The Collection of British Coins formed by the late G.F. Snelling

The Collection of British Coins formed by the late G.F. Snelling

Geoffrey Frank Snelling (1927 - 2003)

My Father was born in Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey, on 22 May 1927 and was therefore extremely proud to be a Man of Kent. Kent, and in particular the Isle of Sheppey, remained a part of England which he adored throughout his life. However, during the War years he moved with his parents and younger brother to Bath, where he attended the City of Bath Boys' School. He then went on to study Physics at Kings College in London, gaining his BSc in two years instead of three and going on to achieve an MSc as well as research experience at Kings. He joined the staff of the Atomic Energy Authority in the late 1940s, making his entire career at Harwell. He was very skilled, not only theoretically but also practically, making a major contribution to the production of a system to continuously check radio-activity in streams of acid, such as occur in a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. This is just one of a number of very important projects in which he was involved at Harwell. One of his inventions in this field was featured as an exhibit in the Science Museum in London. He was, however, the most modest person possible about his achievements.

He was an intensely patriotic man, not in a narrow nationalistic way, but with a genuine love of England, its values, traditions, history and the beauty of its green and pleasant land. He was articulate and well informed and keenly aware of social injustice. He had strong beliefs and cared deeply about the state of the country today and about waste in our modern throwaway world. He believed in justice, fairness and people's rights and would write many a letter to MPs, the press and to anyone he felt had the power to make a difference. He treated everyone, high or low, equally in the same forthright and direct way and delighted in arguing with those who disagreed with his views. All in all he was a man of simple tastes, not at all in tune with our consumer society. He had a keen sense of humour and delivered many pungent one-liners to help people through their day!

He was very well read, particularly enjoying biography and history and was involved in researching his family tree. A man of many and varied interests, he gained pleasure from structured languages such as Latin, which was to prove very helpful with his coin collecting. He had a great enthusiasm for gardening, in particular for growing vegetables, at which he excelled, running several allotments and gardens during his life and supplying family and friends with a constant supply of wonderful produce. He sometimes said, tongue very much in cheek, that if he was feeling out of sorts with the world a session contemplating the splendid compost heaps on his allotment would restore his spirits.

A very kind and generous man, my Father was devoted to his family and particularly proud of his daughter and two grandsons. He was hugely selfless and generous to young and old and enjoyed nothing more than spending time with his family and friends. His numismatic interest began when he was out with me one day in the early 1960s and asked if I would like to collect pennies and halfpennies. He then punched various coin-sized holes in sheets of rubber, mounted the sheets on hardboard and he and I housed coins from our loose change on them. They were keenly swapped for any in better condition and as his interest increased this led to a serious hobby which lasted for the rest of his life.

Healthwise, my Father had no small amount of misfortune. A motorcycle accident in the 1950s left him with a slight limp. In 1989 he was hit by an uninsured drunk driver and received horrific injuries from which he never fully recovered. Three years later he underwent major heart surgery and was later to have a pacemaker fitted. Despite these handicaps his zest for life and energy remained undiminished until he was diagnosed with myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in the Spring of 2003 and died only five months later on September 7th of that year.

Pamela Cawthorne
July 2008

Geoffrey Snelling was a shrewd collector with a good eye for a coin, as a careful perusal of the pieces in the following 393 lots, and others listed throughout this catalogue, will testify. He started collecting English milled coins by type seriously in early 1964 and, right from the start, always aimed to acquire coins in the best possible condition he could afford. An early testament to this approach is the superb George Ill 1817 halfcrown he bought from Seaby in February 1964 for 70 shillings (£3.50: lot 3226). He soon became a significant client of the firm, and of the Newcastle-based dealers Corbitt & Hunter. By 1965 he was buying from E.H. Woodiwiss, Allan Hailstone and Mayfair Coins in London, as well as the late Charlie Lusted in his native Kent and, closer to home in Bath, from George Hickinbottom in Dudley and Howard Woodberry, then the leading light in the South Wales & Monmouthshire Numismatic Society. The following year he began dealing with Spink, Michael Millward and Peter 'Maundy' Allen, then coins started to come into the collection from John Duggan of Blackburn and Reginald Lubbock in 1967. We know all this and much more because Mr Snelling kept very accurate records of what he bought, when and from whom.

He dealt almost exclusively by mail, shunning coin fairs and auctions with the exception of those run by Andrew and Richard Armour in Bath and at various West Country venues. In this way he was able to choose (or refuse) items for his collection at leisure. He entered into lively correspondence with some of his dealers, particularly over the anomaly of upper value limits placed on lost postal packets by the Royal Mail in 1968 (a subject about which he complained to his local MP), and the introduction of VAT on collectors' coins in 1973. Grading was another subject close to Mr Snelling's heart and on 19 October 1969 he wrote to E.H. Woodiwiss, "It is always a pleasure to receive pieces from you as the gradings given in your lists can be relied on absolutely." Woodiwiss, an old-time dealer and one of the most conservative graders of coins at a time when grading was a lot stricter than is the case now, had the letter framed and hung on his office wall at 12 Sicilian Avenue, using Mr Snelling's testimony in subsequent lists and his advertising.

For those interested in the English milled series in particular, his collection, virtually completed by 1978, offers a veritable time capsule into a world when the availability of good collectors' coins was much greater than it is today. After a gap of some years, Mr Snelling, now living in Wallingford, started collecting again in 1994, this time selectively in the fields of English and Scottish hammered. A number of pieces were bought from the late Patrick Finn, who ironically had sold Mr Snelling several nice British copper coins almost 30 years previously, when Patrick's first job at Spink was looking after that series. Patrick returned the favour by proposing Mr Snelling for membership to the British Numismatic Society, to which he was elected in May 1998. It is hoped that Mr Snelling's numismatic papers will be offered to the Society as a valuable insight into the collecting of British coins in the 1960s and 1970s.