Pre-eminent expert on Scottish coins who donated his collection to the Hunterian

Born: August 10, 1935;

Died: March 3, 2018

LORD Stewartby, who has died aged 82, was a distinguished politician and numismatist, a member of Margaret Thatcher’s government and a well-known and respected figure in academic circles in Scotland – especially at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

He was a leading authority on numismatics, the study of money and coins, having started collecting them as a boy. Indeed, as a child 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. While at school he also carried out extensive research into early Scottish coins and published The Scottish Coinage in 1955.

Over the years Lord Stewartby built up an outstanding collection including rare pieces which he then diligently authenticated. It was a unique collection that was important to scholars, historians and numismatists.

Last year he donated a treasure trove of coins covering over 600 years of Scotland’s history to The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow. He had visited the museum since 1954 and his gift contained over 6,000 coins from the reign of Alexander III in 1280 until the Act of Union of 1707. Included were silver pennies of Robert the Bruce, gold lions and unicorns of James I and II, and a Renaissance portrait of James III. Its historical significance was typified by large silver ‘dollars’ which came from the time Mary Queen of Scots was married to Lord Darnley, bearing the insignia Mary and Henry, Queen and King of Scots.

Donal Bateson, the curator of coins and medals at The Hunterian, described Lord Stewartby as the doyen of Scottish numismatics. "He will be much missed in the realm of collecting and research on the coinage of this country," Mr Bateson told The Herald. "It was a surprise and delight when he and Lady Stewartby visited The Hunterian and proposed to gift his Scottish coins to the university: the number, range, depth and quality exceeded our expectations.”

Sadly, part of the collection was stolen a decade ago from Lord Stewartby’s home in Broughton, near Peebles. Despite the police saying that it would be very difficult to sell the rarest coins in Britain and a reward being offered, none of the coins has been returned. Despite the theft the resulting gift to The Hunterian was both generous and considerable. Lord Stewartby last visited The Hunterian Coin Room in November to see the exhibition Scotland’s Own Coinage where many of his coins were on display for the public to enjoy.

Harold Ian Halley Stewart attended Haileybury College then got a first class honours degree at Jesus College, Cambridge. After national service in the RNVR, he joined the City merchant bank of Brown Shipley in 1960, becoming a director from 1971-83. He then became MP for Hitchin and then from 1983-92 was member for North Hertfordshire.

Lord Stewartby served in the Thatcher government firstly as Economic Secretary to the Treasury (1983-87) with responsibility for the Royal Mint. In that capacity he supervised the issue of the first £2 coin to celebrate the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. He was also a member of the Treasury team at a meeting the Prime Minister held at Chequers in 1985 regarding South Africa. Lord Stewartby then served under Tom King at the Northern Ireland Office.

In 1992 he left the Commons and was created a life peer taking the title of Baron Stewartby of Portmoak in the district of Perth and Kinross.

He had long-standing connections with Glasgow. A forebear, Sir Robert Stewart, brought clean water to Glasgow from Loch Katrine and is commemorated by the gloriously gothic fountain in Kelvin Park. A great grand-father had been an MP for Greenock.

It was no coincidence that Lord Stewartby retired to the village of Broughton. His wife, Deborah Buchan, was the granddaughter of John Buchan, the celebrated author of the four Richard Hannay novels. The Stewartbys lived in the historic house, Broughton Green, where Buchan wrote and his parents had been married.

Lord Stewartby was awarded many academic honours, including Fellow of the British Academy and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and held the Gold Medal of the British Numismatic Society. He was president of the Stewart Society and remained an enthusiast for plain song, Homer, tennis and cricket.

He was a strong supporter of the John Buchan Museum in Peebles and loved walking over the Border countryside.

Lord Stewartby is survived by his wife and their two sons and a daughter.