Tory peer's Scottish coin collection worth more than £2 million

A Conservative peer with a lifelong passion for Scottish coins built up a collection worth more than £2 million, his will has revealed.

Lord Ian Stewartby. Picture: Lorenzo Dalberto
Lord Ian Stewartby. Picture: Lorenzo Dalberto

Lord Ian Stewartby, who was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, began collecting coins as a six-year-old schoolboy and went on to become a leading expert on the subject.

The former Armed Forces minister died aged 82 in March at his home in Biggar, Lanarkshire, following a long illness.

His recently published will revealed he had an estate valued at £6,106,816 at the time of his death.

That included his collection of Scottish coins which were valued at £1,785,000 and were donated to the Hunterian museum at Glasgow University a year before he passed away.

In 2007 the oldest part of Stewartby’s collection of Scottish coins, dating back to the 12th century and worth £500,000, was stolen from his Scottish home.

A £50,000 reward was offered for their return and an appeal on Crimewatch five years later brought 40 calls from the public, but to no avail.

In 2016 his collection of English coins, many of them Anglo-Saxon, were auctioned off at five separate sales for a total of £500,000.

Lord Stewartby’s fascination with coins was sparked when as a child, in wartime Barnet, he spotted a copper coin in a jar on the counter of a grocer’s shop with two heads on it. After meticulous research he discovered it dated from the reign of William and Mary.

As a schoolboy he discovered that no complete book on the coinage of Scotland had been published since 1887, so wrote his own, Scottish Coinage, which was published by Spink and Son in 1955. He wrote several further books on the Scottish and English coinage.

His will revealed that his wealth also included his £430,000 home and a large stocks and shares portfolio worth more than £3 million.

The peer instructed that his entire estate should be passed to his wife Deborah, although the coins will remain at Glasgow university.

After handing over his collection in March last year, Lord Stewartby said: “I am pleased the Coin Cabinet of The Hunterian has felt able to accept my Scottish coin collection, built up over 75 years.

“The new Coin Cabinet is a fitting home for it, where scholars and numismatists from all over the world may study the collection.

“My one regret is the early part of the collection was stolen in 2007 and I would urge the perpetrators to return the coins to the Hunterian so the collection is complete and represents a full history of Scotland from David I to the Union told through coins.”

The collection contains some 6,000 coins from the reign of Alexander III in 1280 until the Act of Union of 1707. Included are silver pennies of Robert The Bruce, gold lions and unicorns of James I and II, and Renaissance portrait groats of James III.

Bernard Harold Ian Halley Stewart was born in London on August 10, 1935, the son of the medical professor emeritus HC Stewart and his wife Dorothy.

His great-grandfather was the Liberal MP and philanthropist Sir Halley Stewart, who developed Stewartby brickworks and model village in Bedfordshire. The family later added “of Stewartby” to its surname.

He served as Economic Secretary and Minister for the Armed Forces under Mrs Thatcher.