Kenneth Jenkins

Leading figure in the study of Greek coins
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Gilbert Kenneth Jenkins, numismatist: born Bristol 2 July 1918; Assistant Keeper, Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum 1947-56, Deputy Keeper 1956-65, Keeper 1965-78; married 1939 Cynthia Scott (died 1985; one son, two daughters); died London 22 May 2005.

Kenneth Jenkins had a long and distinguished career as a leading figure in 20th-century numismatics. He was the post-war generation's most important expert in the study of Greek coins and medals.

Jenkin's introduction to numismatics came during his time at Oxford, while he was studying Classics at Corpus Christi in the late 1930s. He attended the Heberden Coin Room in the Ashmolean Museum and was introduced to the subject under the guidance of Edward Robinson and Humphrey Sutherland. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served as an officer in the Royal Artillery, from 1944 to 1946 flying as a reconnaissance pilot in South East Asia. He returned to Oxford to graduate in 1946.

In 1947 Jenkins was appointed to the post of Assistant Keeper in the British Museum's Department of Coins and Medals with responsibility for the Greek coin collection. As was the case for most of his colleagues, Jenkins learned his trade by working on British coin hoards, passed to the department through the Treasure Trove system. During his early years he catalogued and published hoards of Roman, Medieval and Civil War period coins. A few months after his appointment, Jenkins was joined by another young scholar, Robert Carson, who had also had his academic career interrupted by war service. They were to work closely together for the next 30 years.

Shortly after arriving at the museum, Jenkins met and became friends with a young Indian scholar, A.K. Narain, who was studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies, writing his doctoral thesis on the coins of the ancient Greek kingdoms in the territories of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The daily support he gave Narain, together with Narain's infectious enthusiasm, prompted Jenkins to take an interest in the same region and over the next decade he published several ground-breaking studies of the coinages of the Scythian kings who conquered these Greek kingdoms. This engagement with the periphery of the Greek world was to shape the rest of Jenkins's career.

During Jenkins's first decade in the British Museum he rapidly built his own expertise and reputation, developing the collection through new acquisitions which he regularly reported in the British Museum Quarterly, so that by 1956 he was promoted to the post of Deputy Keeper. In his second decade he shifted his focus to the western edges of the Greek world to focus on the ancient coinages of Sicily, North Africa and Spain.

In 1957 he published a study of a hoard of Carthaginian coins found in southern France. This piece of research revealed to him the poverty of scholarship on this important ancient region. He was introduced to the Celtic coinages of Spain by George Miles, doyen of oriental coinage at the American Numismatic Society (New York). After shorter articles on this topic, he undertook a huge research project on the precious metal coinages of Carthage (working with R.B. Lewis), which set out to create a firm chronology and system for Carthage's coinage.

This resulted in Jenkins's first book, published by the Royal Numismatic Society in 1963 as Carthaginian Gold and Electrum Coinage. He was able to broaden his results in a detailed classification of ancient North African coinage in volume 42 of the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum ("Catalogue of Greek Coins") of the Danish National Museum. Both these works remain the key publications for these series.

Jenkins had joined the Royal Numismatic Society in early 1947, and from 1964 to 1974 served as one of its Honorary Secretaries, co-editing its journal the Numismatic Chronicle in 1964-65 and on its editorial committee until retirement. His service to the society and to numismatics was recognised by the society's Medal and honorary fellowship.

In 1965 Jenkins was appointed Keeper of Coins and Medals. His third decade at the museum was also marked by a shifting of focus to the coinages of ancient Sicily. His new post and its responsibilities did not diminish his research and over the next two decades he published four substantial studies of Greek coinage in Sicily: "Coins of Punic Sicily" (published in four parts in the Schweizerische Numismatische Rundschau, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1978), The Coinage of Gela (1970), The Coinage of Kamarina (1980, with his dear friend Ulla Westermark) and Terina (1983, with Ross Holloway). These studies were all characterised by a close attention to detail using modern numismatic methodology. They formed the basis for all future research on the coinages of Sicily, creating a substantial base of reference for the chronology and monetary systems of the region.

The role of Keeper was a mixed blessing for Kenneth Jenkins. It enabled him to stamp on his department a high standard of scholarship and to imbue it with an ethos of trust and respect. His close colleague Robert Carson, in his presentation speech when Kenneth received the Royal Numismatic Society's Medal, characterised his keepership as one of "urbanity and affability". Those of us who came to the department during his keepership have a similar memory of being welcomed into a family of scholars. However, Jenkins had a deep loathing of bureaucracy and felt its burden heavily. He encouraged and inspired his staff, but irritated the museum authorities immensely by refusing to play the bureaucratic games of an entrenched Civil Service administration.

Perhaps Jenkins's most widely consulted publication is his masterly survey of Greek coinage, Ancient Greek Coins (1972). Translated into German and French in the year of its publication and reissued in 1990, it stands as the most comprehensive introduction to the subject of its generation. It will not outlast his more detailed studies, but stands as an exemplar of accessible scholarship in its breadth and depth of presentation.

When Jenkins retired in 1978 his colleagues presented him with his own portrait in the form of a medal by Fred Kormis, whose work Kenneth had long admired. The burden of office had had its toll and Jenkins's morale went into decline after his retirement, and received a further downward push when his wife Cynthia died in 1985.

The party to celebrate the publication in 1992 of a Festschrift for him and his friend and successor Robert Carson, Essays in Honour of Robert Carson and Kenneth Jenkins (edited by Martin Price, Andrew Burnett and Roger Bland), was one of his last appearances in the numismatic and museum community. He found it hard to be among so many well-wishers and seemed genuinely amazed at the applause which greeted him and the honour in which he was held.

His natural humility and gentleness and his kindness and generosity to his colleagues were being celebrated as much as his contribution to his subject.

Joe Cribb