Obituary: Philip Grierson 1911-2006

Philip Grierson, perhaps the preeminent medieval numismatist of the twentieth century, died January, 15, 2006, age 95. Grierson became interested in medieval history while a student at Cambridge (where he remained throughout his life), and first became fascinated by numismatics while trying to identify a coin his father had given him in 1945 (it turned out to be a Byzantine half follis of Phocas, a series for which he would subsequently write the standard reference work). His interest piqued, he visited Spink’s in London and began buying medieval coins to illustrate his lectures. This interest in numismatics led Grierson to use numismatic evidence extensively in his historical writings. It also led him to begin to assemble the foremost private collection of medieval coinage in the world (over 20,000 specimens), all on his academic salary. At Cambridge, Grierson was Assistant Lecturer in History (1938-45), Lecturer (1945-59), Reader in Medieval Numismatics (1959-71), Professor of Numismatics (1971-78), and Honorary Keeper of Coins at the Fitzwilliam Museum (1949-2006).

Grierson’s formal affiliation with the ANS began when he was 42. His 1951 publication “Numismatics and the Historian” caught the eye of ANS President Louis West, who was looking for a distinguished Visiting Scholar for the newly formed ANS Summer Seminar (see article in this issue). Grierson accepted West’s invitation, and became the first Visiting Scholar in 1953. This began a series of annual summer visits to the United States to participate in the Seminar as a lecturer, which continued for twenty-five years.

Through the ANS Seminar, Grierson was introduced to Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s Byzantine research institution in Washington, D.C. In 1955, he became their advisor on numismatics, donated his collection of Byzantine coins to them, and assisted them in building the finest Byzantine collection in the world. The collection was then published in a series of volumes edited by Grierson, Michael Hendy, and Alfred Bellinger.

In addition to his Cambridge, ANS, and Dumbarton Oaks commitments, Grierson held the post of Professor of Numismatics at the University of Brussels, and spent two months of each year teaching there as well.

Grierson’s publications are extensive. He published over 250 articles and many major books. His 1954 Coins and Medals: A Select Bibliography was largely based on the ANS library. Also in 1954, he edited Ives’ “The Venetian Gold Ducat” (NNM 128). He contributed articles to ANSMN 6, 10, 12, and 13, as well as to the 1958 ANS Centennial Publication. In addition to editing the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine volumes, in 1958, he published the first volume in the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles, a series for which he served as an editor throughout his life. And, after donating his wonderful collection of medieval European coins to Cambridge, he commenced the fourteen- (now seventeen-) volume Medieval European Coinage, a project still underway.

Grierson was awarded the Royal Numismatic Society’s medal in 1958, and served as President from 1961-66. He was awarded the ANS’ Huntington medal in 1963. He will long be remembered for his many contributions to the ANS and to the science of numismatics.