Obituary: Geoffry H. North, 1909–2002

by Francis Campbell

On January 22, Geoffrey H. North, who served as Librarian of the American Numismatic Society from 1966 until 1975, passed away in South Orleans, MA, having never fully recovered from an operation, performed last September, to remove an aneurysm from his left leg.

Geoff North began his employment at the American Numismatic Society in 1952. A graduate of McGill University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science and Library Science degrees, he had previously been employed at the Brooklyn Public Library. As the Assistant Librarian under Richard P. Breaden, Geoff had primary responsibility for the cataloging of monographs, periodical content, offprints and auction catalogs. He was also responsible for most of the technical services processing associated with library work. He joined the staff just as the Library was entering its greatest period of expansion. Together with Breaden, Geoff undertook a program of re-organization and upgrading that did much to render the library the great resource it is today. The Society’s first Graduate Seminar in Numismatics had been held in the months immediately preceding Geoff’s employment. Consequently, there was a new emphasis placed upon acquiring reference materials that would support graduate-level research and on the systematic cataloging of specialized materials. Geoff carried out the latter masterfully. During the years 1953-1955, the present library reading rooms and office areas were constructed, necessitating the relocation of most of the library collection into the new quarters. In this same period, the present pamphlet file arrangement was established and Geoff catalogued thousands of offprints and pamphlets that were then placed in labeled folders and arranged alphabetically by author for ease of access. He also had major responsibility for an intensive binding program begun in 1956 and continued in subsequent years.

When the library staff assumed editorship of “Numismatic Literature” in 1957, Geoff shared responsibility for preparing abstracts and did considerable editing and re-writing of abstracts contributed by others until “NL” was placed under an International Editor in 1967. He also helped prepare the card-copy used in the 6-volume set of the Society’s Dictionary and Auction catalogues, published by G. K. Hall of Boston, Mass., in 1962. The first (1967) and second (1973) Supplements to this work were under his full supervision.

In 1966, Geoff became the Society’s Librarian and hired the present Librarian as his assistant. In the Society’s “Annual Report” for 1967, Geoff referred to a “generous donation” to the library made by Mr. H.W. Bass, Jr. of Dallas, Texas. The donation was used to fund the binding of 33 manuscript volumes of the Edgar H. Adams “Notebooks.”

In the years that followed, Geoff would have many more opportunities to thank Mr. Bass, who had high regard for him and the Library. Bass became a member of the Library Committee in 1968, later joining the Society’s Council and eventually becoming President of the Society. In the “Annual Report” for 1971, Geoff acknowledged Mr. Bass for establishing the “Bass Library Fund,” which has since grown to become the Library’s major endowed fund.

Those who made Geoffrey North’s acquaintance came to respect him as a professional and a person. During his tenure as Librarian the numismatic libraries of P. K. Anderson, H. A. Dietz, F. Dorsey Stephens, and David G. Briggs were added to the Society’s Library. He maintained an excellent rapport with Council, staff, and visitors, especially the successive groups of Seminar Students, many of who still ask for him when they return to the Society. Geoff retired from his office as Librarian in 1975 after twenty-two years of faithful service to the Society. Soon after, he and his charming wife Eileen moved to South Orleans, MA, on Cape Cod. Eileen passed away in 1999. I had the opportunity to visit them both on many occasions since Geoff’s retirement and we all remained very close friends until his passing.

Born in Kimpton, Hertfordshire, UK in 1909, Geoff received his elementary and secondary education at local schools. In 1928, he emigrated to Canada where, during World War II, he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as an aircrew member. While living in Canada, he met his future wife, Eileen. He and Eileen moved to the United States in 1952. Geoff’s interests were wide-ranging. He was well versed in English literature, especially Shakespeare, and had a sound knowledge of military history. He was an accomplished organist, played the banjo, and was quite skilled at woodworking and leather crafts. Through his collecting interests, he also came to know much about rare books and antique clocks. He was in every way a gentleman and those who knew him will miss him dearly.