Though unknown to most today, Sedley Marianne Towler was one of the first female professional numismatists in the world.
As a child, Towler was fascinated by money in all forms, and become an ardent numismatist. During the early years of her adult life, she worked as a school teacher and superintendent, but she retained her interest in numismatics, and decided to pursue a career in the field. In 1916, at the age of 55, she began work as an assistant numismatist at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In 1917, she received a promotion to “keeper of coins,” a curatorial role.
Towler was a brilliant curator, creating exhibits that captured the sentiments of the nation. Using such exonumismatic items as charity home-front badges and war medals, she encouraged public interest in the numismatic fields. She also honored the nations and coins of the Europeans who had recently began to settle in the country. Her greatest acquisition for the gallery was the famous 1930 Australia penny.
Towler was an advocate of public engagement, and gave approximately 300 numismatic talks. Realizing that a more organized effort was needed, Towler and her fellow numismatists started the Numismatic Society of South Australia, which continues as an active organization to this day.
Though some were concerned about a woman in a position of such responsibility, her coworkers and fellow numismatists agreed that she was a skilled numismatist, and more than capable of holding her role adequately. She worked up until her death in 1931, when her understudy, James Hunt Deacon, assumed her responsibilities.
Towler wrote no books or articles, which may account for her current obscurity, but she was known for talking to journalists to promote the Gallery’s collection, as well as her openness with the public.
For all those collectors and numismatists who go out of your way to promote the hobby and teach others: our most profound thanks!