News | Published: Thu 1 Dec 2011
Mark was born in Camberley, Surrey. At 13 he and his family moved to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he attended the Skinners’ School before reading chemistry and law at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, graduating in 1975. The following year he entered pupillage at Middle Temple, where he went on to practise as a barrister from 1976 until 1978, when he gained a position with the merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson.
By this stage Mark had already become a respected scholar of Anglo-Saxon and related coinages, publishing his first article while still an undergraduate in 1973. When the leading scholar of early medieval numismatics of the day, Professor Philip Grierson, sought a research assistant in 1982, he persuaded Mark to leave his promising career in the City and pursue numismatics full-time. This move began an association with the Fitzwilliam and Cambridge which was to last almost thirty years, twenty of them as Keeper of Coins and Medals. Mark was promoted to this post in 1991, and during his time as Keeper made the Fitzwilliam coin room both a world leader in the field and a most congenial environment for research and teaching. He oversaw major expansion of the collection through bequests and acquisitions, and leaves his department in a strong and highly respected position. In addition to his duties within the Fitzwilliam, Mark devoted much time to associated projects and societies. He served as editor of both the British Numismatic Journal and the Numismatic Chronicle, and as President of the British Numismatic Society from 2004 until 2008. He also acted as general editor and secretary for the British Academy’s Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles project from 1980, overseeing the publication of over thirty-five volumes.
The research for which Mark will also be remembered focused on the British Isles and Scandinavia between the fifth and the twelfth centuries. He wrote or edited over 200 publications on the subject, becoming the leading authority in the field and a well-known figure among historians and archaeologists as well as numismatists. Areas of particular interest to him included the influence of the Vikings on money in Britain and the analysis of coin-finds, especially those discovered by amateur metal-detectorists since the 1980s. It is no understatement to say that through his research Mark has revolutionised views on the monetary economy of the early Middle Ages, and his impact on the field has been recognised with many major awards, medals and other distinctions, among them the Jeton de Vermeil of the Société française de Numismatique (1991), the British Numismatic Society’s Sanford Saltus medal (2008), the Royal Numismatic Society medal (2008), the British Academy’s Derek Allen prize (2011) and a LittD from the University of Cambridge (2011).
Mark combined his lucid and meticulous scholarly work with genuine warmth and care for his friends, colleagues and pupils. An inveterate traveller, he forged links of lasting value across the globe, including many in central Asia, India and the Far East. He was also a kind host, both at work and at home, and was devoted to his family: his wife Fiona, and his three children Molly, Will and Hal. The death of Mark Blackburn at the height of his career is a tragic and untimely loss for his family, for the Fitzwilliam Museum, for the University of Cambridge and for all who had the pleasure to know or work with him.