Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing forwarded this interesting note about a new Japanese-language edition of A Catalog of Modern World Coins.
Here’s one for the books—the world coin books, to be precise.
Whitman Publishing has come out with a Japanese-language edition of A Catalog of Modern World Coins, 14th edition. Aside from the obvious difference, this new version is slightly larger than the English-language edition (published in 2008), at 7 x 10 inches compared to 6 x 9, and has 504 pages compared to 544. It lists coins in Japanese alphabetical order by country (so, for example, coverage of the United States starts on page 24, instead of page 472).
In the book’s foreword, Arthur Friedberg, editor of the 13th and 14th English editions, discusses the significance of this most recent Japanese-language version of Modern World Coins. Yes—“most recent”! Many readers will be surprised to learn that it’s not the first of its kind.
“A book such as this edition of the Catalog of Modern World Coins demonstrates, as few other things do, the international nature of coin collecting,” writes Friedberg. “Traditionally, most collectors concentrate on the coins of their home country, and it was often thought to be a rare and adventurous breed that would turn their backs on the relatively simple and familiar and instead devote their attention to the strange and unknown, which often could not be read, much less understood.
That began to change in the middle of the 20th century when the legendary American numismatic author Richard S. Yeo (Yeoman) revolutionized the collecting of world coins as Whitman Publishing released the first edition of Modern World Coins. This was the first time that, on a large scale and at an affordable price, the average collector could handily identify and value the world’s most commonly collected coins—those of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
The Yeoman numbering system remains one of the most logical ever devised for coins. By arranging the coins chronologically by their type, Yeoman was able to illustrate nearly all of them in an efficient and inexpensive format. An entire generation of collectors learned to collect by ‘Y numbers,’ as dealers and auctioneers made them part of their sales lists and catalogs.
Until 1984, Modern World Coins was sold primarily in the United States, with a substantial number of books also going to Europe. A relatively modest number found their way to Japan and to the rest of Asia. By that time Richard Yeoman had retired from active numismatics and I undertook the revision of the book for its 13th edition.
Much as Yeoman did in the United States, the collecting of world coins in Japan was largely created by Masamichi Oka. I had already known and done business with Mr. Oka and his firm, Taisei Stamps and Coins, for years. He was one of the major contributors to the standard reference book, Gold Coins of the World, as well as to the new edition of Modern World Coins. The revolution he created in Japanese coin collecting was extraordinary and went in directions that Yeoman could never have envisioned in the United States.
He traveled the world making as many contacts as he could with dealers, banks, and mints. Taisei became the first to introduce and actively mass-market world coins to the Japanese public. What Oka did, which was revolutionary at the time, was to have Taisei sell not only coins—the company sold complete coin programs, highlighted by the Olympics and including many others. And Taisei did not just sell them to established collectors through the famous Taisei Monthly, but also through major department stores and within the banking system. Before long, Japan was one of the most active and exciting coin markets in the world.
Such was Masamichi Oka’s vision that, in the days before email and instant communication, I still recall the day I received a letter from him proposing a Japanese edition of Modern World Coins. It did not take long for us to agree and I am proud to say that while I have hundreds of coin books in my office library, the copies of this and the companion Current Coins of the World which he inscribed to me in recognition of the work we did together are among the very few numismatic publications I keep in my home.
With the publication of the 14th edition of Modern World Coins, nothing would make Masamichi Oka prouder than to see the success his son Masahiro has had at Taisei’s helm, not only in continuing the successful marketing of world coins, but also in bringing this new Japanese-language edition to fruition. As you go through the pages that follow I hope you consider this book a tribute to both of them and to a legendary numismatic family.”
It was exciting to help rejuvenate this international connection 25 years after the first Japanese-language edition. Masahiro Oka and his team were a pleasure to work with. We met several times at various American Numismatic Association shows to discuss and plan the book. The logistics were interesting—having such a large and complex manuscript translated into Japanese, figuring out the best page layout, working with specialists around the world. Publishing against the backdrop of numismatic legends like R.S. Yeoman and Masamichi Oka lent the project an air of historical importance. Art Friedberg’s involvement was another bridge to the past; not only editor of the 13th and 14th editions, he was instrumental in bringing about the Japanese formats of each.
E-Sylum readers who are completists when it comes to their numismatic bibliophilism might find a worthy challenge in the Japanese-language 14th edition. Perhaps 20 copies of the book exist in the Western Hemisphere—archival and reference copies at Whitman headquarters in Atlanta. Collectors can buy theirs directly from Taisei Corporation (www.taiseicoins.com). Get a copy, have Art Friedberg and Masahiro Oka autograph it, and you’ve got a fine numismatic collectible with an interesting and significant story.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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