This week my copy of Dick Johnson's new book arrived. Monograms of American Coin and Medal Artists is exactly what Dick promised: a compendium of 545 drawings of signatures of nearly 300 coin and medal artists, painstakingly compiled over four decades of research.
Need I say more? Such a wealth of information is available no where else, and is a dirt-cheap bargain for the numismatic researcher regardless of the cover price (only $45 postpaid from the publisher, Signature Art Medals, P.O. Box 920, Groton, MA 01450).
Each artist entry includes one or more monograms, and for each monogram there is a list of known medals displaying that version of the monogram. A typical example is the entry for Ernest Bruce Haswell. Shown are two different monograms - one an H within a circle (found on the 1916 Edward MacDowell medal) and "E B H", found on the 1936 Miami University Robert Hamilton Bishop medal.
Below are examples of three different monograms of Victor David Brenner.
While many artists had just one standard monogram, some used many different ones over the years. Johnson illustrates 14 different monograms for John Flanagan, with a two-page listing of coins and medals they appeared on.
What a wealth of information!
At the risk of sounding like a carnival tout or infomercial salesman, wait! There's more! The 29 pages of front matter are invaluable, starting with a four-page listing of "Monogram & Signature Terms You Should Know", including Ad Vivum, Ghosting, Impresa and Reverse Cipher. QUICK QUIZ: without referring to Dick's book, who can define more than one of these?
The 20-page introduction is a very readable and accessible overview of how to read and understand monograms and signatures on coins and medals - practically a graduate course in forensic numismatics.
Identifying the signature on a numismatic item is often the most time-consuming and irksome task of the numismatist, cataloguer, or curator. Determining the identity of these tiny letters or symbols is sometimes difficult to discern because of wear, their hidden location, the obscurity of their creator or just the vicissitudes of time in lost knowledge or ignorance.
Yet, no other datum can be as important as the identity of the artist or creator of the piece at hand. "Who made it?" is often as important as "what is it?"
Johnson rightly laments that not all numismatic works are signed, and estimates that perhaps only 20-30% of all American coins and medals are signed. As a result, the identity of the creators of many of these pieces may forever be unknown.
Johnson also notes that
Numismatic literature is full of monogram misattributions. After all. It is difficult to be absolutely certain of attributing a numismatic item to the correct artist by observation of only a few tiny letters. (p18)
Lastly, the introduction includes a great bibliography of monogram reference works, only some of which are typically found in numismatic circles. In summary, Monograms of American Coin and Medal Artists is an extremely useful work that deserves a home in every important numismatic library. How did we get by without it for so long?
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: MONOGRAMS OF AMERICAN COIN AND MEDAL ARTISTS
THE BOOK BAZARRE
OVER 500 NUMISMATIC TITLES
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Wayne Homren, Editor
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