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The E-Sylum:  Volume 3, Number 38, September 17, 2000, Article 5

DEVASTATING REVIEWS 

   In response to Tom Fort's request for books which had 
   "published scorn ... poured on them within a year or two 
   after they were printed"  brought this response from Dave 
   Lange: 

   "The first example that comes to mind with respect to American 
   numismatics is Robert P. Hilt's "Die Varieties of Early United 
   States Coins." I bought this book as soon as it was published 
   in 1980. Good books were few and far between back then, 
   and I was quite excited at this new development. While the 
   plates were impressive for the time, I was puzzled from the 
   outset by his radical "die group theory of coinage."   It seemed 
   downright wacky at the time, and it still does. 

   I don't remember seeing any contemporary reviews of this 
   book, though Walter Breen alternately quoted and contradicted 
   Hilt throughout his 1988 encyclopedia.  To my knowledge, no 
   other numismatic researcher/writer has even acknowledged 
   Hilt's work, and it's almost unknown to the current generation 
   of hobbyists. 

   This book was just the first in a planned series, but the 
   succeeding volumes never appeared.  I still keep this book on 
   my reference shelf here at NGC, but I simply never use it. 
   Hilt's book remains a curiosity, and I know nothing about the 
   man himself. Perhaps someone can fill in the blanks.  Hilt 
   seems to be the A. W. Browning of the 1980s. 

   I can think of half a dozen other recent books on United States 
   coins that were filled with erroneous and sometimes comical 
   conclusions, yet each received favorable reviews in the 
   numismatic press. Either these reviewers are loathe to write 
   negatively about the hobby or they simply don't know enough 
   to recognize nonsense when they see it." 

   Tom Fort adds: "First I would like to thank all of those who 
   have emailed me regarding the posting in the last E-sylum. 
   However, from some of the notes I should have made 
   something more clear.  The disasters I am looking for must 
   have published reviews which call them this.  There are 
   numerous works out there which I may personally feel to be 
   flawed or awful, but reviewer(s) in journals, magazines or 
   newspapers must say this in print. 

   Contrary to what may be popular opinion, bad reviews are 
   not always easy to write since they can bring lots of trouble 
   upon the reviewer.  I will give a case in point.  A former 
   university colleague of mine (whom I shall refer to as 'Ed' to 
   protect the innocent), who specialized in the history of Central 
   America,  but who had minored in medieval studies, told me 
   the story of one book which he reviewed on the religious 
   history of Honduras. 

   The book was originally a Ph.D. thesis.  In the work, the 
   author found numerous references in his research to a 
   St. Dominic and spent a whole chapter discussing who 
   this person might be.  Eventually he decided these references 
   were to a very obscure saint who was active as a missionary 
   in Guatemala in the 16th century. Because of the obscurity of 
   this man, the author could not understand why there were so 
   many dedications and references to him. 

   Of course, as Ed noted in his review the author was completely 
   wrong.  The St. Dominic was the great monastic reformer and 
   writer of the 13th century - one of the most important figures in 
   the Middle Ages and this Ph.D. had obviously never heard of 
   him.  How, Ed asked, could this man's supervisor, history 
   department, external reviewer,  Ph.D. committee, and the 
   publisher's editor(s) approve this work? 

   The editor of the journal where the review was to appear wrote 
   Ed and asked was he sure that he wanted the review to run. 
   Ed thought about it and realized that this lengthy bad review was 
   bound to offend a lot of people and that they, and their friends, 
   would probably be gunning for him when his next book came out. 
   Thus, he changed his lengthy passage about the St. Dominic error 
   to a quick sentence. 

   The truth behind this story can easily be seen in the acrimony 
   over the Andrews work on Henry I's coinage.  Most of his friends 
   broke with the Royal Numismatic Society and formed the British 
   Numismatic Society, made Andrews the editor of the British 
   Numismatic Journal and later he became president of the Society. 

   (As a footnote it should be pointed out that Andrews' scholarship 
   did not improve.  The BNJ serialized a work by him on the 
   coinage of King Stephen that is almost as bad as his work on 
   Henry I). 

   But there can be serious consequences to both the reviewer who 
   pans a major work and to the publisher of that review.  At times 
   such bad reviews can mean that the reviewer knows that he is 
   making enemies who may try to take literary or professional 
   revenge." 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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