May 10, 2018 – For decades John Pett worked with Spink. When he died on 22 April 2018 Ursula Kampmann remembered him stating that “only few people had the privilege of knowing more about John Pett personally”. Two of these people decided spontaneously to share their vivid memories with us.
John Pett remembered by David G. L. Worland from Australia
I have very happy memories of my association with John Pett beginning in the early eighties.
I recall one of the things John was quite proud of was his direct descent from one of the important 17th Century Petts. I think it was Peter Pett FRS, Navy Commissioner at Chatham during the reign of Charles II, and a thorn in the side of Samuel Pepys, with a few mentions, and a possible duel recorded in that famous diary.
John’s father was a eminent dental surgeon in Sloan Square for many years, and I was fortunate to be their host when his parents visited Sydney after his retirement. I subsequently spent a couple of weekends with them in their beautiful house in Brighton and quite a few evenings over a fine red in John’s home in London. Lunch was also a favourite. A sprint up over Piccadilly, up Bond St. over Oxford St., into Stratford Pl. and then into the hushed dining room of the Oriental Club was always a treat. Then a little later in the decade, a switch to the RAC in Pall Mall, much closer, and thus more time to tipple, talk travel and tetradrachms.
I understand John’s long tenure at Spink started when his father happened to be chatting to the then indomitable supremo of Spink, Douglas Liddell. John’s dad thought John was at a loose end, having just come down from University. Apparently Douglas said “Classics eh! … Send him in to see me, and I’ll take a look at him.”
The following week John found himself at King Street under the eye of George Muller. He learnt quickly and by the time I started my frequent visits to London, George had retired and John was in charge of the ancient trays at Spink. What a feast for the eyes in those days. Douglas had chosen well. John was everything Ursula said about him in her obituary and more. Quiet, contemplative and secure in his knowledge, he was the perfect expert to accompany me to the sales in Zurich in the 80s.
On my first visit I entered the room at Bank Leu and thought it was the “gathering of the titans.” John introduced me to the giants of the day: Leo, Silvia, Alan, George, BCD, Victor, Harald and Italo. Some have now gone but a few remain cherished friends.
On one excursion, after a couple of successful acquisitions at Bank Leu, we flew down to attend a Jean Vinchon sale in Monte Carlo. Success again, so we celebrated at dinner at my hotel across the road from the Casino. After dinner we gained Casino access to the middle tier floor with the famous gold card from my hotel. We were both complete novices at gambling, and frankly a little tipsy but our luck held, and after only a short time I noticed a huge grin on John’s normally sombre face. It had been a great day, with winnings all round. We tipped the happy croupier and left. I faced a 21 hour trip back to Sydney, but John faxed me later and said he was still smiling when he found that arrangements had been made that he “turned left” when he boarded his flight to London the next morning. Fun times that we toasted (single malt only) for years later, both in London and New York.
He was an excellent dealer, very knowledgeable and fair. Many of the coins he found for me can be seen in the Westmoreland Collection published in 2007 as “Alexander and the Hellenistic Kingdoms” Volume One of “Ancient Coins in Australian Collections” by the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies.
Living in Australia, the tyranny of distance plays it’s role in keeping many friends apart.
John Pett’s life at 66 was too short and he will be missed by many. Now at 77, I am among those feeling his loss.
John Pett remembered by Joseph Linzalone from the USA
As a long time friend of John Pett I wanted to add this post script, which gives some depth. He was likely one of the finest Ancient numismatists still standing, so many others just being salesmen. At ANA Philadelphia we will all meet for a drink to his memory.
I met John Pett in 1979 when he was assistant to Muller at the Ancient coin department of Spink. John later ran the department, and his deep expertise of numismatics and history brought me to respect him as one of the great men of our field.
John told me his experience of public school was like basic training to life, he could withstand any circumstance. He survived remission from cancer for a decade.
I admired his sense of honor, and intellect. The Red Lion pub found John doing the Times crossword while sipping an after-work drink. He played cricket well, I attended a match where his lovely wife Adele explained to me cricket was just an excuse to drink champagne in the afternoon.
We would play guess the mint of Alexander tetradrachms, but from obverse style only. Sometimes would lunch at the Oriental Club, after a fierce morning of coin buying.
He knew music well, 1960s and otherwise. We would discuss books and events. Laughed over Twilight reviewed as vegan vampires. Or when the London Times reviewed a book purely on grammatical errors.
John Pett came to America as often as I went to London, attending the major shows when Spink was in its prime. He dealt with coins of great rarity and beauty and helped build important collections.
Even in areas I am a recognized expert, Archaic Electrum and also Anglo-Saxon & Viking, I would occasionally ask John’s opinion as his knowledge of numismatics was so sound he could speak to areas beyond his normal scope.
John had recently retired from Spink, having dealt with long illness. I spoke to him often enjoying good conversation and good company.
John Pett is survived by his wife Adele, and sons Alex and James.
John’s funeral which will take place at 1pm on Tuesday 22nd May at St John the Evangelist church in East Dulwich. Please do come along afterwards to the East Dulwich Tavern for a drink in John’s memory.
Here you can read Ursula Kampmann’s obituary of John Pett.