Colin Narbeth (1929-2020)

Colin Narbeth (29 August 1929 – 2 May 2020).
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Colin Narbeth passed away on May 2nd 2020. It was only last August that he completed his 90th year and we in the IBNS (International Bank Note Society) in London were so pleased to be able to celebrate this significant milestone with him and friends old and new.

Colin Narbeth was born on August 29th 1929. Over the years he became a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather. He developed a lifelong interest in Buddhism at the age of 18 and went on, after several years in the Royal Navy, to become a journalist, author, businessman and dealer.

He caught the collecting bug early, as a schoolboy in the 1940s, and became an inveterate and infectiously enthusiastic collector not just of stamps, his first love, but of banknotes, and of course so much more – his house was filled with his collections of old keys (and the locks they belonged to), gambling dice, mother-of-pearl gaming counters, different types of coral, old matchboxes, sea shells, you name it. And these were just a few of his many enthusiasms. He always seemed to be starting a new collection of something or other – nothing could dampen his appetite for new knowledge and new collecting horizons.

Colin and Simon at Chawton, the home of Jane Austen, in November 2014.

Colin was the founder and driving force behind the creation of the International Bank Note Society back in 1961 and was a true pioneer of the study and collecting of paper money. He gathered and organised a widely spread group of fellow enthusiasts to create the global organisation we know today. He was insistent from the outset that the aims of the Society should be educational, to share information, carry out research and above all to bring together people from all over the world with enquiring minds and similar interests.

He served as Editor of the IBNS Journal from Issue No 1 in July 1961 through to 1970, and again from 1975 to 1978. His first end of year report in 1962 recorded that the membership of just two – himself and Dr Walter Loeb – had increased to over 200. He produced the first issues himself, printing them on an old Gestetner in his attic in his home in Essex.

Colin went on to serve as the Society’s 11th President and again made a huge contribution to the growth of the Society around the world. The sight of Colin wearing his gold chain and medal was a common one whenever the IBNS had a formal event in London. This was awarded to him by Guido Crapanzano when we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the IBNS in 2001.

Even before the IBNS was established Colin had published several books on collecting stamps, coins, banknotes and bonds. In all he published over 20 books from the 1960s onwards, most aimed at the general reader and designed to entice them into the world of collecting. The first edition of “Collecting Paper Money” came out in 1968 and it has been reprinted and updated several times since. He was also proud of his role as co-author of the first catalogue of Tibetan paper money, a subject close to his heart and inspired by his interest in Buddhism.

He also found time to set up the magazine “Stamp Weekly”. As a dedicated philatelist Colin was an avid collector and researcher of stamps and postal history and his special subject was Sudan, especially the early colonial period at the time of General Gordon and the Siege of Khartoum. He assembled one of the definitive collections on this subject and this naturally included examples of currency notes signed by General Gordon himself.

Colin at his desk at Stanley Gibbons, with a rare British North Borneo Company note.

It was through his philatelic interests that he came to work for Stanley Gibbons. First invited to work for them as manager of their catalogues division, he persuaded them to allow him to set up a banknote department at the firm. That was in 1970. They backed him and with the standing of the Stanley Gibbons name he was able to build a thriving business under their umbrella. Gibbons under Colin published several books on banknotes including the first editions of “English Paper Money” by Vincent Duggleby and “Scottish Banknotes” by Jim Douglas.

His time at Stanley Gibbons came to an end only when a new Chairman was appointed who felt banknotes and stamps did not belong together. Colin went on to set up his own banknote business, Colin Narbeth and Son Limited, which continues as a family business today, run by his son Simon. After many years at Charing Cross the shop is now at Cecil Court in the centre of London.

In addition to the IBNS, Colin was a Fellow of the Linnean Society (a learned society dedicated to the study of natural history and biology) and a leading member of the Royal Philatelic Society London.

Colin will be hugely missed by his many friends in and beyond the world of paper money. His optimism and positivity about the hobby was so infectious, especially so when in the presence of younger collectors thirsty for knowledge. To many he will be remembered as the ultimate English gentleman and scholar.

Our heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends.


To learn more about the IBNS go to the International Bank Note Society website.

And this is the website of Colin Narbeth & Son Ltd.