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Deacon, James Hunt (Jim) (1901–1968)

by Joyce Gibberd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

James Hunt (Jim) Deacon (1901-1968), numismatist, was born on 9 February 1901 at Charlton, near Woolwich, London, son of James Thomas Deacon, journeyman carpenter, and his wife Eliza, née Hunt. The family migrated to South Australia in 1912. Educated at Westbourne Park Public and Unley High schools, in 1918 young Jim applied for and was appointed assistant to the keeper of coins in the art department of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Two factors influenced his decision. His only brother, a coin collector, had been killed in World War I, and Jim had no left arm below the elbow which limited his choice of a career. Although he never used an artificial limb, he cycled, played tennis and became a rover scout.

At a time when the institution was rapidly developing, Deacon was art gallery assistant (1925-32), working with H. B. S. Van Raalte and L. A. A. Wilkie. Deacon accessioned, classified and catalogued prints, did clerical work and answered inquiries about coins. In 1932, when he was promoted keeper, there were 26,248 coins in the collection, reputedly the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. He began a project to illustrate the 'Evolution of Coinage'. The catalogues needed updating and detailed research was required; the coin-room was overcrowded and poorly lit; and there was a shortage of display cabinets and fittings. From 1938 he was also keeper of the gallery's historical section, responsible for displays, pictures and relics of the State's past. In 1940 the National Gallery of South Australia became an independent, semi-statutory body. Despite his knowledge of ancient history in relation to coins, his honesty and his hard work, Deacon's position was never reclassified.

On 19 January 1932 at St George's Anglican Church, Magill, Deacon had married a schoolteacher Dulcie Fay Benger; they were to have two children. Although their home boasted no luxuries, they were a devoted family. A foundation member (1926) and thrice president (1929-30, 1950-51 and 1958-59) of the Numismatic Society of South Australia, Deacon edited its journal in 1951-65. He was also a fellow of the Royal Numismatic societies of London (1948) and New Zealand (1961), and the first district secretary in Australia for the American Numismatic Association. A frequent contributor to these and similar societies, he published The 'Ingots' and 'Assay Office Pieces' of South Australia (Melbourne, 1954) and, with K. J. Irons, Catalogue of the Australian Commonwealth Coinage (Adelaide, 1961).

Slightly built, lantern jawed and bespectacled, Deacon wore his hair brushed back and smoked a well-matured pipe. He provided a service for those who were fascinated by medals, tokens, coins and notes—a fascination fostered by soldiers bringing back foreign money from two world wars and by the advent of decimal currency on 14 February 1966, the year of his retirement. He was never interested in the commercial value or the grading of coins, and he did not overly care for modern currency. Towards the end of his career he devoted much time to his hobby, genealogy, and drew up a 66-ft (20 m) family tree. Known to be hypertensive, he died of a coronary occlusion on 18 July 1968 and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Board of Governors of Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia, Annual Report, 1917-18, 1924-25, 1931-32, 1935-36
  • National Gallery of South Australia, Annual Report, 1940, 1949, 1966-69
  • Australian Numismatic Journal, Oct 1959, July/Sept 1968
  • National Gallery of South Australia, Bulletin, 24, no 3, Jan 1963
  • private information.

Citation details

Joyce Gibberd, 'Deacon, James Hunt (Jim) (1901–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/deacon-james-hunt-jim-9931/text17589, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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