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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 2, January 13, 2008, Article 4

REVIEW: COINS & CURRENCY OF THE MIDDLE EAST

I recently received a copy of the 2006 book from Krause
Publications, 'Coins & Currency of The Middle East' by Tom
Michael and George Cuhaj.  While far from my normal area of
interest, the continuing news from that region of the world
makes a good topical subject for a book.  I found it
interesting and think others will, too.

Covered countries include Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt,
Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Somaliland,
Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The time period covers that last quarter-century or so.

The book is a useful handbook-style compendium of information
on not just the modern coins and paper money of the region,
but military tokens, medals, challenge coins, propaganda
leaflets and more.  The cover and title page describe the
book as "A Descriptive Guide to Pocket Collectible" and
that's a fitting description.  It is clearly intended for
a Western audience, particularly people who served in the
military and diplomatic corps in the region, and their friends
and family members back home.  Every generation of soldiers
brings back souvenirs of their deployment, and people will
be naturally curious to learn more about them.  This book
is a "World War II Remembered" for today's generation.  The
272-page card covered book is profusely illustrated in color,
and lists for $17.94 retail.

It seems a natural product to market directly to returning
servicemen and their families as well as collectors.  I don't
know that many dealers would rush to buy it (except for resale
to collectors) because of the low value of most of the items
listed.  Few are listed at over $100 and many if not most are
under $10.  There aren't many "hidden treasures" that the book
could help a bargain hunter locate.  But for the collector or
"average joe" with an interest in the topic, the new book is
an invaluable companion.

Tom Michael writes: "George and I had a lot of fun doing the
Middle East book and I think that shows in the end product.
I tried to keep the text light and airy. Our original intent
was to make this for the service personnel and their families,
though our marketing people completely re-wrote the back cover
copy and only distributed the book to bookstores and through
the numismatic trade. George and I wanted it in the PX's."

"Everyone we worked with liked our idea also, but sometimes
you just can't get the marketing and sales staffs to work
for something different. I think the designer did a great
job of creating a book for the service personnel, just as
we intended. It's one of my favorite books that I have done
over the years."

The book absolutely has the look and feel of a military
theme throughout.  While the illustrations and price listings
(in two grades, "Worn" and "New") have the familiar Krause
flavor, they are augmented with many large color photos of
U.S. military personnel in the region.  Critics could argue
that the selected photos have too much of an officially-
sponsored military publication flavor to them, with page
after page of soldiers handing out candy to delighted
children, smiling doctors administering vaccines and relief
workers handing out supplies to grateful locals - nary a
Green Zone checkpoint or car bomb aftermath among them.
But that's not what the book is meant to be about.  I
found it a pleasant relief from the headlines and think
others will too.

The photos are good quality, printed on glossy paper.  As a
numismatist I take issue with the layout of paper money
photos, however.  For visual effect the designer made two
choices - one of them I can live with, but the other greatly
limits the book's usability for research purposes.  The first
choice was to lay out the photos at slight angles, and while
reading the book I found myself tilting my head like a
quizzical dog.  That part I got quickly used to and I came
to appreciate the not-your-average-coin-catalog feel.  But
the other choice - to lay out the photos with the front of
each note overlaying the back - was grating.  With parts of
the back design of nearly every note obscured, it felt like
the numismatic content had a gaping hole.  While I realize
that numismatists are not the primary target readers, I was
disappointed with this choice - for me, I'd much rather trade
the space used for ancillary photos for space to properly
illustrate each note.

For bibliophiles there is a useful multipage section on
books relating to the conflicts.  For fun, there are also
sections on comic books, propaganda leaflets and memorabilia,
including the famous decks of "most wanted" cards.  I'm glad
the editors decided to include these items, as they often
accompany the coin and paper money souvenirs brought home
by veterans.

Overall I was quite pleased with the book.  I think it will
be well received in its target market, and should still be
of interest and use in the numismatic market despite the
banknote illustration shortcoming.  In the category of
nitpicks I feel compelled to note there are some misplaced
apostrophes in the narrative text that would have given my
grammar teachers conniptions.  The only error that was
jarring to me was the misspelled heading for the Appendices
section (on p262, "Appenices").

I hope the military readers among us help promote the book
by posting notices on various military web sites and blogs.
And if anyone has a connection with people stocking the PX,
put in a good word - I think the book would be a good seller.
It's a little outdated now as we enter 2008, but still quite
useful and interesting.

George Cuhaj adds: "It was our first full color book from
the KP Numismatic staff, thus quite a learning curve.  It
was the first in a long time to have coins and paper combined.
The idea was not to show every item, so not every banknote
got illustrated.  The positive military photographic spin
was intentional. We had plenty bad images in the public
press and decided that our book would have a different tone."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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