Obituary: Kenneth Malcolm Mackenzie

by Michael Bates

The ANS, and all who knew him, have lost a good friend: Kenneth Malcolm MacKenzie, who died on January 12, 2005, his 88th birthday. MacKenzie was generally considered to be one of the world’s great experts on the coinage of the Ottoman Empire. He put his knowledge, as well as his time and hands, generously in the service of the Society. His association with the ANS began in 1952, when he became a member. In 1974, he was elected a Fellow, recognizing his volunteer services to the Society and his already numerous publications. About that time he began to be recognized as our volunteer curator for Ottoman coins. He went through the entire Ottoman collection, some 4,000 coins at that time, identifying or verifying the identification of every coin, relabeling them all, and putting everything in good order. He then went backwards in numismatic history to do the same for the Beyliks, the various independent contemporaries of the Ottomans in Anatolia. His work made it easy to enter the descriptions in our computer database, but when that was finished by our student assistants, MacKenzie went over the mass of detail, checking and correcting the data himself at a computer terminal—his only contact with a computer, which otherwise he avoided. He continued to look after our Turkish coins up to the start of his final illness in 2004. He was a a frequent contributor of photocopies, offprints, and books to the ANS library and helped translate cataloging information for Turkish publications. From 1976 he was a member of the ANS Committee on Islamic Coins. His outstanding services were recognized in 1997 when he received the Society’s first Distinguished Volunteer Award. He was responsible for Olivia Lincoln’s decision in 1997 to donate the famed Jem Sultan collection of Ottoman coins, including all those in the two-volume catalogue and hundreds of additions, as well as her huge collection of South Asian coins.

MacKenzie was born in 1917. Although he was regarded by his friends as an archetypal Scot—and was proud of it—he was born in Plymouth, England, of a Scots father, a retired officer. He never lived in Scotland. At sixteen, he moved to London to continue his education and make a career. When World War II arrived, he was called to active service with The London Scottish Territorial Regiment and sent to officers’ school. He commanded an anti-aircraft battery during the Battle of Britain. Later he served in Britain and various places around the Indian Ocean, finishing the war as a Major in the East Africa Corps.

In 1948 he was sent to represent his employer, a London art book publisher, in New York. A short stay turned into a lifetime in America, although he never gave up his British passport. He finished his publishing career in 1987 as Contracts Manager at MacMillan of New York. He and his wife Jean were married in 1943. In 1953 they moved to the house they lived in together for more than half a century, where they raised two children.

MacKenzie’s second career, as numismatist, literally began when he received some Chinese cash coins from his father who had served in China, but it is said that he was introduced to Ottoman coinage by R. L. Protassowski of Seaby’s in London after the war. He came to enjoy excellent relations with all his fellow specialists in Turkish numismatics, including those in Turkey itself and in Europe. Combining his two careers, he established a very small book importing and vending business called Numismata Orientalia, which apparently never made much money, but enabled him and his friends in Turkey to exchange coins and publications. In 1971 his first article appeared. In the subsequent twenty-five years, up to the compilation of his bibliography in the Oriental Numismatic Society Newsletter 150 (Autumn 1996), he produced more than 108 research articles and 54 book reviews; since then, there have been at least a dozen or so more. His speciality was short notes about new discoveries or insights, but he also co-authored two books, including the Catalogue of the Islamic coins Found at Sardis (Harvard University Press, 1981), and, with Samuel Lachman, the magisterial Countermarks of the Ottoman Empire, 1880-1922 (London: Hawkins Publications, 1974), which lists the stamps placed on coins by Greek and other Christian parishes and communities to ensure a supply of small change in their towns. He was a major contributor to the listing of Turkish issues in the Standard Catalogue of World Coins.

MacKenzie was also an active member of Numismatics International, the International Bank Note Society, the Oriental Numismatic Society, Türk Nümismatik Dernegi, the Hellenic Numismatic Society, and the New York Numismatic Club

MacKenzie was a man of great charm and courtesy, who was always correctly dressed in jacket and tie—or at home in an elegant turtleneck. His constant written communications, always by post, were famous (or notorious) among his colleagues. Every missive arrived typed on a different scrap of paper, often recycled from a previous use, with passages highlighted in different colors, taped-on drawings or photos, post-it notes, marginal comments linked to their proper place in the text by a circle and arrow, handwritten notes on the reverse, and all in an envelope obtained who knows where. Despite his soft-spoken manner and reluctance to argue, he was a man of adamant convictions on various matters, almost always well-taken and endearing even when not. His work and his attitude were enthusiastic, careful, conscientious, and invariably helpful. He is missed at the American Numismatic Society.


MacKenzie in Wadi Rum, Jordan


Jean and Kenneth MacKenzie