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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 11, March 16, 2008, Article 4

BOOK REVIEW: AN INTRODUCTION TO RELIGIOUS MEDALS BY BOB FORREST

[George Cuhaj submitted the following review of "An Introduction
to Religious Medals" by Bob Forrest.  I've added some comments
of my own.  The book was published by Numismatics International
in 2007.  It has 211 numbered pages.  Our review copies were
8-1/2 x 11 spiral bound softcopies, but we believe the book
itself is hardbound.  -Editor]

Wow, what a topic to get a handle on!

I have been a Numismatic International member for about 15
years now, and have enjoyed reading Mr. Forrest’s articles
in the NI Bulletin for much of that time. This book is a
compilation and expansion of those articles.

This book is not a catalog of every saint, location, venerable
relic, or devotional commemorative issued. That is a good
thing, because there are far too many! The medals which are
discussed were chosen by the author, and those select medals
are grouped by person (saint) or place. Short descriptions
of the lives of the saint, or the place of pilgrimage and
what makes that place is important is included to give the
reader a base as to why the medals and the particular devotion
has come to be. Catholic saints and locations of devotion
are the scope of the book.

The religious medal is that one inexpensive trinket that a
visitor to a shrine could buy and keep as a remembrance, or
pass along to a friend who was not able to visit. Perhaps
even help with a devotion. As far as the Miraculous Medal
is concerned, it has a great story – the design was revealed
in a vision by Mary herself! (She should be the patron of
medal manufacturers) as thousands of varieties have been
produced since 1832. I’m sure every mint in the world has
done a miraculous medal!

Illustrations, as with his articles in the NI Bulletin are
hand lettered freehand line drawing giving the viewer a good
general idea of what is being discussed. However, in this
age of technology, I do not understand why clear scans of
photos were not used. I would expect clear photos and not
line drawings in a $55 book.

This is an amazing field, and this book has treated it on
the surface, which is probably only as deep as one should
to go on the subject.

As a former Chief Usher at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New
York City, I come into this review with too much baggage.
The gift shop at the cathedral probably offered over 250
different devotional items to buy. I remember once having
the pleasure to view a collection of over 5,000 such
religious medals (Thanks fellow reader D.W. Johnson). St.
George, St. Benedict, St. Joan of Arc and hundreds of others
in eight different sizes and three different metals. There
is a limit to the stuff one could collect. I passed at the
time. I am still glad that I did.

The book is available directly by check or M/O from
Numismatics International at: P.O.Box 570842, Dallas, TX
75357-0842 or NIBooks@verizon.net.

Special postpaid sale price for this new publication until
June 1, 2008 for $55.00 (USA) or $65 (Int'l).  PayPal
(NIBooks@verizon.net) Dealers write for special discounts
and drop ship pricing. After June 1, 2008, retail price is
$59.95 plus S/H ($4 USA) & ($12 Int'l).

[I concur with George's disappointment at the dearth of photo
illustrations, but think his assessment of the book's line
drawing illustrations is overly harsh.  While I too was
disappointed in not seeing photographic images, I found that
the line drawings grew on me after spending some time with
the book.  In this computer age they do seem out of place if
not jarring, yet lend the book a unique flavor.  For
identifying basic types of religious medals, I think they
work just fine.

I'm wholly unfamiliar with the subject matter outside of
visiting St. Patrick's cathedral as a tourist once.  But
the book would have come in handy a few years ago when I
disposed of the coin collection of Glenn Mooney of Pittsburgh.
His collection included box after box of material, and one
large box had nothing but religious medals.  I knew nothing
about them and in the end sold the box as a single lot.  It
would have been enlightening to read the book while pawing
through that box.

The book is dense with text - this is not a fluff catalog.
Its 36 main chapters cover in detail all the major categories
of religious medals including the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Sacred
Hearts, the Eucharist, the Passion, Icons and Paintings,
Images and Shrines, Pilgrimages, Relics of the Saints, medals
of the Saints, etc.  Each chapter has a set of endnotes.
The author has clearly done a great deal of research and his
book is a great service to the hobby.

The story of the Miraculous Medal should be of particular
interest to numismatists, for the design of the medal didn't
come about in the usual way:  "In a Paris convent in 1830 a
young nun - later to become known to the world as St. Catherine
Laboure - had a vision in which the Virgin Mary appeared to
her with specific instructions for the design of a medal.
According to St. Catherine, a voice actually told her to
'have a medal struck after this model' ".

I did have one minor question - if the book was published
in 2007, why does it have a 2004 copyright date?  I asked
David Gracey of Numismatics International and he told me
that the book has been in the works for several years and
was delayed due to deaths in the families of the author
and local coordinator.  He writes: "It may be a small miracle
that it ever got published. I assume the copyright date was
the hoped-for publication date and no one noticed when the
publication date kept slipping."

But that's a minor nit - I found the book very readable
and informative, and would encourage medal collectors and
churchgoers alike to obtain a copy and read it.  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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