Colin Narbeth

29.8.1929 – 2.5.2020

We are sad to announce the death of our father, grandfather and founder of the business.

Colin Narbeth, International Banknote Society Life Member No.1, was the founder of the IBNS in 1961.  More than 50 years ago, Colin was one of the few enthusiasts scattered around the globe who were devoted to the collection of world paper money.  Colin was a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Royal Philatelic Society, London.

Colin and his brother John (there were later half-siblings Philip and Claire) spent their early years between Aylesbury and Walton-on-Naze.  Their parents Joan (actress/dancer) and Roye (photographer) divorced when they were both still under two.  They were mostly brought up by their paternal grandparents Ellen and William Augustus who had a drapers’ shop in Aylesbury and a retirement home, Mayfield, they had built (in a field - in May) in Walton-on-Naze.

When WWII started Colin was ten years old and like many children at the time had a very disrupted education; he attended several different schools in Aylesbury and Walton-on-Naze.  His final two years of education were at Canford School in Dorset.

He was a passionate collector from a young age; with the artist John Hassall (his step-father Ian Hassall’s father) he hunted the cliffs at Walton-on-Naze for fossils etc.  He was very impressed with John Hassall because he planned to be buried with a flint arrow-head in each hand so that archaeologists of the future would be puzzled.

Colin once played truant from Aylesbury Grammar School to give a public street display of all his collected treasures; a performance that back-fired somewhat when a report and photograph of this precocity appeared in the local paper.  He recalled that, when he was a child, his grandparents often provided an attentive audience for his lectures on his collections.

A shortage of men at home during WWII gave schoolboy Colin the opportunity to work at Tring Museum mounting butterflies for the display cases.

His first job when he left school at 15 was as a cub reporter on the East Essex Gazette.  At about this time he met his future wife Doreen Finch at a Walton-on-Naze church youth club.  They had a long and happy marriage and when they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary they were delighted to receive a message from the Queen.

After some years as a junior reporter, Colin signed up for seven years in the Royal Navy.  He trained in stenography and later trained others.  He also became a 'bubbly bosun'; he was responsible for doling out the daily tot of rum.  A privileged position because by putting a thumb in the container the ‘bubbly bosun’ could engineer slightly extra for himself at the end.  These were the days when cigarettes, as well as tots of rum, were given out free to sailors.  When at ports of call he would add to his banknote collection.

While in the Navy he and wife Doreen lived for some time at Plymouth.  After his seven years’ service, he returned to the East Essex Gazette as a reporter, on one occasion getting to the scene of a murder before the police because he was tipped off by the telephone exchange operator.  At about this time he developed a life-long interest in Buddhism.  He eventually became Features and Art Editor.

He had always collected stamps, coins, medals and more, and contributed articles on various subjects to various journals.  But it was the comparatively unknown collecting subject of paper money about which he became enthusiastic.  He bought the infrequent paper money offerings from the likes of Spink Limited and B.A. Seaby Limited in Britain and Jolie Coins in the US.  He was also busy writing to anyone whose name came to his attention as sharing a similar interest in paper money.  In this way, he became friends with other banknote pioneers like Dr Walter Loeb, Dr Arnold Keller (who proofread and corrected his first book on banknotes), and often swapped notes with them.

In 1961 he founded the International Banknote Society and edited its journal, produced on a hand-operated Gestetner printer, mailing it out to around 20 people.  The IBNS now has a membership of over 2,000 from 90 different countries.

In 1966 he wrote his first book Coins and Currency followed by The Coin Collector’s Encyclopaedia, Beginner’s Guide to Stamp Collecting, Investing in Stamps and Collecting Paper Money – A Beginner’s Guide in 1968, Collecting British Stamps a Beginner’s Guide in 1969, An Introduction to Stamp Collecting and An Introduction to Coins and Medals in 1970, Collecting Military Medals, How to Collect Paper Money, Stamp Collecting all in Colour in 1971, Collecting Paper Money and Bonds, Admiral Seymour’s Expedition & Taku Forts 1900 in 1980, Collecting Paper Money in 1986 (reproduced co-authored with son Simon in 2010).  There were over 20 publications in all.

In the late 1960’s he left the East Essex Gazette to help launch Stamp Weekly at Link House in Croydon, staying there during the week and travelling back at weekends to Mayfield in Walton-on-Naze where his grandfather still lived with Doreen and the three children Vanessa, Peter and Simon.

After a few years as Editor of Stamp Weekly, he left to become a director of Stanley Gibbons International, where he started Stanley Gibbons Currency Limited, the first major British business dealing in paper money.

In 1981 he and son Simon started their own paper money company, Colin Narbeth & Son Ltd., first at Charing Cross Arches then in 1987 in Cecil Court near Leicester Square where Simon still runs the business, assisted by sister Vanessa, nephew Douglas and Chris Nield (a customer of the shop since the age of 11).