Coins, Tokens and Historical Medals (1 & 2 December 2020)
Dr John Hulett
John Hulett was born in Birmingham on 26 August 1929, the only son of Arthur Hulett and his wife Hilda, nee Flint. They lived at Hall Green, moving to Shirley in 1936 and then to St Albans in 1942 to enable his father to work at his firm’s head office.
Educated at Shirley College and St Albans School, John was awarded an open exhibition (a type of scholarship) to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1948 to read chemistry. His interest in numismatics began in 1940 when a family friend gave him a bag of assorted coins and he proceeded to augment his collection with purchases of 17th and 18th century English silver coins from a shop in Birmingham from 1940 to 1942.
At St Albans he soon got to know the curator of the Museum, A.H. Poulton, a keen collector himself. John remembered seeing a stack of Cromwell crowns on his desk! Poulton encouraged him, letting John have a small box of duplicates at what seem now to be giveaway prices, several times a year, as well as putting him in contact with Seaby and Baldwin – both of whom he visited in the late 1940s. John’s initiative led to the formation of the St Albans (Hertfordshire) Numismatic Society, where he first met the late Alan Rayner. John graduated from Oxford with a B.A. in 1951 and was awarded 2nd class honours in 1952. This was sufficient to earn him a grant to continue at Oxford as a research student in physical chemistry which eventually resulted in his gaining a doctorate, and he was awarded the degrees of M.A. and D Phil in 1955.
A significant change in John’s life occurred in the summer of 1955, when he was seconded to agricultural work in Dorset for two years in lieu of national service. To his surprise, he enjoyed haymaking, harvesting and milking cows so much that he would spend a few weeks with his farming friends each year, turning his hand to whatever was required.
After his excursion into agriculture, John was fortunate to be able to return to Oxford on a three- year ICI research fellowship, which involved not only laboratory work but also undergraduate tutorial sessions. In 1960 he was appointed to a full lectureship in chemical engineering at Leeds University, to which was soon added an associate lectureship in Physical Chemistry. This latter post he held until offered early retirement during the university reorganisation in 1988. By then he had also been university admissions tutor for Chemical Engineering for 22 years, so his time in Leeds was busy.
Meanwhile the coin collection was growing quietly. Two local collectors’ shop owners, Bob Platt in Leeds and Nigel Pickering in Otley, found him coins, often on an approval basis. He also came to know a number of private dealers who did business by post. On a visit to London he met Michael Sharp and they became firm friends for many years, with Michael acting as John’s agent at the London auctions. John was also privileged, particularly after his retirement, to purchase coins from the rolls of Lingford material and boxes of Lockett auction lots which had been stored in Baldwin’s basement, to be viewed only by favoured
In October 1988 John became a gentleman of leisure and moved to Dorset, but it was not an idle retirement. His farming friends had retired, so the farm did not call for his activity. He had the time to go for long runs and, as the years went by, long walks. He kept fit at exercise classes and led a busy life preaching in some Brethren churches in Dorset and Devon. In this context he was prevailed upon to write a 20-page theological quarterly magazine for a chapel in Sidmouth, where he preached one Sunday in every three. This ran for over 60 issues, with a distribution of over 160 copies per issue, until, sadly, old age, ill- health and decreasing numbers forced the chapel to close in 2008.
The family heart problems (his father having succumbed to a fatal heart attack in 1964) caught up with him early in 2005 and he spent a week in Dorchester hospital, being sent home with a big bag of pills. A repeat performance later in the year meant a triple heart bypass operation and six weeks in Southampton and Dorchester hospitals. It worked wonders, he recovered, was very much as fit as before, keeping up his exercise classes and brisk walks, regularly up to six miles.
Still the collection grew. He enjoyed his visits from collectors and members of the trade and his cabinets at Wool were open to all like-minded individuals, whether students carrying out their own research or those just wishing to spend a few hours talking coins. Occasionally if he acquired anything of significant interest he would burst into print with a note in Spink’s Numismatic Circular or, less frequently, Seaby’s Coin & Medal Bulletin. John died on 4 March 2017 at the age of 87.
John’s collection is nothing if not vast and consists, for the most part, of English hammered silver. He was very ‘old school’ about condition, in that if he needed a piece he bought it, as much as his pocket would allow. With an average income his collection was initially more quantity than quality, but the sheer volume of material he collected makes it one of the largest and most interesting assemblages of our time. His friendship with Michael Sharp led to serious development of the Charles I element of the collection, both Tower and provincial, with particular emphasis on west country mints. He would have been amused to be the subject of a major named auction and portions of the collection will continue to be sold by DNW.