The Collection of British Tokens formed by John Roberts-Lewis
John Roberts-Lewis was born in 1936. He spent his childhood in Wales with his mother who ran a café in Abergavenny.
He joined the army at age 18 and did his national service for nearly two years, but despite passing the entrance exams for Sandhurst he decided an army career was not for him. He then worked in the research department at Guest Keen’s steelworks in Cardiff for a few years and completed his A-levels at night school. To further his career he then entered higher education at the University of Wales and obtained first class Bachelors degrees in Geology and Physics, which combined to constitute one of the first qualifications in Geophysics from the university. When he left university he took a post with Seismograph Service Ltd which began his career in oil exploration. Then he embarked on a long career with British Petroleum which took him all over the UK and the world.
He lived and worked in Yorkshire, the North Sea, France, Germany, Iran, Libya, Nigeria (in the swamps of the Niger Delta), Norway, Australia, and finally returned to London for a few years. Taking early retirement at the age of 50, he made use of his time renovating his house and land in Buckinghamshire. On retiring John was also able to indulge his interest in history and archaeology by lecturing at local history societies and travelling to ancient sites in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Albania, Tunisia, Jordan and the Inca Trail in South America, to name but a few.
John discovered his interest in coins whilst at preparatory school at the end of World War II. The first coin in his collection was a large copper Cartwheel twopence which he enjoyed rolling down the bed sheets when he was confined to bed with asthma. From the age of 8 he was bitten by the ‘collecting bug’ and began by focusing on coins from the British Isles; he went on to build his collection of British coins over the next 60 years. As a child he spent hours in museums and antique shops, where he particularly enjoyed the historical narratives illuminated by coinage of different eras. As a young man he wrote a numismatic column for the South Wales Echo, answering coin related questions posed by readers.
During his travels, John enjoyed archaeological holidays which piqued his interest in ancient coins; these soon formed a part of his collection. Although he became interested in foreign coins in his teens, thanks to coins collected at secondary school from pupils whose older family members had been with the forces overseas, he later developed his British Colonial coin collection in the 1970s whilst working at home and abroad. During the 1990s John gave greater attention to collecting tokens, and he made a particular study of the SS Great Britain and her associated tokens over the ten years that his two daughters were at university in Bristol.
Despite his wide travels, John says he rarely purchased coins abroad, preferring the provenance of coins from trusted friends and dealers in London. And the prices at home were always better than in Hong Kong, apparently! Ever level-headed, he even declined the exciting offer of an interesting hoard of coins in Iran as he distrusted their source!!
At the age of 78 John has decided to stop collecting at his previous zealous level as he is finally content with his sets. He has decided to pass on a selection of his coins in the hopes that new collectors will enjoy their stories and provenance as much as he has.