of the Royal and British Numismatic Societies, is Roger Bland’s new book, Coin hoards and hoarding in Roman Britain AD 43–c.498.  Roger worked at the British Museum for many years, in both the Department of Coins and Medals and as head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.  This volume is the 13th Special Publication of the British Numismatic Society.  It is available from Spinks for £40.

The book is a handsomely produced hardback.  The first two chapters introduce the study of Roman coinage in Britain, and provides an overview of hoarding in the province.  The next five chapters provide a series of period-based studies from the Iron Age-Roman transition to late Roman gold.  Two thirds of the volume is dedicated to a “checklist” of Iron Age and Roman coin hoards in Britain.

The book is full of maps and figures.  These are generally quite good, with some excellent maps by Katherine Robbins.  The graphs are largely based on the defaults provided by Excel.  The unnecessary extra lines on the y-axis are a particular bugbear of mine.  In only a few examples has Roger committed the cardinal sin of utterly pointless 3D (e.g., Figs. 5.30 and 5.31).  Statisticians have been fulminating against this practice for decades!  The photos are variable in quality with some excellent (e.g., Fig. 6.4)  and some fuzzy and out-of-focus (e.g., 6.2). The tables are excellent and have been laid out by someone with a good grasp of typography.  These minor gripes of mine should not, however, detract much from the excellent quality of this volume.  There is much of great use in this volume, and insights from a first-rate scholar who has worked on hoards for many years.

This volume is going to be one of at least three on hoards that are due out.  A second volume from the IARCH Project, written by Roger Bland and Adrian Chadwick, is due later in the year and a volume from the Oxford Roman Economy Project (edited by Jerome Mairat) is also forthcoming.

In the latter volume I have argued that numismatists have grasped the benefits of databases, but have largely not benefited from developments in statistical and spatial analysis.  For example, relative risk maps could help us move away from simple dot distributions, and Correspondence Analysis could help us see patterns in our data that are not otherwise visible.  My hope is someone will take the data assembled by the IARCH Project and “run with it”.

Kris Lockyear, 26th January 2018.


One may wonder why a library requires a blog, especially an entirely unofficial one?  The RNS and BNS have maintained a joint library for many years.  It resides in the basement of the Warburg Institute on the south side of Gordon Square.  When I was a PhD student in the 1990s I regularly used the library.  At that time, one could access the library whenever the Warburg was open by showing one’s RNS membership card at reception and getting the key.  Sadly, thefts from the library led to it being closed most of the week.  It is now only open on Tuesday afternoons when a team of volunteers open up for a few hours.

The library, however, seems to be a well-kept secret.  The newly revamped RNS website, for example, makes no mention whatsoever of a library, or that members have the right to borrow up to four books.  As a result, the library is an underused resource.  A small number of people, myself included, use the library regularly, but the vast majority of members do not.

The aim of this blog is to make the members of the two societies more aware of the fantastic collection they have access to, and to encourage them to make more use of the library.  I will be highlighting new books and old, as well as posting notices and information about the library when and as it comes up.

This blog is entirely unofficial and represents my views, not the views of the councils of either Society.