The North Yorkshire Moors Collection of British Coins

The North Yorkshire Moors Collection of British Coins

Marvin Lessen

Mr Lessen was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1934. His family moved to Hazleton, Pennsylvania thence to Albany, New York, where relatives still live. Graduating from the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, he spent his career in the aerospace/defense industry, working in various technical locations in Europe and North America. A collector from an early age, of coins, stamps, arms and armour, his move to Scarborough in 1962 precipitated the interest to collect British coins on a serious basis. By the time he had joined the British Numismatic Society in October 1964, and subsequently the Royal Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Society, he was well-known to the principal London dealers of the day – Baldwin (Douglas and Peter Mitchell, and later Michael Sharp), Seaby (Frank Purvey and Alan Rayner), and in particular, Spink, where he enjoyed firm friendships with the late Douglas Liddell, then Patrick Finn, as well as with Douglas Saville and Howard Linecar in literature; also Corbitt & Hunter in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and other sources in the North-East. In the US there developed close connections with CNG (David Guest and Victor England), David Hess, Chris Blom, Joel Malter and Bill Castenholz, to name a few dealers in classical and medieval coins, as well as friends. Perusal of this catalogue, and those to follow, will demonstrate the wide variety of sources from whom Mr Lessen developed his collection.

Mr Lessen has been a frequent contributor to the pages of The British Numismatic Journal, The Numismatic Chronicle and Spink’s Numismatic Circular, as can be seen from the bibliography below. His favourite period of numismatic study centred on the mid-17th century – the coins, medals and seals of Oliver Cromwell and the early years of Charles II. It is no coincidence that his favourite numismatic author was the gifted youth Henry William Henfrey (1852-81), whose Numismata Cromwelliana, privately published in 1877, remains one of the truly significant pieces of numismatic work produced in Britain in the 19th century which is still essential for the student in the 21st. Henfrey died of TB at the age of 29, his proposed history of English country mints unfinished – a very sad loss to numismatics at the time.


‘The story of the Walther P.38’, Guns magazine, January 1961; reproduced in Smith, W.H.B.,
Walther Pistols and Rifles, Harrisburg, PA, 1962
‘A Summary of the Cromwell coinage’,
BNJ 35 (1966)
‘A Transitional Edward VI base shilling’,
SNC April 1967
‘Another Lichfield penny’,
SNC May 1974
‘Supplement to A Summary of the Cromwell Coinage’,
SNC May and July/August 1976
’Numismata Cromwelliana’,
SNC October 1977
‘The Cromwell Lord Protector medal by Simon’,
BNJ 47 (1977)
‘A Northumbrian styca forgery’,
SNC November 1979
‘The Cromwell Lord General medal by Simon’,
BNJ 49 (1979)
‘Some corrections to North volume 2’,
SNC January 1980
‘The Cromwell Dunbar medals by Simon’,
BNJ 51 (1981)
‘The Cromwell funeral medal by Simon’,
BNJ 52 (1982)
‘Edward V groats’, BNJ 53 (1983)
‘Harris, Alchorne and ‘An Essay’”,
BNJ 62 (1992)
‘Counterfeit ‘scowling bust’ groats of Henry V’,
NC 1993 [with Drs. Mary F. Striegel and Peter P. Gaspar] ‘York annulet silver coins of Henry VI’, BNJ 63 (1993)
‘A “Review” of Henfrey’s Journal’,
SNC December 1994
‘Simon’s mill gold coins and medals of Charles II, 1660-1662’,
BNJ 65 (1995)
‘A listing of Cromwell coin types’,
BNJ 66 (1996)
‘Some letters by Edward Hawkins’,
SNC May 1997
‘The Commonwealth naval medals for 1653, by Simon’,
BNJ 67 (1997)
‘Cromwell coin tools in the Royal Mint Museum’,
BNJ 68 (1998)
‘Bushell and the Miner, MI 467-9/67-69’,
SNC August 2002
‘A presumed ‘Hampshire’ hoard of Eadgar CC coins’,
SNC April 2003
‘Snelling’s Seventy-two Plates of Coins’,
SNC June 2003
‘Two misstruck Henry I pennies’,
SNC October 2005 [with Prof. Peter P. Gaspar]‘Notes on Simon’s pattern (Petition) crown of Charles II’, BNJ 75 (2005)
‘An aborted reverse on a pinecone-mascle groat obverse’,
SNC June 2006
‘Supplement to ‘The Commonwealth naval medals for 1653’’,
SNC June 2006
‘Oliver with a Liberty Cap’,
SNC December 2006
‘A parcel of mid-eleventh century Saxon coins, mostly of the York mint’,
SNC December 2007 ‘A Little Cuerdale Parcel’, SNC September 2010 [with Antony Wilson]
‘A Weight Correction’,
SNC April 2012.
‘Roger Roger’s Short Cross’,
SNC September 2013 [with Prof. Peter P. Gaspar]
‘A Note on Violet’s Answer ‘,
BNJ 83 (2013)

This important collection of British coins, spanning the Iron Age, Roman, medieval and early modern periods, with select later additions, was begun in 1962 when its creator, Marvin Lessen, first moved to Scarborough to work at the early warning radar site at RAF Fylingdales.

This third sale of coins from the Lessen collection covers the English period from Henry VII to modern times, as well as Scottish, Irish and Anglo-Gallic coins. The auction finishes with a small group of Yorkshire tokens.

In endeavouring to collect silver coins of the main coinages and types within each reign, Mr Lessen concentrated on groats and, for the later period, shillings. Collectors of these denominations in particular will find much of interest within these pages. Worthy of special mention are examples of the earliest English coinrelated piece to bear a date of any kind (Lot 891) and, in the same idiom, an Edward VI pattern shilling, the first English coin to carry a date in Roman numerals (Lot 858). With relatively few exceptions, this portion of the Lessen collection was formed before 1980, so this is an opportunity for present-day collectors to acquire specimens that have been off the market for several decades.

To aid future students and for continuity, the lot numbering sequence follows that of Parts I and II of the collection, sold in these rooms on 25 April 2018 and 3 July 2019.

This fourth sale of coins and medals from the Lessen collection is an important standalone group of coins, medals and seals of Charles I, the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, roughly spanning the years 1630-1665.

Thomas Simon, the English medallist, was born in London in the spring of 1618, the fourth son of Peter Simon, a native London merchant of French descent living in Walbrook, and Anne Germain, of Guernsey, and died there in the summer of 1665. Considered by many to be the premier English medallic artist, he was apprenticed to Edward Greene, the chief engraver at the Tower Mint, in 1635, where he would have come under the influence of Nicholas Briot. His apprenticeship ended at Michaelmas 1642, after the commandeering of the Tower Mint for Parliament. An avowed Puritan, Simon rose to become chief graver and medal maker for the Mint during the Commonwealth and Protectorate (when the works of Jean Warin at the Moulin in Paris must also have influenced him, possibly when he worked with Peter Blondeau, who arrived in England in September 1649); his appointment as such was made by the Council of State in April 1649. After the Restoration he was demoted to ‘one’ of his majesty’s chief gravers at a time when his rival, John Roettiers, was gaining ascendency. Simon’s use of puncheons for his dies and the screw press was his mode of operation, coupled with edge marking usually applied with Blondeau’s process.

The catalogue arrangement is intended to emphasise Simon’s personal work – the originality, and thus importance of the coins and medals, by generally grouping them as such, and by separating categories by period (parts I-XI). Later, commercially-oriented productions of medals, casts, copies and restrikes, with a few exceptions, are grouped in their own sections, since they are not Simon’s original work. Multiple dies in the Charles II hammered series were acquired and listed where practical and possible. All denomination types of the Commonwealth currency, including a date-run of shillings, were traded with Spink in 1970, as were the Dutch and Tanner crown, shilling and sixpence. Weights for coins have been additionally stated in grains.

To aid future students and for continuity, the lot numbering sequence follows that of Parts I, II and III of the collection, sold in these rooms on 25 April 2018, 3 July 2019 and 29 January 2020.