The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 26, July 1, 2007, Article 13


Last week's E-Sylum was published from Pittsburgh, where I was
visiting relatives over the weekend.  I arrived back in London
Wednesday afternoon.  So it's been a short week with few numismatic
events, but it's been interesting nonetheless.

On Friday morning I turned on the television during breakfast and the
big story seemed to be the Royal Mail strike - postal workers throughout
the country had walked out in a labor dispute.  There was a much shorter
mention of "potentially viable" explosive device found in a car in
London overnight; the report seemed inconclusive and almost routine.
If a location was mentioned, I didn't notice.

I took my usual tube ride to the office and everything seemed quite
normal.  A television monitor in the building lobby showed a news
report with more information and a more serious tone.  The "potentially
viable" device was now being described as a bomb, which had been disabled
by police.  The car was in Haymarket, but I didn't know just where that
was.  As it turned out, it was only three or four blocks away from the
office, near Piccadilly Circus.

By coincidence, my officemates had scheduled a lunchtime outing - a
walking tour including a visit to Westminster Abbey.  A phone call
confirmed that the tour was still on, and midmorning we ventured out
toward Piccadilly.  Soon we encountered police crime scene tape blocking
the sidewalk and road.  Police were directing crowds and traffic away
from Piccadilly Circus. Down a side street we saw more police tape
blocking out the entire area.  The center of Piccadilly with its
famous fountain was empty.  Normally teeming with people, the sight
was eerie and disturbing, reminiscent of the recent horror film "28
Weeks Later", which depicts a deserted London in the aftermath of a
deadly epidemic.

Other than the area immediately around the crime scene, London life
went on as normal.  It was cloudy and cool, as normal.  With dozens
of others our guide led us through Green Park toward Buckingham Palace.
Huge crowds of tourists were on hand for the changing of the guard
ceremony. We waited at curbside to watch the uniformed guard march
down the street toward the Palace, led by a marching band.

Next we walked along St. James Park and ended up at Westminster Abbey.
By now it was pouring down rain.  We gladly entered the Abbey.  Site
of coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066, the magnificent
living church symbolizes the endurance and lasting power of London.
The present building was begun in 1245 by Henry III and has survived
centuries of political and economic upheaval, and the Nazi bombings
of World War II.

I was unable to take notes, but was pleased to see a number of engravers
(probably not coin engravers) honored with burials in the Abbey.  The
most famous numismatic resident of Westminster Abbey is Master of the
Royal Mint Isaac Newton, whose tomb is adorned with a huge sculpture
including a globe, alluding to his non-numismatic fame as an astronomer
and mathematician.

On the way out I noticed a sign for the "Pyx Chamber" and quickly scooted
inside.  My tour was unplanned, but I recognize a numismatic term when I
see one.  The chamber became a treasury in the 13th century.  There are
two large rectangular chests in the Chamber dating to the 13th and 14th
centuries which were apparently built inside the room.

For numismatists, this room is "best known as the home of the wooden boxes,
called Pyxes, where a sample of the coinage of the realm was kept to await
the "Trial of the Pyx". This was a public demonstration to show that the
coinage was pure and samples of coins were "tried" by being melted down
and the silver content measured. The Trial itself was never held in the
Chamber but in the Palace of Westminster. It still takes place today in
Goldsmiths' Hall in the City of London." (text from the Westminster
Abbey site)

We took a taxi back to the office, grabbed sandwiches and got back to
work.  By now the street in front of our office was half blocked, preventing

traffic from heading toward Piccadilly.  All afternoon various sirens rang
out around London, although that's not unusual.  We heard reports of other
suspicious cars, but nothing yet definitive.  About 6pm we grabbed a taxi
back to our hotel.

After dropping off our bags we walked to a nearby pub for a pint.  All
of London seemed to proceed as usual.  Our excursion was uneventful, but
historic in another way - it was the next-to-last night when smoking
would be permitted in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed public spaces
in London.  As of today, 1 July 2007, London pubs are be smoke-free.  As
a nonsmoker the change is a welcome one - the clothes I wore that night
still reek of cigarette smoke.  I understand sales of beer kegs have
risen dramatically, though - the pubs could be in for a slow time for
a while.

Back at the hotel television and Internet reports explained that two
rigged cars had been parked near Piccadilly.  The second one, illegally
parked, had been towed by police to a pound near Hyde Park, not
realizing what was inside.  For a time Hyde Park was emptied by police
while the bomb was disarmed.  Thankfully, neither car caused any

Saturday morning I got up and worked a bit on The E-Sylum, then went out
for lunch (the hummus and warm pita were divine).  Walking to Paddington
Station, I caught the Heathrow express train to the airport and found
a table at a coffee shop.  I was waiting for a plane from Cork, Ireland
carrying Darryl Atchison, editor of the Canadian Numismatic Bibliography

We'd never met in person before and it was a pleasure to finally put a
friendly face to the name.  I knew I'd like him right away - he was
carrying his airline reading material - a bound copy of Out on a Limb,
the house organ of numismatic literature dealers The Money Tree.
Written and edited by the late Ken Lowe, Out on a Limb was (and still is)
a bibliophile's delight.  E-Sylum readers should remain on the lookout
for back issues in literature sales.

Darryl and I talked about Ken, whom he'd never had the chance to meet.
Soon after I learned the answer to my one burning question - how did an
Irishman get hooked on Canadian numismatics?  Well, it's simple - Darryl
is a Canadian who married an Irish woman.

Out of his bag Darryl pulled the real star of our meeting - a very thick
binder holding the complete Canadian Numismatic Bibliography manuscript.
We poured over it for a couple hours, with me taking notes for today's
E-Sylum issue.  I just can't stop gushing over what I saw.   The project
is well worth every minute of waiting, and as I said above, subscribers
and any numismatist interested in research should consider making a
cash donation to the project to help cover the increased costs.

Reversing my steps when it was time to part, I took the train back to
Paddington.  The rain was pouring down outside, so I waited a bit and
browsed in the shops.  Once the rain slowed I put up my umbrella and
walked back toward my hotel.  It was nearly dinnertime.  I browsed in
a nice little art gallery on Westbourne Grove Road and when the woman
asked if she could help, I explained that I was interested in artworks
relating to money.  She referred me to the nearby Bankrobber Gallery
for one upcoming graffiti artist who has done some things on a money
theme.  She hadn't heard of J.S.G. Boggs, but I left a card.

So far I haven't bumped into anyone in the numismatic or art worlds
who'd encountered Boggs in his time in London.  I'd like to add one
of his Bank of England "Boggs Bills" to my collection.  Simon Narbeth
knew about him but had never handled one of his bills - he said the
art world is where they tend to land.  But if the art dealer directory
I picked up at the gallery is any indication, my search will be for a
needle in a haystack - the 70-page booklet was crammed with hundreds
of listings for British dealers.

I had dinner at a Brazilian Grill, but went vegetarian instead of
having beef sliced fresh by waiters at my table.  Go ahead, call me
a wimp (this means YOU, John Burns!), but the sight of dripping blood
on a plate in front of your face is enough to make a vegetarian out
of anyone.  The salad bar and veggie casserole were great.

Stopping in a grocery store for some bottles of water and juice I saw
a television monitor covering the latest news.  At 3 pm, while I had
been talking with Darryl at Heathrow, a flaming car was driven into
the arrivals terminal at Glasgow airport in Scotland.  The bollards
did their job, keeping the car at the curb.  The rest of the evening
the news stations covered the unfolding story.  Two people were arrested
at the scene, one with critical burns.  Luckily none of the innocent
public was hurt.

So it's an interesting and uneasy time to be in London.  We're nearing
the two-year anniversary of the 7 July 2005 bombings which killed 52
people and injured some 700.  Below is a link to an E-Sylum article
following the attack with an account from Doug Saville.  Doug was working
at Spink at the time, and one bomb was very near their location.  But
life goes on.    So far the 2007 score is +7.5 million Londoners and
visitors, -5 terrorist suspects (three more were arrested today in
connection with the recent attacks, but at least one suspect remains
at large).   We'll see what next week brings.  Last night the government
raised the security level to its highest point (Critical), meaning
further attacks "are expected".


To view images of Isaac Newton's Westminster Abbey tomb, see:
Newton's Grave (image)

For an online tour of Westminster Abbey, see:

For more information on the modern Trial of the Pyx, see:
modern Trial of the Pyx

For a history of the London Assay Office, see:

For more on the Bankrobber Gallery, see:

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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