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V12 2009 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 11, March 15, 2009, Article 13

THOUGHTS ON HOWARD BERLIN'S PROPOSED NUMISMATIC MUSEUM GUIDEBOOK

Several readers chimed in with thoughtss on Howard Berlin's proposed guidebook to world numismatic museums. -Editor


John Regitko writes:
The article about Howard Berlin’s idea of publishing a book on numismatic museums of the world reminded me of the experience I had last year when I visit Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

My wife and I were visiting Berlin and we took a bag full of clothing from the hotel to a local self-serve Laundromat. Two doors away, I noticed a coin shop with all kinds of Canadian silver dollars and U.S. material in the window. The store was not open that early. About an hour later, I walked back and the store was still closed. I asked a gentleman that was coming out of a real estate office next door when the coin store usually opens, since there were no store hours posted. He told me that the owner was quite ill and had not been around for about a month.

As I usually do when I travel, I pick up all the brochures I see in hotel lobbies and tourist information booths. I picked one up on a Sunday afternoon about a local Austrian Mint and Museum and studied it that evening. It seemed very interesting. Since it was located in the general direction we were driving anyway, I made the detour and when I arrived, the parking lot was completely empty. Walking up to the door, I saw the sign: “Tuesday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. - Closed Mondays.” I overlooked the small print on the back of the brochure which said the same thing.

So much for my “numismatic tour” through Europe!

Although we always stress “buy the book before you buy the coin,” I have included the following phrase in my vocabulary when I go back to Europe in the Fall: “Study the brochure before you go visit the museum!” Maybe when Howard Berlin comes out with his booklet, I can relive in my mind what might have been.


I had similar problems in London because my employer seemed to think I was obligated to work Monday through Friday, which put a crimp in my plans to visit coin dealers and museums that weren’t open on weekends. I began looking forward to July 4th, a holiday my U.S. employer recognizes, but strangely, the U.K. does not. Yet those plans too were foiled when our team decided to work that day. I put in ten hours and grabbed dinner alone at a restaurant in Soho. Stranded away from my family on a holiday, it was the low point of my assignment there. -Editor


David Gladfelter writes:
Howard, I’m sure that many readers like myself who don’t see your columns were anticipating your question as they were reading your E-sylum report, probably with the thought of suggesting such a book to you. I for one could use such a book, and since it’s still in the concept stage, I would suggest:
  • The pocket size guide is a good idea. Make it a vade mecum, as opposed to Grace Cohen Grossman’s thick folio Jewish Museums of the World (which serves a different purpose).
  • Don’t feel compelled to set an arbitrary limit of one page per museum. Some are worth less; the British Museum would be worth considerably more.
  • Include the museum’s street address and possibly a city map detail showing its location with respect to major streets or landmarks.


Some models (in the railfan field – also specialized) might be George Drury’s Guide to Tourist Railroads and Railroad Museums (Waukesha, WI, Kalmbach Books, 4th ed. 1995); Andrew D. Young’s Veteran Vintage Transit: A Guide to North America’s Mass Transit Museums, Tourist Trolley Operators and Private Mass Transit Vehicle Collections (St. Louis, Archway Publishing, 1997) and Klaus Freymann’s Das Reiselexicon Eisenbahn: Sammlungen, Museumsbahnen, Strassenbahnen (München, Georg D. W. Callwey, 1993) (European). There are probably more recent editions of all of these guides. The publishers could probably give you an idea of what a minimum press run would be.

I hope you do it!


Raining on the parade is Alan V. Weinberg, who writes:
Howard Berlin's thought is noble but I'm afraid unrealistic. I can understand why publishers - like apparently Whitman - would turn it down. It won't sell unless each museum's numismatic exhibition is photographed for the book, and unless significant items in the vaults- not just the exhibits - are photographed and published in the book.

For instance, I distinctly recall Coin World's mention some years ago of a numismatic tourist who'd seen a choice 1793 Chain Ameri Sheldon-1 cent in a major Russian museum. Now, that I'd like to see! Graphics and coins or medals the reader is unlikely to often see are key to whether a numismatic book will sell reasonably well. Whitman Publishing seems to have a grasp on this as their books have a great balance between text and beautiful color images of great coins, medals, currency, and other numismatic rarities.

In deciding whether to buy a book, a potential buyer will flip through the book and largely concentrate on the pictures. Ooh, aah! That is the key to whether most will buy the book or not. That and the cover. Then, the subject matter and the price. It is highly unlikely that a museum will allow anyone to photograph their exhibit rooms - a "security risk" (or at least they'd think so) or allow the general public to know what is confined to their vaults, let alone allow images of their hidden-from-view treasures.


I don't think I agree with the notion that museums wouldn't be willing to have their collections photographed and published. But I do agree that the more great coin images in a book, the better. Nowadays many museums have electronic images of the highlights of their collections, and permission could be attained to publish them. But that would require a great deal of time and effort on Howard's part, and I wouldn't fault him if he'd rather not go to those lengths. -Editor




Wayne Homren, Editor

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