I've been reading Pierre Fricke and Fred Reed's book, History of Collecting - Confederate States of America Paper Money Volume 1, 1865 to 1945.
It's a delightful volume, and I'd recommend it to any student of U.S. numismatic history with or without a particular interest in Confederate States of America paper money. There is much to learned about our hobby and the great collectors who preceded us.
This book continues a great tradition begun by Q. David Bowers in his 1964 book, Coins and Collectors. Dave introduced readers to a world of numismatic history - the great coin collectors and the great coin collections they formed. It was a coin book that wasn't a pure reference book; it was something to be enjoyed cover to cover. There oughta be a book like this for every major collectible series. Roger Siboni's chapter on Collectors and Their Collections, an excerpt from an upcoming book on New Jersey coinage published in The Asylum is another great example. Perhaps no single publisher could or would produce a series on all important areas collecting, but these are great starts and I know I'll look forward to future volumes in this "History of Collecting" series.
I won't march thru the book chapter by chapter, as that has been covered in earlier E-Sylum articles. What follows are some random thoughts as a reader.
One of the first things I noted were some vocabulary words I was unfamiliar with, like "plen". A short glossary would have been useful. I asked Pierre and he defines it as:
Plate letter-number. Like A 26 on a T-18.
In addition to some vocabulary words, I learned a lot of interesting things from the book. One was the importance of research by H.D. Allen, published in The Numismatist in 1917 through 1919. His work unfortunately was never published in book form, making it less accessible to collectors. But his contributions were monumental, overturning a number of incorrect assumptions and attributions made by earlier writers.
Another thing I learned was that many of the top collectors of the day had holdings of Confederate notes, even though it was not their main focus. For example. Dr. Maris of Large Cent and New Jersey coinage fame had some 40 lots of Confederate items when his collection was sold.
As bibliophiles know, one can learn a lot by reading through old auction catalogs. On p201 the authors illustrate a page from the Chapman wale of the William Gable collection. Before a group of lots of Confederate notes S.H. Chapman writes:
Complete set of each denomination is given in Thian's album but his arrangement by denomination is so bad I will not follow it and will catalog then chronologically....
Chapter 8, "Government Seizures of 1919" was all news to me. I was completely unaware of this episode, which could have put the kibosh on collecting and selling Confederate paper money for decades. In short, a number of hucksters had begun buying up old Confederate notes and turned around and passed them to ignorant shopkeepers out west who didn't realize they were worthless. Coin dealers, who advertised nationally and sold bulk lots were being targeted as middlemen in a counterfeiting scheme.
Ultimately the issue was resolved with the Federal government, but not without a lot of consternation in the hobby and the destruction of some $60 million in Confederate notes by the government. The swindling was curbed in the U.S. but then moved overseas.
I have no one but myself to blame for not knowing much about this episode or the Allen work. I have a full set of The Numismatist sitting on my shelves, but have never read all the way through them. That's something Dave Bowers had the initiative to do early in his career, and I would recommend it to any aspiring young numismatist. Luckily we have authors like Fricke and Reed who have done the legwork for us.
I should have mentioned right up front that this book is a treasure for bibliophiles. Color illustrations throughout picture a multitude of numismatic items from books to auction catalogs to ephemera such as dealer price lists and buying guides. I found myself thinking like a baseball card collector - got it, got it, need it, got it, didn’t know that EXISTED! I used to think I had a pretty good collection of Confederate numismatic literature, but now I know I have a lot of holes.
The accompanying DVD is a great companion item. The illustrations in this review were taken from a slide presentation on the DVD. It doesn't include all the text of the book, but it does have some good companion material.
My primary compliant about the book is no fault of the authors' - the pages were all stuck together at the bottom, perhaps a cutting error by the printer or some stray glue. I also found it sometimes confusing that the authors duplicated in the main text words found in many of the illustrations. I understand why they did that and I would probably do the same - some of the images can be hard to read. But I often found myself asking - "hey - didn’t I just read that? Am I losing my marbles here?"
I'll stop there, but want to again heartily recommend the book. A great job, and a great example to future authors. I'd love to see more "History of Collecting" type books.
To read an earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
NEW BOOK: HISTORY OF COLLECTING CONFEDERATE STATES PAPER MONEY
BOOK REVIEW: HISTORY OF COLLECTING CONFEDERATE STATES PAPER MONEY
Wayne Homren, Editor
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