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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 6, February 10, 2008, Article 7

EBOOK REVIEW: MONEY & SOVEREIGNTY AS EXPRESSED IN GOLD COINAGE

A new ebook was released a couple weeks ago: "Money &
Sovereignty as Expressed in Gold Coinage" by Douglas A.
Mudd and Michael Fagin.  Mudd is a former collection manager
for the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian
Institution and is currently curator of the American Numismatic
Association's Edward C. Rochette Money Museum.  Publisher
Chris Wasshuber of Lybrary.com sent me a review copy, and
here are my impressions.

First, I have to admit to having relatively little experience
with electronic books, but the PDF file format is familiar
and convenient.  Because the book is short at just 79 pages,
the file loads and scrolls quickly.

The Introduction notes that "the book is a general survey
of the history of the designs and messages placed on gold
coins. Gold coins have been selected for their beauty and
for the care which was traditionally used in their design
and creation. The coins chosen have been selected on the
basis of the especially interesting stories behind their
issuance and design from around the world and through history.
The coins used are from the Western, or Greek, coinage tradition,
which has become the dominant world tradition in the modern
day."  The opening chapters consist of

The Origins of Money
  The Greek Tradition
  The Chinese Tradition
  The Indian Tradition
Coinage as a means of Communication
The Future of Money  Electronic Media

The text is well written and straightforward; these chapters
provide a concise but thorough overview of money and coinage
from ancient times through the present.  The illustrations
in the opening chapters are too small for my taste, but in
the main section of the book they are quite large, with an
obverse and reverse image spanning an entire page.  Using
the standard zoom feature of the Adobe PDF file reader I
was able to quickly enlarge the images over 400% with little
loss of clarity.  Try THAT with a printed book.

In introducing the topic of communication via coinage Mudd
writes: "Coins are an ideal method of disseminating messages
to large audiences, particularly in the absence of any other
mechanical means to reproduce messages in large numbers.
Thus coinage very quickly became an instrument of State 
conveying a huge variety of messages  those of economic
stability and prosperity common in many non-authoritarian
States, while authoritarian States used them for promotion
of the ruler or ruling class in a direct and personal way."

As a collector of U.S. coinage I was pleased to read that
"The United States led the way in the revival of an imagery
and language on coins reflecting the political ideals and
aspirations of Republican forms of government. This process
began with the conscious rejection of the notion of displaying
the portrait of the current president, or, indeed, any living
individual, on coins. Instead, it was decided to use a
personification of Liberty with associated symbols of freedom
adopted from those of the Ancient Roman Republic combined
with the new National symbols of the United States."

As something of a student of alternate currencies and
electronic money, I also enjoyed the Future of Money chapter,
although I felt it strayed from the theme of money as
communication.

The meat of the book follows these overview chapters.  Each
subsequent section (they're too short to warrant calling
them "chapters") discusses a single coin with a page or so
of text, followed by the photo page.  The opening sections
cover the Lydian stater of King Croesus, Persian Gold Stater,
and the Gold Octodrachm of Ptolemy III, 246 - 221 BC

I found the text easy to read and understand even for a
dunce like me who's never collected ancient coins.  I even
learned about some denominations I'd never head of, like
the fractions of the Roman gold solidus  the semissis (1/2
solidus) and the tremissis (1/3 solidus).

Later I learned about Hawaiian pattern coins such as the
1893 Gold 20 Dala of Queen Lilliuocalani.  While I very
much enjoyed this section I question how it supports the
theme of the book.  As patterns these coins never saw
circulation, and their messages were never conveyed to
the public.

The last coin discussed is the Gold 5 Franc Pattern of
the Democratic Republic of Congo.  While it's another
interesting and attractive coin, it's a pattern and I
question their inclusion in the book.

Overall, I was pleased with the book and my main wish
would be for some of the pictures to be of higher-grade
coins.  For example, the 1795 United States $10 Eagle was
far from uncirculated.  No, I don't have a better one in
my collection, but maybe I'm spoiled by the parade of
gorgeous specimens  of early gold pictured in auction
catalogs recently.

I was also disappointed with the complete lack of a
bibliography, footnotes/endnotes or photo credits.  To me,
it's not a book without them.  I shared a draft of this
review with the publisher and by noon the next day the
authors had already addressed two of these points - the
ebook now includes a bibliography and a photo credit in
the copyright section.  Now that's a level of service
you can't get in a hardcopy book, either.  By the way -
all coins illustrated are from the Smithsonian Institution's
National Numismatic Collection.

I'll leave the final question up to our readers.  The
list price is $19.95 - is that a reasonable pricepoint
for an electronic book when Whitman publishes a 544 page
softcover book for $19.95? (see the Catalog of Modern
World Coins announcement above).  There are pros and
cons of both formats, but I do think we'll see more
and more ebooks in the future.  I'll look forward to
subsequent titles in the Lybrary.com series.

Chris Wasshuber adds: "Lybrary.com is a publisher and
retailer specializing in digital publications. This is
our first 'coin ebook'. We have a lot more planned.

"The link to purchase this ebook is
purchase this ebook
Price is $19.95. The format is a PDF which can be
printed out for personal use or read on a computer."

[An Internet search found a Michael Fagin who scaled
the walls of Buckingham Palace in 1982 and waltzed in
to the Queen's bedroom, but Chris assures me it's not
the same guy.  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor 
at this address: whomren@coinlibrary.com

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