Critique & critic
Monihan O’lair, a numismatic passion!
This Londoner banker of 36 years collects coins for more than two decades. Rare, ancient, or especially unobtainable, each penny of his collection has a particular characteristic. A dozen albums in total, for more than one hundred and fifty metal rings. A catalogue with a precise theme since it is only about coins stamped to the royal British seal.
Isabelle Mar: How did coins first interest you?
Monihan O’lair: In fact it is an old passion. I was ten when I found my first coin, in the garden of my parents. To be true, I was not first interested in numismatology. It was the effigy on the face of the coin that fascinated me. It was the portrait of a member of the royal British monarchy, a man with a glorious profile that I could not identify. At that time, Internet and Wikipedia did not exist. To get information, I turned to the Royal Mint, the organism in charge of the manufacture of British coins.
I wrote them a letter describing my interest in engravings, both for artists and their subjects. They were very nice and responded to me quickly. Beside plenty of useful information, I learnt that the royal sculptured character was Georges V. I felt a strong attachment for the English monarchy and for these insignificant pieces of metal vectors of history. Since then, I have never stopped collecting them.
IM: You are collecting coins since twenty-six years, how do you know a collection is done?
MO: There are always new developments, particularly in numismatology. A royal jubilee, for example, brings new coins. Rare and precious, certain are edited only in some thousand copies. We spend a lot of time waiting or to looking for it. Sometimes it is possible to order it before it is printed, only for exceptional pieces. But often the stamping was made before your birth, you then have to run auctions, collector’s resale, or even beg an old aunt to make you a present. A collection is done only when his owner is satisfied. Which is really difficult, between you an me. A real collector has this permanent feeling of incompleteness which urges him to always extend his researches to new opportunities. They are eternal dissatisfied who spend more time to dream about future acquisitions than to take advantages really of those that they have already made.
IM: Why start a collection? What benefits do you take from a collection?
MO: Starting a collection is trying to reach a particular fullness I would say. A search for perfection, both in the quality and in the quantity. For each new coin, it is a new step toward completeness. Beside it, the path to reach the goal has the same importance than this latter. Each of these metal rings has a history in itself, but also an anecdote linked to its acquisition. I remember when I was a student at Oxford University, I went to have a tea at a friend’s house. His father was a big numismatic, we talked for hours of our common passion. In the end of the interview he gave me that coin with the sueen Elisabeth the First, from 1574. Well this penny is as dear to me as its memory, it was a fascinating conversation.
IM: What do we daily do with a collection?
MO: Some display it proudly while some conceal it with jealousy. There is not standard behaviour, it relies on the collector. Personally my albums have a special emplacement in my library. It is not an ostentatious one, but I have to admit that the effort I put in it gives them a privileged location. I am always ready to initiate new adepts, as well as to bore my family with my poorly understood passion.
IM: What does your collection represent for you?
MO: A collection we return to it. Like an old friend. After all, it is good times spent together. Motivations that pushed you to build it up are nice memories, short anecdotes that come to complete your identity. Years passed to enrich it are as many adventures that you can remember details with pleasure. Or tell them, to the condition to find an indulgent audience.
IM: What do we do when we are finally satisfied of a collection?
MO: I guess that when the feeling of incompleteness, defect, that pushed us to start a collection finally fades, we are forced to stop. And who knows… Start another one?