The Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand Inc. was founded at The Alexander Turnbull Library on 20 July 1931. The “Royal” prefix was obtained in 1947 and the Society was incorporated in 1948.
The driving force behind the formation of the Society was Alan Sutherland who was, at the time, a Hansard reporter on the parliamentary staff. The Society has excellent records of early meetings thanks to his detailed minutes as the first secretary. There were 17 foundation members which included several prominent members of Wellington and New Zealand society: Col., The Rev. D.C. Bates (the first President); Sir John Hanham; Dr. James Elliot (later Sir); Johannes Andersen (Turnbull Librarian); Willi Fels (Chairman of Directors, Hallenstein Brothers and D.I.C.). Lord Bledisloe, the Governor General, was the first Patron and he took an active interest in the Society.
Alan Sutherland wrote the first history of the Society, which can be found in the New Zealand Numismatic Society Transactions.To quote from this history: “The object of forming the Society was to bring together the fairly considerable number of people scattered throughout New Zealand who were interested in the fascinating pursuit of studying and collecting ancient and modern coins and medals, and kindred objects, and who up till then, had been pursuing their study in a more or less desultory fashion, with only chance contacts with students and collectors of kindred interests.”
At the Turnbull Library they found a home for the Society “which considers itself fortunate in having been able to prosecute its studies in an attractive atmosphere, and to add something to the advancement of cultural studies in New Zealand”. Although the Society still has a very strong interest in Turnbull House and met there up to the closure of the building in 2012 after the Christchurch earthquake (though not in rooms as grand as those when the librarian Johannes Andersen made his fellow members welcome), the Society now holds its regular meetings in The Wellington Club at 88 The Terrace.
The Society played an important role in the introduction of New Zealand’s first coins in 1933, with Alan Sutherland on both the “Coinage committee” (which actually advocated the introduction of decimal currency) and the “Coinage and banknotes design committee”, with the Society’s then President, Prof. J. Rankine Brown. The Society continues to have a consultative role with regard to New Zealand coinage maintaining informal links with the Reserve Bank and NZ Post.
In 1966, the Wellington Coin Club was formed, partly because of the increasing interest in the imminent change to decimal currency, but also because of a concern that the Society was not serving the needs of the “ordinary” collector. Certainly, the Society had somewhat elitist roots and the Royal sanction lent support to such an image. In 2005 the Society and the Wellington Coin Club merged; many collectors belonged to both organisations and elitism by then was a distant memory.
A further merger occurred in 2015, when the Manawatu Numismatic Society became formally incorporated into The Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand.
On 27 November 2019 a formal memorandum of understanding was signed between the RNSNZ and the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS) New Zealand branch, under which the local branch of the UK Society also became a branch of the RNSNZ.