Mark Blackburn Obituary, Death – GALESBURG, ILLINOIS – Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum’s coins and medals curator, Mark Blackburn, died aged 58 from cancer. He was an authority on British Isles and Scandinavian currency and economic history from the 5th to 12th century. He helped historians, archaeologists, and numismatists interpret early medieval coinage via almost 200 publications. Mark was born in Camberley, Surrey, and attended Tunbridge Wells’ Skinners’ School. He studied chemistry at Oxford and law at St Edmund Hall. Graduated 1975. He worked as a lawyer at Middle Temple thereafter. He joined Kleinwort Benson in 1978. He was already a young early medieval coin specialist. Mark entered a busy and fascinating sector.
Mark participated in the 1950s Anglo-Saxon coin studies of Michael Dolley, Christopher Blunt, Stewart Lyon, and Michael Metcalf. They trusted Mark fast. His unique academic qualities—respect for detail, purpose, and efficiency, and an ability to comprehend how his study fits into the wider picture—helped him as much as his openness and friendliness. In 1982, Philip Grierson, a fellow at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge and the foremost early medieval numismatist, sought a research assistant to help him publish his massive collection of medieval European coins and Fitzwilliam Museum coins. Even though the position wasn’t permanent, taking it changed Mark’s life. He worked well, and nine years later, Fitzwilliam hired him to store coins and medals for 20 years.
Mark developed Fitzwilliam’s coin room the world’s greatest for coin research. It dominated the field. Though calm and pleasant, it was constantly busy. Scholars, collectors, and students were invited. Mark’s substantial gifts and purchases boosted the collection. He loved to be active and managed well. As a reader in numismatics and monetary history, he lectured at the university’s Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic department. He led many important publishing and research efforts as the British Numismatic Society president from 2005 to 2008. Despite his interest in coins from Vietnam and Japan, he specialized on the British Isles and Scandinavian coinage from the fall of Rome until the end of the Viking period in the 12th century. Mark’s work ranged from seventh-century Spain to Viking Norway, Norman England, and Viking Britain.
He was skilled at using gold and silver coins to reconstruct the past. Mark was one of the first researchers to interview metal detectorists. He was among the first to examine and report metal detectorist discoveries. Most are solitary coins from over 1,000 years ago. They display a random money cross-section. This gave him fresh insights into Anglo-Saxon England’s economy. He determined that money-making peaked about 700 and would not be surpassed until the late 1100s. Spreading these findings was crucial. Mark digitized a massive coin discovery data set in 1997 because he loved numismatic evidence. Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds. It continues at the Fitzwilliam, setting the norm for similar developments. His wife, Fiona, and children, Molly, Hal, and Will, will remember him.