The R C Bell Collection of British Trade Tokens

The R C Bell Collection of British Trade Tokens

R C Bell

We are particularly pleased to offer in this auction the distinguished collection of over 1,800 British trade tokens formed by Mr R.C. Bell, MB, FRCS, of Gosforth, Newcastle on Tyne.

Robert Charles Bell was born on 22 November 1917 at Sudbury, Ontario. He came to England from Canada in August 1928, and was educated at Haileybury and St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, London. During the War he served with the British Emergency Medical Service, followed by a spell in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1945 to 1948. He returned to England to take up a consultancy post in the plastic surgery unit of Shotley Bridge General Hospital in county Durham, Newcastle Regional Hospital Board.

Mr Bell's numismatic activities began at the age of five when, with other children, he visited a burnt-out trapper's shack on Victoria Road, Vancouver, near the Fraser River, and found three South African coins amongst the still-warm ashes. A few weeks later his nascent collection increased by a quarter with the finding of a Hawaiian S-cent metal tram ticket near his aunt's home at 3170 Broadway W., Vancouver.

By the mid-1950s his numismatic interest had transferred to British tokens, specifically the 18th and 19th century copper issues. An avid collector of tokens at that time could have the pick of the dealers' trays, and Mr Bell bought extensively, principally from Thomas Hunter at the Newcastle dealers Corbitt & Hunter, from Mrs Monica Bussell at Sea by and occasionally from Albert Baldwin, then head of his family's firm. By the mid-1970s the collection was largely complete; only judicious additions have been made since that time.

Robert Bell's name has been synonymous with a generation of collectors of British trade tokens thanks to his series of books, the first of which appeared as long ago as September 1963. ln compiling them Mr Bell enjoyed help from a wide circle of correspondents, including John R. Farnell and A.W. Jan, whose collections have long since been dispersed. Segregating the different tokens into genuine, specious, private and political pieces, he followed in the footsteps of Richard Thomas Samuel, the anonymous 19th century author of a series of articles on tokens in The Bazaar, Exchange and Mart, and the Leamington Spa collector Arthur Waters. Fleshing out Samuel's articles and Waters' Notes, adding much useful background information and enlarged illustrations from direct photography, Mr Bell's books found a ready market at a time when original copies of the standard works by Dalton and Hamer and Davis were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Indeed, the success of Mr Bell's books was the catalyst which inspired Seaby to reprint these classics, in 1967 and 1969 respectively.

The sources of many of the illustrations in Mr Bell's books are the actual pieces now offered. Where the cataloguer is certain that a particular token is the same specimen pictured in one of Mr Bell's books, this is footnoted for the record; where the cataloguer is uncertain, or when it is obvious a different specimen has been used for illustration, no comment is made. It remains a matter of some regret that the illustrations in some of Mr Bell's books have been indifferently reproduced, inferring that the actual pieces themselves are either worn, brightly cleaned or dark to the point of illegibility. The truth is markedly different, and examination of the tokens themselves will show the majority to be in far better condition than the book illustrations suggest.

The tokens are being sold with Mr Bell's envelopes, on which all written attributions to the standard references have been thoroughly checked and corrected as necessary. Unfortunately, no more than a handful of pieces are sold with dealers' tickets or any kind of provenance; however, a terminus ante quem for ownership of those pieces illustrated in his books may be approximately determined by the publication date.

A past chairman of the Tyneside Numismatic Society and the recipient of life membership of the Numismatic Literary Guild in 1987, Mr Bell has authored numerous articles in the specialist British and North American numismatic press. Away from coins, another long-time interest of his has been board games. His award-winning Board & Table Games from Many Civilizations was published in two volumes between 1960 and 1978, and Games of the World appeared in 1975. He has also found the time to publish on a number of other diverse subjects, including Tyneside pottery, sailing and the use of skin grafts in plastic surgery. He is a former chairman of the Hadrianic Society, University of Durham, and a former chairman of the Friends of the Oriental Museum, Durham.

The Bell collection of British tokens is one of the last 'old' countrywide collections of its type. Its dispersal affords those who collect the series an excellent opportunity to acquire new specimens, whatever their interest or speciality. Of particular note are the 458 pieces in the 19th century unofficial farthing series, the largest ever grouping of this material to have been sold by auction. Mr Bell's pioneering enthusiasm for this virtually neglected group of tokens, assisted in no small part by the late Roy Hawkins, is especially worthy of record.

Despite selling his tokens, Mr Bell's interest in paranumismatica remains undimmed, and he is presently collecting and studying the modern pieces from his North American homeland.

P.J. Preston-Morley 

Literary Awards won by R.C. Bell NLG (Numismatic Literary Guild): Awards in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973 for articles in Coin World. Awards for best book in class in 1988 and 1995.
CNA (Canadian Numismatic Association): Guy Potter Award, 1980, for a five-year series of monthly articles on Souvenir Dollars of the Far West, published in the Canadian Numismatic journal.

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