The Joanna Tansley Collection of Patterns, Proofs and Coining Trials

The Joanna Tansley Collection of Patterns, Proofs and Coining Trials

Joanna Tansley

Joanna Tansley has been interested in coins from an early age. Her first speciality was in the coins of the Commonwealth, a field studded by variants and struck at a time when the British coinage was about to undergo major changes in production.

Having parted with the Commonwealth collection, Joanna established herself as a collector of patterns-not just because they are rare in themselves, but because they form an important part of the often-lengthy numismatic route from conception to final design. From the patterns came an interest in the so-called 'VIP' proof record coins which, as Graham Dyer relates opposite, started to fetch inordinate amounts of money at Glendining's in the early 1960s when the odd piece found its way into commerce.

Her major interest, however, was in the trials and patterns produced prior to the introduction of decimalisation in Britain. In this respect she has brought together an outstanding group of material which is almost certainly the best collection of its kind outside the Royal Mint. Here are the actual pieces circulated at meetings of the Decimal Currency Committee in 1963 by Sir Jack James, then Deputy Master of the Mint; in a real sense, the bronze coins can be regarded as unique lineal ancestors of the two pence and pennies in our pockets today (lots 417-18).

The section of miscellaneous trials and proving pieces brings together a wide group of material about which very little has been published. In this respect as much as possible has been illustrated for the record, from the interesting typeface trials produced in 1961 to flan, plating and size trials, even a highly unusual press set-up piece made at Llantrisant, pairing a Britannia Moneta trial with the Cincinnati salesman's 'offer to buy a beer' advertising check slogan (lot 480). There is also a trial blank believed to have been produced by ICI Metals Ltd early in the gestation period for the new nickel-brass threepence of Edward VIII (lot 485). The concluding group of advertisement pieces promote the wares and achievements of a number of independent mints and individuals, from Ralph Heaton & Son and the Kings Norton Metal Co and their successors, to those of the Birmingham penmaker and city beneficiary Sir Josiah Mason (lot 502).

Not content with the quest to accumulate, Joanna closely studied the Mint's Annual Reports to ascertain what might be available that could possibly be overlooked by others. Like most collectors she enjoys the hunt for new acquisitions, but describes her collecting as 'incidental' to the thirst for knowledge -in a way, this collection represents her voyage of discovery. In parting with it she has only two regrets; she never found a fully struck seven-sided 25 pence of the type experimentally produced in 1981 (see footnote to lot 434), nor an example of the proposed plastic currency from the 1960s (not to be confused with the various series of toy money described by the late David Rogers).

As a collector Joanna Tansley has always had an enthusiastic interest in the odd and the unusual. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that her collection comprises a wide variety of trial and experimental pieces, ranging in date from the reign of George Ill to the present day and emanating from private mints as well as from the Royal Mint.
Prominently represented in the collection are well known patterns from the 1840s and 1850s when a decimal coinage was seriously contemplated for Britain; these patterns have their more recent counterparts in the series of trials from the 1960s when a decimal coinage was finally taking shape. Somewhat different in their appeal are specimens of proof coins struck by the Royal Mint not for sale to collectors but for record purposes as samples of the coins produced each year by the Mint. Intended for certain national collections, for display and exhibition, for presentation to potential customers, these record proofs ceased in the 1960s after their rising numismatic value encouraged their appearance in the saleroom and brought them unfortunate notoriety in official circles.

Also present, and reflecting the very proper concern of the Royal Mint to experiment with new alloys or with adjustments in its processes, are a number of trial pieces with the design of Britannia Moneta so often used for such purposes since 1927. It is this concern for improvement which explains the presence of British West African shilling trials, which have nothing to do with the coinage of British West Africa but, being regarded as a technically suitable design, everything to do with a combined attempt by the Royal Mint and the Birmingham mints in the late 1960s to investigate cheaper coinage materials, an attempt that bore fruit in 1971 with a coinage in stainless iron for Iraq.

Mention of the private mints in Birmingham is a reminder that Joanna Tansley has not restricted her attention to the trials and patterns of the Royal Mint. Not only are the Birmingham Mint Limited and Imperial Metal Industries represented here but also suppliers of minting equipment such as Greenwood & Batley of Leeds, whose blanking presses were a noisy feature of the old Royal Mint at Tower Hill. There are even trial pieces from the Royal Canadian Mint.

As I know from conversations and correspondence with her during the past fifteen years or so, Joanna Tansley has an enquiring mind. She has not collected coins simply because they might be rare or beautiful but because she has been interested in the reasons why they exist, in the story that lies behind their production. More than most collectors, perhaps, she typifies the motto of my AI ma Mater, the London School of Economics-Rerum Cognoscere Causas (to know the meaning of things).