Numismatic Literature dealer Charles Davis submitted these thoughts on the recent Numismatic Bibliomania Society survey of the 100 Greatest Items of American Numismatic Literature. -Editor 1) “Greatest” is one of the greatest hollow modifiers in the English language giving little direction for voters, and the results show.
2) A response of 60 voters or less than 20% of the membership is statistically flawed.
3) Early American Cents and Penny Whimsy are the same book and should not be given two of the top 20 spots.
4) Ditto with the Garrett auction catalogues and the Bowers History.
5) I can't see the Judd book deserving No. 9 — or 19, or 29. I suppose after 10 editions, and an army of contributors, they have it right, but it should not be rated more highly than a book that got it right the first time.
6) Breen on Half Cents and Large Cents rated more highly than Cohen and Noyes? When was the last time you saw a large cent or half cent attributed solely to a Breen designation? How can a book that is never cited be “greater” than one that is constantly cited?
7) Coin World at best deserves only an honorable mention, not No. 7. Recording mostly the news of the day, unlike The Numismatist or the Numismatic Scrapbook, it never published within its pages a standard reference. I don't imagine there can be more than a hand full of complete sets in existence making access to its contents virtually impossible today.
It is the one place I differ with Len Augsburger who wrote “The list is eminently collectible ... There are no unique or impossible items here.” When was the last the time a set of Coin World was offered? If one surfaced today, I might would not accept it for consignment as it would probably weigh 1500lbs and cost close to $1,000 to package and ship. We really are talking about an ephemeral item here.
8) With works like those above, plus The AJN, CNL, The Asylum and Penny Wise representing an entire body of work, the 100+ auctions catalogues of George Kolbe, not just the Ford and Bass sales, should have been nominated and placed somewhere in the top 25. They contain more valuable numismatic information, available nowhere else, than a number of those in the top 50.
9) Many will say I am on thin ice with this one, but I would have placed Mehl's Star publications very high on the charts. While his lists served him to buy coins cheaply, they may have fished a number of significant coins out of bureau drawers and put them in numismatic circulation.
During the depression, these coins might otherwise have been spent or melted. And how many people started collecting coins after buying a Star Encyclopedia which was advertised in Sunday newspapers for 30 years. The hobby and the A.N.A. benefited as well from this oft considered superficial and self centered booklet. (Remember, we are rating the "greatest." Perhaps your definition differs from mine.)
10) Len Augsburger’s commentaries form a delectable bibliophilic treat, and it would be a shame to publish it only to the NBS membership, 80% of whom could not trouble themselves to vote. I would suggest that it be reorganized in strict alphabetical order eliminating the 1-100 rating and published as an offprint for sale to non NBS members.
Charlie has a number of valid points here, and they should be considered in future revisions of the survey. I don't think he's on thin ice at all with the Mehl books. They are absolutely important for the reasons he states even if they're not "great" reference works. He also right about the Sheldon works (EAC and Penny Whimsy), but you have to admit it's odd for a subsequent edition of a book to be given a new name.
I would disagree on the value of Coin World - I think a large number of specialized articles within its pages are gems with information not always available anywhere else. But Charlie's right about its rarity - outside of the Coin World library in Sidney, OH (and perhaps the ANA library in Colorado Springs), I don't know where to find a complete set.
I would also differ with Charlie's assessment of the response to the survey. As one of the sixty who completed the lengthy survey, I know it took a lot of time and thought to complete. It's not like filling in your address on a response card and dropping it in the mail - for a typical marketing mailing like that a response rate of even 3% is impressive. 20% of recipients taking a big chunk out of their day to complete a survey seems like a big turnout to me.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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