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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 5, February 3, 2008, Article 7

BOOK REVIEW: COINS OF ENGLAND & THE UNITED KINGDOM, 41ST EDITION

Better late than never, I suppose.  One of the books at the
top of my review queue was acquired this summer in London on
my visit to Spink.  During my visit there Catherine
Gathercole presented me with a copy of the previous year's
"Coins of England and the United Kingdom", edited by Philip
Skingley, head of Spink's Publications Department.  First
published in 1929, the book is now in its 43rd edition.  It
also goes by the title of "Standard Catalogue of British Coins".

So the book that was one year out of date when I received
it is now two years outdated.  I understand that many improvements
have been made in the last two years, including the addition
of color photos and some 45 additional pages of text.  My
apologies for not having the current edition in front of me,
but my most of comments are likely applicable to the newer
editions as well, because I'm looking through the eyes of
a Yankee with limited familiarity with the coins themselves.
I'll also be making the inevitable comparisons to the "Red
Book", the corresponding one-volume guide we Yanks use as
a reference to U.S. coinage - "A Guide Book of United States
Coins."

The book's preface includes a short commercial message for
Spink.  The Red Book's publisher does not deal in U.S. coins,
so this is one immediate difference.  But I won't begrudge
the publisher - other than this single paragraph the book
is devoid of promotional text.

Another difference I noted from Red Book practice is that
while the preface acknowledges the assistance of many
individuals, they are not named.  The Red Book has an
extensive list of contributors, and I was surprised not
to see a list of names.

I found the introductory text very useful and well written.
As with the Red Book, collectors are cheating themselves if
they read only the price guide sections and pass up the early
text.  "A Beginner's Guide to Coin Collecting" notes that
"This catalogue is solely concerned with British coinage
from the earliest times right up to date.  From the start
the beginning collector should appreciate that the coinage
of our own nation may be seen as a small but very important
part of the whole story of world currency."   This is quite
true and the statement holds for the U.S. as well.  The
section also acknowledges the vast token series "issued
by merchants, innkeepers and manufacturers in many towns
and villages in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries..."
Other sections of the "Beginner's Guide" cover Minting
Processes, Condition, Cleaning Coins, and other important
topics.

There is also a Market Trends section, a five-page essay
on coin values and recent auction results highlighted by
the unique Coenwulf gold penny.  Of interest to bibliophiles
is the discussion on the value of good cataloging.  As an
example the authors cite two separate offerings of a
specimen of the Charles I Oxford silver crown of 1642.
In September 2004 a "sketchily catalogued" example sold
for £1,870 in a well-attended London auction.  “Six months
later, the same coin realized £6,300 when resold in
Davissons Ltd. Auction 22 with a fuller description…”
The section also discusses the very important differences
between U.S. and U.K. grading systems, a must for
collectors making purchases in both markets.

A peek at the back of the book reveals several useful
appendices.  Appendix I is a Select Numismatic Bibliography,
listing primarily modern works from the 1970s to date.
Appendix II is a useful listing of “Latin or Foreign Legends
on English Coins”. Appendix III lists Numismatic Clubs and
Societies.  I couldn’t help but notice the apt name of the
British Numismatic Society’s Secretary – C.R.S. Farthing.

The bulk of the book is of course devoted to coin listings,
and I have to say my hat is off to the editors for managing
to neatly distill 2,000 years of numismatic history into one
volume the same size as the U.S. Red Book, which covers a
mere 200+ years.  One thing left out of the book, however,
which I found an awkward omission were mintage figures for
regular issue coins.  While records from centuries ago may
not be available, modern figures have surely been published
somewhere.

I found a number of interesting coins and tidbits while
perusing the catalog – here are some of note.

Victoria (1837-1901) - "In 1849, as a first step toward
decimalization, a silver Florin (1/10th pound) was introduced,
but the coins of 1849 omitted usual Dei Gratia and these
so-called 'Godless' Florins were replaced in 1851 by the
'Gothic' issue.

William IV (1830-1837) - "While Duke of Clarence, he was
cohabiting with the actress Dorothea Jordan (1762-1816)
who bore him ten illegitimate children."

#4261 - there's nothing special about this coin, a Two
Pound gold piece, but I thought it worth noting the very
low mintages of some of the proof versions - 1990, 716
struck; 1993, only 414 struck.

#4570 - this complete Two Pound design (which I often saw
in circulation) shows four concentric circles representing
the Iron Age, 18th century industrial development, the
silicon chip and the Internet.  I never would have figured
that out without the help of the book, and I doubt if anyone
on the London streets could have told me that, either.
Here I believe the book has a typo.  It states that the
edge reads "STANDING OF THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS" when it
should say "STANDING ON..." after the words made famous by
Sir Isaac Newton: "If I can see further than anyone else,
it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of giants".

#4577 - this Two Pound commemorative features what I'll bet
is the longest word ever placed on the edge of a coin (Outside
of Wales, anyway)...   Honoring the 1953 discovery of the
structure of DNA, the edge has the phrase "DEOXYRIBONUCLEIC ACID"

#4616 – the last coin pictured in this book is one of my
favorites – the 50 pence commemorative of the 250th anniversary
of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language.
While “wordy” coins are typically a waste I found this
one delightful.  Featuring the definitions of the words
“Fifty” and “Pence” from Johnson’s dictionary in the original
1755 typeface, I just had to smile when I first encountered
one in change.   Every bibliophile should have one!

[See also the related news item below - the image of Britannia,
which has graced British coins for 300 years, is set to be
removed from the 50 pence piece as part of a redesign by
the Royal Mint. -Editor]

 WAYNE'S LONDON DIARY 15 JULY, 2007
 esylum_v10n28a16.html

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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