The Collection of Tokens formed by the Late David Pottinger

The Collection of Tokens formed by the Late David Pottinger

David Charles Pottinger (1950 - 2007)

In an email to a fellow collector in September 2006, David observed that few wives share their husbands' interest in numismatics and I'm no exception. But as his 'appointed' executive editor I did proof read most of his 27 articles before they reached the publishers (18 for Coin News and nine for the Token Corresponding Society Bulletin) covering many of the 559 tokens in his collection. Nevertheless, it came as a surprise to me that David should be so widely known and well regarded in his chosen sphere and I am privileged to provide this short resume of his life and career.

Unusually David was Reading born and bred, having one brother John, but it was never either's destiny to follow father and grandfather into the family hairdressing business of H. Pottinger at 3 Whitely Street, the contents of which now reside in Reading Museum's store.

David began coin collecting while still at Stoneham Grammar School for boys. Coins appealed because they are small, portable, pictorial, more durable than stamps and could be relatively inexpensive. Tokens in particular reflected his interests in English industrial history and geography. He joined Reading Coin Club in 1973, holding every possible office. As programme secretary in 2006, he was still organising events from his hospital bed.

In the absence of achieving the necessary grades to take a degree in geography, in 1969 he became articled to the firm of Reading accountants, Fryer Whitehill & Co. (later Clark Whitehill), qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 1974 and rising to Audit Senior. On 1 April 1977 he made the move into industry, joining Exlax in Wokingham, where he reached the position of Company Secretary and Finance Director. In 1980 (again on 1 April, but no fool) he joined the Financial Control Department of BMW (GB) Ltd in Bracknell, the then relatively recently established UK headquarters of the car company, becoming Profit Planning Manager. We always said he went from one fast moving product to another. The samples of the second were definitely better.

In his working life David was a great deal more interested in the way that good financial information could contribute to decisions about driving businesses forward than in simply accounting for what had happened in the past. The same was true of his coin collecting. As well as admiring the pieces for their quality and detail, he wanted to unravel the stories about how past businesses prospered using tokens to trade. The future always held the prospect of learning more and sharing the fruits of his research with fellow enthusiasts.

Thus, on learning in 2002 that his life would be shortened, he was fortunate in obtaining early retirement from his job so that he could implement his long held ambition to consolidate his research and write articles about his collection. That is in between gardening, short history courses at the University of Reading and holidays.

Over the years David amassed information about his coins through meeting and corresponding with other collectors, contacting museum curators, visiting libraries and public record offices to trawl through old trade directors and registers. He also visited the places of origin of many pieces in his collection and our UK holidays included, for example, crossing the lronbridge over Coalbrookdale in 1988, and there was no barge below (lot 217), touring the historic coal fields of Cumbria (see lots 61 7 -629) and, most recently, taking in the sights of Bristol in September 2006.

Continental holidays, by contrast, were pure relaxation and during 30 years David recorded driving over 32,000 miles through France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia, mostly on the way to the beach. In ten years of living with cancer, involving three major operations (one filmed in 1998 by the BBC for the programme 'Hope for Helen', about the late sports personality Helen Rollason) and four rounds of chemotherapy, David stuck to three or four holidays a year, with the co-operation of his doctors.

As a long time supporter of the National Trust, for 27 years he was volunteer auditor for the Reading NT Centre. In recognition of this outstanding service, in February 2007 he received a framed photograph signed by the NT Director General, Fiona Reynolds, of which he was clearly proud and which hung in his room at the Duchess of Kent House hospice to much admiration.

It is now safe to reveal that during his life David's carefully organised catalogues of tokens were kept in a tatty old cardboard box amongst the household cleaning items. Opening it after his death revealed a small cutting, characteristically neatly highlighted and carefully placed, with the following quote:

My wish is that my drawings, my prints, my curiosities, my books -in a word, those things of art which have been the joy of my life-shall not be consigned to the cold tomb of a museum and subjected to the stupid glance of the careless passer-by; but I require that they shall all be dispersed under the hammer of the auctioneer, so that the pleasure which the each one of them has given me shall be given again, in each case, to some inheritor of my own tastes.

A Google search revealed that these words are from the will of Edmond De Goncourt (1822-96), a French writer, critic, book publisher and the founder of the Academie Goncourt, which annually awards the most prestigious French language literature prize, akin to the Booker prize in the UK. Edmond pursued a lifelong collaboration with his brother Jules, writing novels and art criticism. They never married and virtually never separated until Jules' premature death in June 1870. Edmond also wrote:

"Today I begin to understand what love must be, if it exists. When we are parted, we each feel the lack of the other half of ourselves. We are incomplete like a book in two volumes of which the first has been lost. That is what I imagine love to be: incompleteness in absence."

At first I thought he was right, but it seems to me now he was 'looking through the opposite end of the telescope' and describing grief. Love is joy in discovery, pride in knowing and shared passion, however quietly expressed, as all true collectors will recognise. Edmond got it right in his will, bequeathing to others the pleasure of acquiring his treasures, as David does now.

But there is one piece from the collection not in the sale, an attractive halfpenny issued in 1794 by Chambers, Langston Hall & Co, depicting a girl making lace. As a lace maker, that one's mine.

David Pottinger, born on 31 October 1950, was a stalwart of the Reading Coin Club for well over 30 years. It was where many of his contemporaries in the token collecting world, including the cataloguer, first got to know him; others would have met him at the annual Token Congresses, of which he was a devotee right from the start at Crewe in 1982. A meticulous researcher in those pre-internet days, David spent hours in libraries going through Kelly's and other trade directories, or patiently leafing through parish and other records, just to unearth those gems of information so crucial to finding out more about the issuer of the token, whether it be a Berkshire publican, a Cumbrian mining magnate or a boardwalk photographer from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Yet David never tired of the chase for knowledge about the pieces he owned. A series of notebooks meticulously records his entire collection, offering us a window to his world and enabling provenances to be given to every piece. Many early acquisitions, most notably the Staverton penny (lot 235), were from dealers such as the brother and sister partnership of Malcolm and Marcia Ellis in Godalming, the formidable figure of the pseudonymous Russian 'John Copperman' and the Bedfordshire-based trader Peter Davies. He also bought extensively from the late Fred Schwer, noting with some glee (and not a little surprise) that his £20 purchase of a Coalbrook Dale halfpenny in 1980 netted him a completely unpublished die trial.

David's World tokens were sold in these rooms in March 2008, almost a year after his untimely death on 30 March 2007. His British tokens follow here; his tickets and passes are grouped in the relevant section.