Dick Johnson submitted the following review of William Swoger's new book, National Commemorative Medals of the United States of America Since 1873.The first thing you notice about Bill Swoger's new book -- after you get over sticker shock at the $225 price -- are the fantastic color illustrations. Every medal in the book, National Commemorative Medals of the United States of America Since 1873, is illustrated in color. In addition, every different composition, and every variety, is illustrated in color as well.
The author also illustrates a wide variety of associated items in color: leaflets, stamps, tickets, badges, first day covers, postal cards, medal envelopes, order forms, expo certificates, and in one case, a painting and paper money showing the same design as on the medal. Associated items amplify the meaning and importance of the medal with these items, usually collectors' items in themselves.
To the author's credit he has unearthed data not elsewhere found in numismatic literature. He did extensive research on national medals, those medallic items issued by the government for a wide variety of purposes, most often for American expositions, the inevitable "official medal" because of the government issue imprimatur.
But the book cries for an editor, and perhaps a book designer. The author apparently did these functions himself as self publisher. Just because your computer allows you to do many varied things doesn't mean you have to do this in a formal work. Someone should have dissuaded the author from his frequent use of lines of text in colors, frequent underlining of text and headlines, numerous lines of differing sizes, odd type faces at times trying to match type style on medals, and a spreadsheet index. There are customs in book publishing. This book has veered off the road in too many ways.
The numbering takes some effort to get used to as well. The author chose a sequence number system where the Events are numbered -- there are 53 such events -- catalog numbers 1 to 53. Then varieties are assigned large Roman numerals. Subvarieties are given lowercase letters and superscript numbers. Rather confusing. He must have recognized this himself when he got to event number 11 and the third variety. He had to insert a hyphen or else he would have had 11III (like a row of columns!). Thank goodness it did not have a subvariety.
There are 79 medals covered in this 300-page book. After the 53 national events, part 2 covers those medals issued by government agencies (they are numbered 201 to 208), part 3 are medals to honor memorials (301 to 308), and part 4 are for private organizations (401 to 409).
The author has updated the previous listing of these medals (by Howard L. Turner, Commemorative Medals Struck at the United States Mint which appeared in the July 1968 issue of The Numismatist and a second installment in the September 1977 issue). Bill Swoger's text is in uniform format: the authorizing act, the event's history, the ceremony, the medal. Every medal is described.
Without question the author was very concerned with accuracy throughout the work. I have yet to find a factual error. I was uncomfortable, however, with the spreadsheet index. I noticed some names were not indexed, while similar ones were.
You will enjoy the color illustrations and the book's accuracy. And if you do not like the exuberant price, get on the waiting list to borrow this book at the ANA library.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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