The smart money’s on coins

Author Robert Lee
Author Robert Lee

A MORPETH man’s extensive collection of Medieval money is the subject of a new book.

Robert Lee, a retired economist who has had a life-long interest in history, began looking for old English silver coins in 2000.

His specific target was to own one coin from the reign of the 38 monarchs from Athelstan (925-939) to Charles I (1625-1649), and his book – English History Told by Coins – reveals how successful he has been in acquiring them.

As his collection grew, Mr Lee was struck by how intensely coins reflected the history of the times they came from and the very powerful relationship between the soundness of money and the strength of the royal rulers.

Weak or incompetent kings or queens were associated with unsound money and sometimes actively debased the coinage.

Mr Lee said: “As a coin collector, a certain degree of the ‘thrill of the chase’ is involved. Once you obtain an ancient coin, you can let your imagination run riot and wonder whose hands the coin has passed through.

“There is always more to be learnt about the coins you have and the times they come from. I hope this book will stimulate a greater interest in coin collecting or history, or both.”

The relationship between coins, history, power and money is examined in the publication, illustrated by a number of pictures of the pieces, which are themselves key historical evidence.

The smallest in his impressive collection is a Henry VIII halfpenny, which weighs only 0.3 of a gram, and the largest is a James I crown weighing 29.5 grams.

The oldest coin was made 1,070 years ago and the most recent is 361 years old.

Mr Lee has also offered some advice to anyone wishing to start collecting coins.

He said: “It may primarily be a fascinating hobby which intersects with subjects such as religion, heraldry, fine art, literature and metallurgy, but as you are investing in ‘real’ assets, it also offers a form of protection against inflation over long periods of time.

“If my pessimistic view on future inflation is correct, then the ‘inflation hedge’ quality of old coins may prove increasingly significant.

“After all, they aren’t making any more of them.”

English History Told by Coins is available for £7.50, post-free, from Powdene Publicity, Unit 17, Quay Level, St Peter’s Wharf, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 1TZ.

The book’s publishers can also be contacted by telephone on 0191 2650040 or email to