Patterns of Elizabeth I from the Collection of Walter Wilkinson
Walter Wilkinson (1925 - 2020)
Walter Wilkinson: devoted husband and father. Cosmopolitan. A perfectionist with an amazing eye for detail, scientist and artist, collector, creator, researcher, cataloguer. My Father had a full and varied life, making the most of his time in India, Africa and England to enrich and broaden his incredible knowledge. He had a deep but quiet faith; he was compassionate, intelligent, adventurous, adaptable and interested in so much – people, places, cultures, flora and fauna, coins, glass, wood, etc. He was a caring and modest man and consequently few knew how varied his great knowledge, talents and interests were.
As children my sister, Helena, and I enjoyed nature walks with our Father, looking at butterflies and beetles, fungi and flowers or shells and wildlife on the beach. At home his study was full of jars of termites (including the big queen), boxes of beetles, bugs, moths and butterflies and a few animal skulls. He designed and created beautiful, interesting gardens from nothing in Muguga, Wokingham and Barton-on-Sea and made my bedroom furniture. He inspired in me a love of gardening and woodwork and taught me to paint and decorate with a perfectionist’s eye. We went to antique fairs together, he tried to teach me about the coins of Elizabeth I (I was an interested but poor student) and so much more.
Following my Mother’s death in 2015 he moved to live with me in Oxfordshire, where he learnt to use an iPad (which opened up a whole new world of online coin catalogues, etc – declaring DNW’s site and photographs to be the most superior with such clear pictures that aided him in his research) and continued to follow many of his hobbies and interests until the day of the fall that led to his death a few days later, on 1 April 2020. A further update to The Hammered Silver Coins produced at the Tower Mint during the reign of Elizabeth I was almost complete (and I hope to have that published) and another coin to add to his collection arrived the day after he died.
Walter Wilkinson was born in Goldthorpe, near Rotherham, Yorkshire, on 30 October 1925, the son of John and Lilian Wilkinson. He was educated at Highgate Junior Boys’ and Mexborough Grammar School. His early hobbies, reflecting a lifelong interest in identification and classification, included stamps, fossils, lepidoptera and biology in general.
In his last 18 months at school, from February 1942 to November 1943, he was a member of the Civil Defence Messenger Service. He joined the Royal Armoured Corps in November 1943 and, following lengthy training at Bovington, Farnborough, Blackdown and Sandhurst, was commissioned into the Warwickshire Yeomanry in May 1945. Transferred to the 43rd Royal Tank Regiment, Walter saw service in India, at Secunderabad, Bombay and Agra, where he served as Regimental Reconnaissance and Intelligence Officer.
Demobilised in September 1947, he was admitted to Queen Mary College, University of London, where he read Zoology and Botany. Graduating in 1952, he spent a brief period working at Doncaster Museum before taking up a research studentship at the National History Museum in London, prior to joining the newly-formed Termite Research Unit, based at the East African Agriculture and Forestry Research organisation in Muguga, near Nairobi. In this post he travelled widely throughout Kenya, Tanganyika, Zanzibar and Nyasland between 1953 and 1955 – he was also appointed an inspector in the Kenya Police Reserve.
Following a year back in London, Walter joined the Tropical Testing Establishment in Port Harcourt, Nigeria (where the photo on the left was taken in 1957), which involved visits to the Cameroons, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia. Returning to London he married Diana Smedley in August 1958, and two months later the young couple moved back to Muguga when he was appointed Forest Entomolgist, and later Principal Scientific Officer.
Retiring from the Overseas Civil Service in April 1964, the Wilkinsons, with their two daughters Ruth and Helena, moved to Wokingham, Berkshire. Walter joined the Ecology Section of ICI at Bracknell, where his remit was checking any harmful effects of new pesticides on beneficial organisms, including birds and bees. Retiring in October 1987, the family moved to Barton-on-Sea, New Milton, close to where Walter had enjoyed many summer holidays in the 1930s. Wasting no time ascertaining the local numismatic scene, Walter joined the Bournemouth-based Wessex Numismatic Society, becoming a frequent attender at meetings and serving as President from 2003 to 2006; at the time of his death he was an honorary member. Part-time work at Bracknell continued to keep him busy until 1993 and he had intended to return to working on his studies of beetles in retirement, but instead turned his hand to an original study of the silver coins of Elizabeth I.
Walter’s enthusiasm for the coins of the Faerie Queene was initially fired by the accession to the throne of her namesake, Elizabeth II, in the early Spring of 1952. That year he made his first numismatic acquisitions from, among others, the late Douglas Liddell at Spink. Opportunities to acquire coins from the London market while working in the forests of Africa were somewhat limited, with copies of the Numismatic Circular and Seaby’s Bulletin taking up to a month to arrive by mail, but back in England in the late 1960s the opportunity was taken to start a serious collection, visiting dealers and coin shows and making a regular weekly pilgrimage to Charing Cross Market in London.
As he and his numismatic collaborators would readily attest, the reign of Elizabeth I is, numismatically, one of the least interesting. Other than the groundbreaking study of the hammered silver series by David Brown in BNJ 1957, there had been no serious research undertaken for many decades, although that was to change in the wake of the 1978 publication of Christopher Challis’s monumental The Tudor Coinage, with the cataloguing of the milled series by Brown in association with Douglas Borden in BNJ 1983, and of the portrait punches and the hammered gold by Brown and the late Chris Comber in BNJ 1988 and 1989. ‘The family’, as Brown, Comber and Wilkinson liked to refer to themselves numismatically, collected assiduously, never normally competing against each other at auction. If a coin was owned by a member of ‘the family’ it could be studied at leisure and, with the acquisition of an early camera lucida, an optical device used as a drawing aid by artists, Walter could bring his discipline in the miscroscopic study of organisms to the world of punches used on coins, as his plates in The Hammered Silver Coins produced at the Tower Mint during the reign of Elizabeth I readily attest. Far from resting on their laurels after the publication of the first edition of their work in 2006, ‘the family’ collaborated in revisions in 2009, 2012, 2016 and 2019, as new coins came to light, and a sixth edition is in hand.
A true collector who was generous with his knowledge, this writer was especially glad of Walter’s insight into the punches employed on the East India Company series, a particular specialism of mine. Previous auctions of coins from Walter’s collection were staged in these rooms (the milled series on 18 September 2018 and hammered gold exactly a year later, on 18 September 2019). A further auction of the balance of his hammered silver is in preparation.