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Martin Coles Harman


Martin Coles Harman [1885-1954]

About twelve miles off the coast of Devon in the Bristol Channel lies the Island of Lundy, just over a thousand acres of rocky outcrop no more than fifty above high tide. The name — Lundy — derives from the Old Norse word for puffin, by far the island’s most numerous resident. It has been owned outright for most of the last several centuries, until acquired by the National Trust which operates it today as a bird sanctuary.

Lundy’s most colorful seigneur was English financier Martin Coles Harman. Often accused of shady dealings, Harman was bankrupt in 1932 and imprisoned for fraud in 1934-1935, but not before he was the self-titled King of Lundy, the island he had bought in 1924 for £16,000.


Sixty puffin stamp commemorating the death of John P. Harman, recipient of the Victoria Cross and son of Martin Coles Harman

A virtual fiefdom, Harman ruled the island absolutely, presuming to mint his own coinage — the Puffin, in two denominations, 1 and ½ — for use only on the island. With values set to the equivalent English coins, the Puffin went into circulation in 1930, when the island had a population of just forty. This was a violation of British laws prohibiting private coinage, however, so Harman was tried a fined a nominal £15. There were bigger issues in his near future.

These coins have become collector’s items and were reproduced in 1965 from the original dies.¹ The Puffin is one of the oddities of 20th century coinage, inspiring American printer-publisher Henry Morris² to invent his own currency for the Republic of San Serriffe.

The Republic of San Serriffe

As an April Fool’s spoof in 1977, Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a seven-page hoax supplement as an elaborate tourist promotion for the recently independent Republic of San Serriffe. From its capital Bodoni to the largest harbor at Port Clarendon, pun after printer’s pun were missed by many (who took the place as real) but endearing to those in the fine printing trade, like Henry Morris, proprietor of the Bird & Bull Press. Examine the map carefully and identify all the puns.

Bird & Bull is renowned for publishing books on books, a niche market in fine printing occupied by few and most prominently by Morris until he closed its doors in 2013. But long before, in 1988, Morris had acquired several Harman coins; he also became fascinated with the San Serriffe hoax and set about minting his own commemorative coins and printing paper currency for the fictional republic that had fooled so many Britons.

Any time you’d like to see a Bird & Bull production, especially the coinage of San Serriffe, or hold one of Martin Coles Harman’s 1929 Puffins, let me know. All of this been fodder (i.e., subliminal inspiration), I think, for the fabrication of Agincourt, Iowa.

¹ The coins were struck again for Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1977, and again in 2011 as collectibles.


² Not to be confused with Henry M. Morris (1918–2006), young earth creationist, hydrologist, scholar, apologist, and crackpot father of the creation science movement.

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