The Society was founded on 18 June 1903 by three members of the old-established Numismatic Society of London - Philip William Poole Carlyon-Britton, Laurie Asher Lawrence, and Walter Jonathan Andrew - who saw a need for an additional national numismatic society which would have as its specific objective the study of the numismatics of the British Isles and of present and former British territories overseas.
By the time of the Society's inaugural meeting on 30 November 1903 the fledgling Society had already recruited 270 members, vindicating its founders' belief that a Society of this character was required. The months that followed saw a further significant increase in membership ; a regular programme of meetings; and the launch of the (British Numismatic Journal), the Society's long-lasting periodical, issued from the start in a more impressive format than that of the existing Numismatic Chronicle.
The Society's activities over the following two decades, initially directed by Carlyon-Britton in two long terms as President, and carried forward in more difficult conditions during the 1914-18 war and its aftermath, gave a real impetus to the study of many aspects of the coinages of Britain and Ireland, and it was not long before the British Numismatic Journal, through the appearance of its pages of a succession of major articles by L.A. Lawrence on the Long Cross coinage of Henry III and by the brothers H.B. Earle Fox and John Shirley Fox on the penny coinages of Edward I, II and III, attained what has proved to be a permanent role as the appropriate place to publish authoritative classifications of the coinages of mediaeval English kings.
The coinages of the Tudors and Stuarts, carefully studied by such scholar-collectors as Henry Symonds, H.W. Morrieson, Helen Farquhar and Grant Francis, were also well covered in volumes of the Journal into the 1920s and beyond, and it is appropriate to record that Helen Farquhar, chosen as one of the Society's Vice-Presidents as early as 1912, was one of the very earliest women numismatists anywhere in the world to have a significant body of published research to her name.
The early 1930s were to be a testing time for the Society, with the successive deaths of many of those who had been associated with it since its foundation, but the Society was to win increasing respectability in academic quarters at just this date through the presence on the Society's Council of George Brooke (d.1934), of the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, and Brooke was soon to be followed on to Council by his immediate Museum successor, Derek Allen.
Another key recruit to the Society's Council at this time was Christopher Blunt, a protege of Brooke and Lawrence, who was to play a central role in British numismatics both as administrator and as researcher over the following half century.
During the 1939-45 war the management of the Society's affairs necessarily devolved on a small group of individuals ineligible from age or health for other wartime duties, but the scholarly quality of the Journal was well maintained, largely through the editorial efforts of Cuthbert Whitton, an expert on the coinages of the later Plantagenets.
The Society's first post-war President, Blunt, set the Society a fresh set of objectives, and his own personal shift of interest from his pre-war area of research, the coinages of the fifteenth century, to the coinages struck for Anglo-Saxon kings between the late eighth century and the late tenth century, was in time to bring a new intensity to the study of Anglo-Saxon coinage both in the Society's programme of meetings and in the pages of the Journal. The chief agent in this was Michael Dolley, Assistant Keeper in the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum between 1951 and 1963, and subsequently Professor of Historical Numismatics at Queen's University, Belfast, and Blunt and Dolley's close scholarly partnership in the 1950s and 1960s has left a lasting legacy. A major lecture delivered to the Society during this period by the historian Sir Frank Stenton is available here as an MP3, digitized from a recording made by Stewart Lyon in 1958.
Over the last half century the Society, and those associated with it, have played a continuing active part in encouraging numismatic research into a broad spectrum of the coinages struck or used in the British Isles and in other British-controlled territory. In recent years the Journal has assumed an ever more important role in the advancement of scholarly knowledge of these coinages, in part because it now gives a home to the Coin Register, an indispensable annual illustrated listing of recent single finds of coins in the British Isles, and in part because of the contributions to it from a continuously expanding pool of academics, museum curators and private scholars.