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John Casey

John Casey was a devoted and inspiring teacher who trained some of the leading coin specialists at work in the UK today. In 2016, he left his books and 10% of his estate to the Institute of Classical Studies.

John Casey with fellow members of the American Numismatic Society
The Numismatics Room in the University's Institute of Historical Studies (IHR) was renamed 'The John Casey Numismatics Room' in recognition of the generous legacy left to the library by John Casey.

Professor Greg Woolf, former Director of the Institute of Classical Studies in the School of Advanced Study, reflects on a gift bequeathed to the Institute library from his esteemed colleague, John Casey.

“John followed an unusual route into academic life. He was an assistant librarian at the Institute of Bankers when he first caught the archaeology bug, helping out at a rescue excavation in London. Four years of evening classes at the Institute of Archaeology (now part of UCL) and a year’s master’s degree at Cardiff led him to a post in the University of Durham in 1972 where he taught for his entire career, retiring in 2000. Always a Londoner at heart, he escaped to the big city whenever he could and retired here.

John’s was a familiar face in the Institute’s library and also at conferences on Roman Britain. He had a deceptively angelic smile and a wicked sense of humour. He was rather expert at deflating any lecturer who verged on the pompous, but it was always done with a sense of fun, and in a characteristically provocative way. 

He excavated Roman sites all over England and Wales and published widely, but his great love was the study of Roman coins. He pioneered archaeological approaches to coinage, showing how much economic and social history could be extracted from them. He was a devoted and inspiring teacher, who travelled with a small coin collection of his own. I remember the thrill as an undergraduate when halfway through a seminar John produced a Roman solidus (a gold coin of the later empire) and passed it around the room. He trained some of the leading coin specialists at work in the UK today.

John did not tell us about the gift in advance, nor did he specify exactly how we should spend it, but of course we have many ideas. He left us his books as well as a tenth of his estate, so the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies (the Combined Classics Library) benefits doubly. We already have a room dedicated to numismatics, the study of money including coins, which we have renamed in his honour, and his collection will make that even more valuable for the researchers who travel here from all over the UK and beyond.

The John Casey Fund will help us develop the library in new ways, extending our programme of digitisation, cataloguing our rare books, and providing some of the new equipment and services that 21st century readers need. I like to think he would be pleased to think of a new generation – his students’ students in fact – benefiting from his gift.”

For more information on legacy giving, please visit our dedicated legacy webpages.