French Historical Medals in Silver, from the Collection formed by James Spencer
James N Spencer
James Spencer was born in 1946 into a family of auctioneers based at Retford, Nottinghamshire. The family firm, Henry Spencer & Sons, founded in 1840, bore the name of his great-grandfather. James' father, Rupert Spencer, had developed the fine arts side of the firm, so James grew up in an atmosphere that was conducive to collecting.
When he was 8 years old, James acquired his first coin. The family had stopped in Gloucester en route to a holiday in Cornwall, when James spotted what turned out to be a Victorian crown dated 1889 in 'about fine' condition in the window of a general antique shop. This acquisition led him to develop an interest in coins and he continued to collect through his schooldays at York and while at university in Cambridge.
Graduating in 1969, James joined Christie's in London, where he subsequently transferred into the Chinese art department. Although greatly absorbed in Chinese art, especially ceramics, he never lost his interest in numismatics, although his focus had turned increasingly to military medals.
In 1978 he joined the board of Christie's and, possessed of sufficient means, began to collect the medals he liked most of all, namely "anything really rare and interesting, especially if it's never been published." In 1989 James moved to Taiwan to take up the post of curator at a private museum of Chinese art, but he continues to follow the medal market closely, purchasing pieces from dealers and auctions in England on a regular basis.
James' only regret is that, in a busy life mostly spent overseas, he has never had time to do much research on the medals in his collection; he hopes that those who buy them "will make up for this deficiency." With this in mind, the cataloguer has, over the years, described them in as much detail and has endeavoured to illustrate as many as commercial considerations allow; it should also be pointed out that the DNW website carries many more illustrations of the Spencer and other medals in this sale than the printed catalogue.
Although James has been dispersing pieces from his collection over the last four years in various sales, mostly staged by DNW, the Irish pieces in the following 247 lots represent a very important part of his holdings. What follows is a fascinating pot pourri of Irish society from the 1760s to the 1930s, seen through medals awarded in gold and silver by societies and educational establishments to everyone from the nobility and gentry to the peasant farmer and schoolboy. Many reflect the hard times of the Great Famine in the 1840s and some are the only known examples. It's the type of collection only formed once in a lifetime. Enjoy it.