Collection of Jetons formed by the late George Berry

Collection of Jetons formed by the late George Berry

George Berry (1928 - 2013)

George Berry was born in Oldham, Lancashire on 18 October 1928, the younger of two sons of George Ingham Berry, a Congregational church minister who had seen service in the trenches in World War I, and his wife Ethel, nee Gill, a schoolteacher. In 1933 the family moved to the Liverpool suburb of Seaforth, where he recalled that his school was bombed in early 1940 and lessons took place in the teacher’s house for a select few for 18 months! In 1941 there was another move to Goosnargh, near Preston, from where George completed his education at Preston Grammar School and then enrolled as a trainee teacher at the City of Leeds Training College in 1946. His first teaching experience was at St Leonard’s, Padiham, at the age of 19, before national service with the Royal Scots intervened and he spent 1949 and 1950 as a sergeant instructor with the R.A.E.C. in Trieste, Italy, where he later recalled he was almost court-martialled for insubordination.

Demobbed, further teaching posts followed, at Cradley Heath and Halesowen. At the latter he made the acquaintance of the late Peter Selby, like himself a teacher and coin collector, and it was at Halesowen that he was appointed to his first deputy headship in 1958. He served as president of the local branch of the National Union of Teachers and read for his B.A. degree, submitting a paper on the debasement of Tudor coinage. In 1961 he moved to Buckinghamshire with his first appointment as Head Master, at the county’s last all-age school in the village of Waddesdon, where he recalled that he was interviewed for the post by none other than Lady Rothschild. Two years later he moved to Holtspur, just outside Beaconsfield, upon his appointment as Head at Gravel Hill school in Chalfont St Peter, where he made the acquaintance of, among many other local celebrities, Roald Dahl. It was a time of increasing freedom in education and in this new purpose-built facility he was able to dispense with desks and introduce other practices which benefitted his students. Subsequent appointments included senior lecturer in education at Whitelands College, Roehampton, headships at Haslewood School in Hoddesdon, Hartsbourne, at Bushey Heath, Elmhurst Middle school in the middle of a large council estate in Aylesbury which was visited by the late Princess Diana on two occasions, and finishing as Head of French at Haileybury Junior school, Windsor, in 1988.

I first met him in 1961, as a result of my Father spotting a notice in the Buckingham Advertiser, asking that anyone with an interest in coins come to a meeting at Buckingham Town Hall, with a view to forming a local numismatic society. I don’t remember much about our first encounter but the numismatic society got off the ground and we subsequently met for many years at Whitchurch, which in my early teens was a daunting 25-mile round-trip bike ride at night! By 1965 George had started to specialise in two distinct fields – medieval jetons, an early interest of his, of which he had already formed a considerable collection by the mid 1950s (which will be dispersed in these rooms in December), and Buckinghamshire 17th century trade tokens. With the latter he always joked that he had a head start on me (I didn’t start with local tokens until 1969), but for the next 30 years or so we competed for, studied and, most importantly, enjoyed our tokens and the fruits of our combined research. We published a new county listing in BNJ in 1973 and for the past few years had been working towards a comprehensive revision. In recent years he whittled some other areas of his collection down to raise funds for new purchases and had been singularly successful: our last conversation, 3 weeks before his death on 7 April, concerned Lot 286 in this catalogue, a Newport Pagnell token which he was looking forward to acquiring.

George Berry, a raconteur par excellence and renowned Francophile, was my first mentor in numismatics; a thoroughly good man, someone who never gave up on anyone and always had words of encouragement to offer to all, young or old. His wife, Barbara, pre-deceased him in 1998; he leaves a son, Ian, and daughter Judith.