The Numismatic Bibliomania Society

PREV        NEXT        V12  2009  INDEX         E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

About Us

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. For more information please see our web site at


Those wishing to become new E-Sylum subscribers (or wishing to Unsubscribe) can go to the following web page link


There is a membership application available on the web site Membership Application

To join, print the application and return it with your check to the address printed on the application. Membership is only $15 to addresses in the U.S., $20 for First Class mail, and $25 elsewhere. For those without web access, write to:

David M. Sundman, Secretary/TreasurerNumismatic Bibliomania Society
P. O. Box 82 Littleton, NH 03561


For Asylum mailing address changes and other membership questions, contact David at this email address:


To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, just Reply to this message, or write to the Editor at this address:


You won't regret it!


Wayne Homren Among our recent subscribers is Peter Bertram. Welcome aboard! We now have 1,223 subscribers.

This week's issue was delayed a day because of technical problems at our mailing list provider. Sorry! Thanks to those of you who wrote in - it's nice to be missed.

We open with a word from Fred Lake, information on a new publication about Massachusetts Mintmaster John Hull, and a review of Dave Bower's new Whitman Encyclopedia of U.S. Colonial Coins.

Other topics include brockages, the Willem Trade Dollar book, and an early Brazilian pattern. To learn about the Evergreen House secret coin vault, read on. Have a great week, everyone!

Wayne Homren
Numismatic Bibliomania Society


Fred Lake forwarded the following note about his upcoming numismatic literature sale. -Editor
This is a reminder that Lake Books 97th mail-bid sale of numismatic literature closes on Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 5:00 PM (EDT). You may view the sale at and bids may be placed via telephone, email or fax until the closing time. Good luck with your bidding.


Thanks to Dave Bowers for forwarding word of a new offprint from the American Antiquarian Society about a key figure in colonial American coinage:

Valeri, Mark. Providence in the Life of John Hull: Puritanism and Commerce in Massachusetts Bay, 1650-1680, 2008. 61 p. From the Proceedings for Apr. 2008, pages 55-116. Offprint number: 1035 $15.00 plus $4 shipping and handling.

Jackie Penny (a great numismatic name) of the AAS forwarded the following images and abstract. -Editor
Valeri Hull The very landscape of Boston, through which credit and goods flowed to the rest of New England, symbolized the civic prominence of Hull and his colleagues. They erected and maintained forty wharves through the early eighteenth century, promoted the construction of two waterfront batteries and a seawall, owned twelve shipyards, and employed more than one thousand vessels.

Boston with its maritime infrastructure, and the number of ships entering and leaving, dwarfed competing New England ports. Merchants’ shops dominated certain districts of the town. Constables rang bells to open and close markets at the Town House and other venues, ordering civic time by commercial opportunity. Merchants built the town’s most elaborate houses, clustered in their own neighborhoods.

They lobbied for and oversaw the construction of roads, bridges, and ferries linking the town to inland villages. Topographical markers signified cultural influence. In Boston, even more so than the metropolis of London, men of commerce and their institutions formed the core of the civic, public order. Success in the commercial system amounted to a public leadership. It brought power to Hull and his colleagues.

Valeri Hull page1 But knotty relationships emerged between merchants and ministers of the second generation in Massachusetts Bay. The tension centered on the disparity between a Puritan piety that eschewed the use of courts to adjudicate between creditors and debtors and the emerging market economy that relied on debt litigation and a legal culture for expansion.

Like other devout Boston merchants, John Hull listened to clergy such as Elihu Hubbard, who believed that the fate of New England depended on its civic institutions. Hull’s story represents the importance of theological and moral transformations from within Puritanism—changes in conceptions of the church, providence, and the civic order.

To order this and other AAH offprints on economic history, see


Bowers Colonial and Early American Coins WWCD - What Would Crosby Do? If Sylvester S. Crosby, author of the 1875 classic Early Coins of America were alive and writing his book today, what would he do? Would he produce a book similar to the Whitman Encyclopedia by Q. David Bowers?

Today's imaging and publishing technologies are far in advance of methods available in 1875, and I'm sure Crosby would approve of the color photos throughout out the book. Bowers and Crosby both illustrated and discussed major varieties as well as the history behind each major coin type.

Would Crosby include prices? His 1875 book didn't, but in his day the coin market was very different, with far fewer transactions and less emphasis on valuation. Crosby's thorough research and writing made it the standard work for over a century. But if it had included prices it would have been obsolete in a couple of years.

I see both pros and cons to including prices. Valuation is a key feature many people look for in coin reference books - I'm sure many more copies of the book will be sold than would have if it hadn't included pricing. In a few (years/months/days) the prices will be obsolete and there will likely be demand for Whitman to publish a new edition, another reason to sell more books.

I'm generally in favor of the inclusion of prices; to me, more information is better, even if it has a short shelf life. And pricing information is useful as a relative guide even when individual prices are the subject of debate. And debate there is - the colonial coin mailing lists and discussion boards lit up when the book came out, with many people criticizing individual prices. One commenter decried the $500 price assigned to what he deemed a $50 coin. Others pointed out prices they thought were too low.

In a field such as early American coinage, where mintages are generally low, the coins are rarely uniform in manufacture, and the collector base is relatively small in comparison to regular issue coinage, is it inevitable that pricing disagreements will ensue.

In the case of very rare pieces, Bowers takes a "just the facts" approach, listing individual recent auction prices for the piece. These citations are a useful compilation of information which can lead the reader to sources of additional information. As for the prices provided by valuations editor Larry Stack, collectors will inevitably debate them; I'm sure every new edition of Whitman's yearly classic Red Book has its pricing detractors.

Would Crosby include more historical information about the coins? He did in his 1875 book, but because Crosby and many other writers have also done so, author Bowers doesn't really have to. It would make a big book much bigger without adding a lot of value; the Whitman Encyclopedia is a useful publication for what it is - a handy one-volume compilation of key information about an often bewildering and multifaceted field. The Breen Encyclopedia and Crosby books are too meaty (and hefty) to carry around coin shows; I think we'll see a new breed of collectors roaming the aisles of coin shows armed with the Whitman book while they shop for colonial coins.

Although long-awaited, the Whitman Encyclopedia doesn't make any of these earlier books obsolete. Bowers states plainly in his introduction that Remarkably, one of the best "reads" of all remains the 1875 work by Crosby, The Early Coins of America. To this I would add the privately-published In Yankee Doodle's Pocket, the 2008 work by Will Nipper reviewed earlier in The E-Sylum.

Here's a suggestion for Whitman - why not buy the rights to Nipper's book and offer it in a boxed set with the Whitman Encyclopedia? The company's marketing clout could bring Nipper's book to a wider audience. The two titles are very complimentary and will soon be standing side-by-side on my colonial shelf. For that matter, why not reprint Crosby's The Early Coins of America and make it a three-book boxed set? Sure, I realize it's easy to make suggestions for someone else's business plan. But no matter - collectors can and should acquire all three works for their libraries, regardless of who publishes them.

I'll leave it to the colonial coin specialists to review the nitty-gritty of the book; several of them have already pointed out various mistakes such as the occasional mislabeled or juxtaposed photos. As a bibliophile my biggest concerns are with the book's paper and images. The glossy paper is nonetheless thin and prone to easy creasing. Thankfully the book is hardcovered, which helps prevent other kinds of damage. The photos, which by necessity are small, also seem to be oddly uniform in color. I've praised Whitman publication photos in other books, but I'm not as impressed with these.

One thing the bibliophile in me appreciates in the inclusion of engravings to open each section; several are taken from an obscure but important early resource - O'Callaghan's 1850 Documentary History of the State of New York.

My favorite part of the book is Dave's Introduction, which is a great first-person account of his interest in the topic of colonial coinage and interactions with all the top collectors and researchers of the last half century. I think E-Sylum readers will appreciate it as well.

I also greatly appreciate Chapter 12, 19th-Century Colonial Copies and Fantasies, which to me is alone reason enough to justify the purchase price of the book. Sections cover the Thomas Wyatt copies of the 1850s, the John Bolen, Alfred Robinson, Montroville Dickeson, and William Idler copies of the 1860s, C. Wyllys Betts' fantasy coins of the 1870s, and other important copies such as the 1860s "New Haven Restrikes" of the Fugio Cent.

All in all, the long wait was worth it - Dave Bowers' latest book is another feather in his cap.


This week Coin World Associate Editor Steve Roach published the first issue of the publication's new monthly online newsletter. It's a well-done affair, with both text and images and links to full web page articles. This is a great step for the leading U.S. numismatic newspaper, which had at least temporarily been outshone online by rival Numismatic News and its NumisMaster web site. -Editor
Coin World newsletter

Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Coin World Newsletter. Our goal is to have this monthly contain the same quality that has made Coin World the hobby's leading news weekly for nearly 50 years.

The premiere issue of our newsletter is focused on some timely information for your safety - how to prevent the robbery and/or theft of your collection. However, if misfortune does strike, we have some sources you can turn to for help. For the history aficionado, there is a tale of a daring daytime robbery at a famous museum. Plus we reach back into our archive and spotlight some of the characters who have sought to rob the U.S. Mint of its treasure.

The issue included links to interesting coin robbery articles. One is about a daring 1977 daytime robbery of 94 rare coins from the American Numismatic Society and their subsequent recovery, and another is about robberies at the U.S. Mint and its branches. -Editor


Alan V. Weinberg writes:
Reed, Abe Lincoln Images The book is very much numismatically-oriented with a vast array of extremely high quality plates throughout. It's one of the aesthetically most appealing books I've seen. Apparently, from the acknowledgments, author Reed had extensive cooperation from a huge number of sources and collectors, and it shows.

This is not just another Lincoln book. In my opinion, it is essential for every numismatic library. The material pictured is just flabbergasting and invariably in superb condition. I was salivating. And the price of $29.95 is a steal as it was printed in the highest quality in China, as are many Whitman books.

Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing writes:
Fred's book was a pleasure to work on. I think the finished product works well because it can be read from cover to cover, but it's also easy to open to a random page and immerse yourself in the visual feast and accompanying captions. We've already had queries from the media, including The Week. If the book strikes a chord with non-collectors, it should be very good for the hobby --- a bridge between "mainstream" history writing and numismatics.


Dick Johnson submitted the following report on Friday's Monuments Conservancy symposium on the life and work of sculptor and medallist Marcel Jovine. -Editor
Four numismatists, four sculptors, three friends, the mayor of Marcel Jovine's home town of Closter, New Jersey, and the American executive (commendatore) of the order of the House of Savoy -- which had awarded Jovine a knighthood -- all extolled the achievements during the lifetime of an artist they knew for his creative coins, medals, bronzes, toys, fashions, and just about every project he undertook.

Marcel Jovine Brookgreen

Each of the speakers had known Jovine in their own way. But a similar thread was observed throughout every speech, the report of a friendly, good natured, highly artistic and very creative individual. Artist Jovine's accomplishments were highlighted; for example, not all his 94 coins and medals, two dozen bronzes or many hundred toys could have been illustrated or all mentioned. They could only be sampled.

Jovine's medallic creations were revealed by Donald Scarinci, Dick Johnson, and Alan Stahl, whose paper was read by George Cuhaj. Both Stahl and Cuhaj were members of the committee in 1983 which chose the 125th Anniversary medal of the American Numismatic Society, created by Jovine and considered the most distinctive medallic work of the 20th century.

Hugo Greco, founder of Greco Industries, spoke both as a friend, a fellow native-born Italian, and as a maker of most of Jovine's medallic work. He spoke without notes of their close relationship and admiration of Jovine's magnificent design abilities, craftsmanship and creativeness.

The day's activities was sponsored by the Samuel Dorsky Foundation, which honors Public Monuments and the artists who create them. It is closely affiliated with the National Sculpture Society, whose executive director, Gwen Pier was one of the presenters. Jovine had served two terms as president of the Society.

Master of ceremonies was Donald Martin Reynolds, founder of the Monuments Conservancy. The Conference was held in the Henry Luce Room of the Time & Life Building in New York City. A biographical book on the life of Jovine by Reynolds is planned, with a catalog of the artist's coins and medals by Dick Johnson.


DAVID F. FANNING NUMISMATIC LITERATURE sells material relating to numismatics from all times and places. To download our latest fixed price list, The Bookshelf, please go to .


John and Nancy Wilson penned a nice article about the late Larry Gentile - some excerpts follow. I don't know if he was a numismatic researcher or writer, but he was certainly a fine numismatic educator. His efforts over the years to interest and education young numismatist were a boon to the U.S. hobby. I've run a number of Young Numismatist programs myself and it does take a lot of work and dedication, especially when travel and personal expense are involved.

The photo was taken by the Wilsons at the 2008 Baltimore ANA Convention. Larry is on the right and Michael Whelan is on left. They are seated at the YN Table. -Editor
At the recently completed American Numismatic Association National Money Show in Portland, Oregon we were told that longtime ANA Young Numismatist worker Larry Gentile Sr. from New Rochelle, NY had passed away on March 10, 2009 at the age of 71. Larry served in the capacity of YN Coordinator for the ANA in their Representative Program for many years. This was an extremely sad moment for us as Larry had been a friend of ours for close to three decades.
Larry Gentile

Larry started collecting at an early age and in 1976 he became involved in YN activities. From that time until his passing, Larry lived and breathed helping young collectors to become involved in our hobby. His programs many times ran for over three hours. We watched Larry work at several YN programs he gave at the New York Inc. It was very noticeable at the programs that Young collectors were mesmerized with his presentations. Many of the parents who came also were intrigued with how Larry handled his programs in such an educational and interesting way.

No one did it better than Larry when it came to educating young collectors in our hobby. Larry always had nice gifts for YN’s at his programs, but they had to earn them. He probably spent a lot of his own money traveling to coin shows and buying numismatic items to give away. Besides this, dealers, collectors and coin clubs donated numismatic items for his programs.

Larry Gentile Sr. was one of the most admired and loved numismatists that we have ever known. He will live forever in our prayers and thoughts. Our deepest sympathies to his two daughters and son along with their families and other relatives. We will never forget Larry and will miss greatly his always cheerful greeting and smiling face when our paths crossed. Rest in Peace. With loving affection, John and Nancy Wilson, Ocala, FL Larry Gentile’s Obituary can be found at the below link along with a link for a guest book entry.

On a separate note, the Wilsons add:
The ANA National Money Show recently concluded in Portland was a huge success. We grade all aspects of this convention MS70. We want to thank and congratulate the following for a, “job well done.” General Chairman Scott Loos, his local Committee and workers; the host coin clubs; ANA Exec. Dir. Larry Shepherd along with Meeting Services Manager Brenda Bishop and all their staff; the ANA National Volunteers, Bowers & Merena Auctions, the exhibitors, judges & speakers; Scout Clinic coordinators; the BEP, U.S. Mint & Post Office; public relations (publicity), security, Coin Publications; the thousands of visitors who attended and the hundreds of great coin dealers who had tables at the show. Without the dealers, we wouldn’t have coin conventions. Wow, what an outstanding coin convention! Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the success of this show. We look forward to the summer ANA Convention in Los Angeles, CA on August 5 – 9th.


Last week Bill Snider asked about an unusual Victoria young head penny brockage. Chick Ambrass writes:
I am no expert...not even being close to being competent in regards to brockages...but something must happen in regards to the size of the brockage "bad" side...and perhaps that has something to do with the "ring" on Bill's piece. I am saying this because I have a Farthing brockage from the 1860-1875 era....on the obverse, the "toothed" border is complete...but on the reverse, there are no teeth what-so-ever...hope this information may be of some assistance.

Below are images of Bill and Chick's coins side-by-side.
Victoria Brockage Brockage


David Lange submitted the following observation on the illustrations in a standard work of American numismatic literature. -Editor
Willem Trade Dollar 1965 For years I've been reading in booksellers' catalogs that the Second Edition of John Willem's book The United States Trade Dollar, which was published by Whitman in 1965, included better plates than Willem's self-published 1959 edition. I'd just like to set the record straight on this.

Long before I began reading these book listings I owned only the Whitman edition. Finally, an opportunity came to buy the original from a coin club book auction at a reasonable price. Without really comparing the two, I then donated my Second Edition to the club's next auction. It was only later that I began reading all these reports that the Whitman edition included superior plates, and I kicked myself for making such a mistake.

I recently acquired another copy of the 1965 book, and I can now say with authority that the published reports are baloney. The 1965 edition has fuzzy plates that are obviously second-generation copies of the original. While neither has excellent plates, this is typical of their time frame. I simply don't want booksellers to keep repeating this chestnut. I understand that some corrections and updates were made to the text of the Second Edition, so it may still be superior in that respect. I haven't yet made a side-by-side comparison of the text.

In my library, I have only the Whitman 1965 edition. The images are indeed lousy, but I don't have a first edition to compare them with. What do our readers have to say?

My copy (pictured above) has an original dust jacket. In my experience, these are difficult to find in nice condition. But before I start another unsubstantiated "fact" about the Willem book, what do readers think of that? Who's got another dust-jacketed copy? -Editor


Dick Johnson submitted the below follow-up to his article on woodgrain surfaces, which elicited several responses from readers. -Editor
1981D Lincoln Cent Woodgrain Sincere thanks to all eight respondents to my E-Sylum item on "woodgrain." The term I found used in the blogs was new to me. I feel properly castigated that I overlooked a term that is not new, but has been in wide use among numismatists -- for how long? -- over many decades. Where have I been?

I have been casting a net now for 40 years gathering terms that I feel are unique to numismatics, not everyday English words, but terms a serious numismatist should be aware of, and I have recorded their numismatic meaning. The count now stands at 1,835 such terms. Still not ready for publication, but getting close.

The welcome sign is out for anyone to send me a word or term they like and use that, perhaps, is not all that common. Don't send me terms of trade puffing or adverbs extolling the condition of some coin. Instead I am looking for terms with solid, factual numismatic meaning. An example might be Walter Breen's invented term for Buffalo nickel trial pieces in galvano form -- "electrotrials."

Now I noticed the term "pellets" used by Dave Bowers in his response to the woodgrain item. Dave, may I plead you ease up on this use? Pellet has a fixed and prior meaning in the field. It is a term used by modelers when they prepare a coin or medal design in clay. A "pellet" is a tiny piece of clay which the sculptor adds to the clay model in building the relief design. In the video "Medal Maker" Laura Gardin Fraser is shown adding one pellet at a time to create the model for the National Sculpture Society Special Medal of Honor.

Anyone care to bounce a numismatic term off me? Email:


DAVID SKLOW - FINE NUMISMATIC BOOKS Sale #7, is set for June 13th 2009, Consignments include a library of U.S. Copper literature: The personal library of a former numismatic literature dealer with many one-of-a-kind deluxe items! And much more! PH: (719) 302-5686, FAX: (719) 302-4933. Visit our web site:


At my request Max B. Spiegel forwarded the following fascinating account of his recent visit to Evergreen House, once home of the fabulous Garrett numismatic collection, later auctioned by Bowers and Ruddy. -Editor
Evergreen House In the January 2009 issue of The MCA Advisory, Elliot Wehner and I published an article about a tour of John Work Garrett’s underground coin vault and Wayne asked me to share some of that experience with readers of The E-Sylum. I immediately recalled a discussion a while back in the E-Sylum about the private acquisition of coins from the Garrett collection prior to the auctions of the 1970s and ‘80s. I believed, as I’m sure many other numismatists have, that those auctions and private sales effectively liquidated all of the Garrett numismatic holdings at the Johns Hopkins University.

Recently I met Earle Havens, the Curator of Rare Books at the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins (those interested in medals, particularly the Comitia Americana series, may know him from his previous work at the Boston Public Library), and I scheduled a visit with him to view the Garrett collection of numismatic books. I also viewed some documents relating to the Bowers and Ruddy auctions, as well as the original photographs from the catalogs, and this alone warrants a detailed article in a future issue of The Asylum.

Although I had visited the Evergreen House (once the home of two generations of the Garrett family) on several occasions in the past few years, I had never been able to view the underground vault where he stored his collection. Having lost a significant part of his coin collection in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Garrett had a special fireproof vault built beneath his new library.

That extraordinary library, designed by Lawrence Hall Fowler, was completed in 1928 and was one of Garrett’s favorite places. The vault was built with a special dumbwaiter, so if Garrett wanted to view any coins he could simply tell a servant what number tray he wanted and it could be sent up. Garrett never even had to leave his chair!

Garrett Vault Coin Elevator After Elliot and I had met with Earle, we were offered an incredible opportunity to see Garrett’s coin vault. Looking around the Fowler library and its priceless books, we never would have guessed that entry to the vault was made by rolling up one of the carpets and pulling up a few floorboards. To the right of the narrow staircase that led into the vault was the ingenious dumbwaiter that delivered coins to the main floor of the library.

The vault is composed of two cramped rooms. The first was lined with several safes of varying sizes, while the second was filled with gray archival boxes. As our pulses quickened, we knew we had to see the insides of the safes and boxes.

Our guide opened the first safe and, to our amazement, started pulling out trays filled with medals and tokens! Although there did not appear to be anything of significance, we were told that there are currently 1,665 medals stored inside the safes. Most likely these medals and tokens were not all from the Garrett collection and instead represented the combined holdings of the entire university.

Garrett Vault Medal Files As it turns out, the contents of the gray archival boxes proved to be significantly more interesting. Inside perhaps hundreds of white envelopes were many of the foreign coins and medals destroyed by the Baltimore fire. Although some are melted beyond recognition, a quick peek into a few envelopes revealed a copper peace medal, identifiable by its “Peace and Friendship” reverse, joined to another blackened medal.

I had assumed that all of these medals had been donated to the American Numismatic Society, but a large number remain in the Evergreen House.

It is an amazing experience to essentially walk in the footsteps of one of America’s greatest collectors (not just of coins, but of books, fine art, and more). Located in the middle of Loyola College in the northern part of Baltimore, the Evergreen House is just a short trip from the city’s famous Inner Harbor.

I should also mention that there is currently a student exhibition at the Evergreen House entitled, It’s a Man’s World: The Collections of the Male Garretts. I went back to the museum at the beginning of January, and I noticed that a few coins from the Garrett collection (on loan) were on display in the library, and the dumbwaiter was lifted into view.

The exhibit runs until March 31, which is just enough time for visitors to the Baltimore Coin & Currency Convention to check it out--and the entire Evergreen House for that matter!

Many thanks to Max for sharing his experience and photos with us. I hope several of our readers take advantage of the exhibit to visit Evergreen House. -Editor


Former American Numismatic Association librarian Nancy Green writes:
The ANA Library does indeed have the Louis W. Small book on service medals. The call number is SH20.S6.

They also have: Military Medals, Awards and Service Badges of Iowa by Kenneth C. Lewis (SH70.I6L4) and there is a new edition (2006) of Doug Boyce's State Medals for War Services.

A search in the library catalog with key words "service medals" yields a lengthy list including lots of foreign lists, but it might be worth checking.

Thanks, Nancy - it's always great to hear from you! -Editor


Last week, Dick Johnson submitted a question about numismatic legend translations. One specific example was a medal with the inscription: OPUS AG II -Editor

Dick Johnson writes:
I received a most interesting comment from good friend John Sallay in response to my item in last week's E-Sylum on translating difficult coin and medal legends. John made several recommendations.

John Sallay writes:
The item in The E-Sylum regarding translation of Latin inscriptions on coins and medals really hit home with me, since I often find myself trying to translate the Latin (and sometimes ancient Greek) inscriptions that I find on school award medals. Even when not awarded for excellence in studying Latin, these medals often had Latin inscriptions because that was the language of educated men.

I didn’t study Latin, but my wife is a Latin teacher and she has helped me along to the point where I can sometimes figure out these inscriptions almost as well as she can. That’s not to say that I know the language, but rather that these inscriptions are almost like a sub-language and there are certain phrases and abbreviations that keep coming up.

As background, Latin words were not separated by spaces the way we separate words in English today. (The Irish were the first ones to do that). Often though, the Romans separated words and abbreviations with dots inserted between the words, and this helps. Also, the order of the words enhances the readability and sometimes affects nuances of meaning, but doesn’t change the meaning of a sentence written in Latin.

There are several common abbreviations, similar to the D.G. (meaning Dei Gratia, or By the Grace of God) on British coins that everyone just knew. For example, IMP stood for “Imperator” or emperor, M stood for Marcus and so forth. The point of the abbreviations was not so much that there was limited room on a coin, because they also did all of this abbreviating on gigantic monuments as well. It was a waste of space to spell out something that everyone knew, similar to the way we usually use USA instead of spelling it all out. As a result, the online Latin translators are essentially completely useless for this purpose. However, there is a group of Latin teachers who run a blog called LatinTeach and if you got involved in that, you might get more help than you bargained for:

Latinteach mailing list

Having said that, I find that if I type a complete Latin phrase on a medal into Google, it sometimes comes back with clues that the inscription is part of a famous quotation from Virgil or Horace or another famous writer. These references are particularly interesting because – just as the words are often abbreviated – the quotations are often abbreviated, too. Knowing the full quotation illuminates the true underlying motivation for using that particular quotation on the award medal.

Without going into more detail, take a look at a couple of medals from my collection on NeoCollect, both with obscure but very funny and ironic underlying meanings which are explained the descriptive text:

University of Virginia University of Virginia, Jefferson Society

Blundell's School Blundell’s School, Keats Medal

Dick Johnson adds:
I would like to extend my enthusiastic endorsement of John Sallay's new collector web site, Neocollect, noted in the two above citations. It was announced recently here in The E-Sylum (Vol 12, No 8, Art 4; February 22, 2009). John offers a unique and very useful service to collectors at this site. You can catalog and illustrated your collection on his website as a service to other collectors.

This is particularly useful for such non-uniform items as medals. They can be identified as to recipients' names or other inscribed lettering. John's specialized topic of School Medals is an excellent example (and perhaps was the inspiration for the web site's creation). With inscribed recipient's name each medal is unique for that year. This information is quite useful for other collectors who have similar items in their collections.

The two medals John cites are examples where the Latin inscriptions add tremendous interest and collector lore to the individual piece.

Check out John's web site. You may want to use his free web site for your own collection.

Renee Shomaker writes:
Regarding the query on "Numismatic Translation, Interpretation and Estimation" in the latest Esylum newsletter, in particular the last paragraph:

Does anyone reading this, perhaps with a 3,000 IQ who knows many languages, would like to start a web site that would record coin and medal inscriptions and who can provide their meaning in plain text English? You would earn the everlasting approbation of those of us who toil in the numismatic field and feel stumped by the mystical lettering. We could feed you a lot of these for your translation, interpretation and estimation.

I am currently in development of a numismatic web site that I would be more than happy to integrate this information into (or build a separate site for) and help research the unknown inscriptions. A collaborative effort here would be wonderful - I know of many others who would also be willing to contribute their knowledge. Something like this would be an invaluable resource for all, and I would be glad to assist in the effort!

You can reach me at

John Lupia writes:
The inscription OPUS AG II is difficult to interpret out of context not having seen the medal. If it is Latin with the abbreviation AG II it might refer to the work (OPUS) of a person whose initials are A. G. and II could mean the second, or Junior. It could mean Ad Gentes "To the Peoples" the Vatican II motto for the missionary activity of the Church "The Work To the Peoples (of the world)", hence II signifying Vatican II.

It could simply be a corporate name OPUS AG LLC, in Purchase, New York, where AG means Advisory Group. I hope you appreciate the difficulty and complexity of the problem when inscriptions are taken out of context.

Tom DeLorey writes:
Is the piece made of silver? That might explain the AG. Perhaps a second place silver medal? Any chance of getting a picture?

John Isles writes:
If one who knows Latin may try to answer Dick Johnson’s query in the latest E-Sylum, a definite answer can’t be given because OPUS AG II is not a Latin phrase. ‘Opus’ does indeed mean ‘work’ in Latin (but not ‘deeds’; it’s singular). AG must be an abbreviation, if not some initials then perhaps representing the chemical symbol for silver, Ag. Was the medal in silver? II must be the number 2 in Roman numerals. Were there perhaps two medals individually numbered? Or is this ‘silver, opus No. 2’?


Last week Ed Krivoniak asked about a book by Vaughn Humberstone on New Zealand tradesmen's tokens; he also asked about any book or article on the Australian token makers Taylor, Stokes, or Stokes & Martin. -Editor

Martin Purdy of New Zealand writes:
As far as I know this book was privately published by the author. Attempts to procure a copy for myself and the library of the Royal Numismatic Society of NZ have proved fruitless so far. I'd be interested to hear if Mr Krivoniak is ever successful. Other titles he may find useful are They Made Their Own Money, the Story of Early Canterbury Traders & Their Tokens, published in 1950 by the Canterbury Branch of the RNSNZ, and Robinson, H.A.: Auckland Tradesmen's Tokens, Numismatic Society of Auckland, 1960.

Richard Robinson of Melbourne, Australia writes:
Stokes are still in business making medals & related items. The link below is to their web site & in particular to a small history of their operations. Stokes (Australasia) celebrates 150 years (

For more information on the history of Stokes, see: STOKES: ONE & A HALF CENTURIES IN BUSINESS 1856 – 2006 & ON (


Last week I published an image of Charles Barber's sketch of a coin design for Puerto Rico. David Lange writes:
The designs for the 1903 Philippines coinage have always been credited solely to Melicio Figueroa, but I've long held the belief that he designed the obverses alone. This sketch seems to validate my theory that Barber created the reverse imagery using his own stock elements. His 1899 sketch shows the same eagle and shield seen on the Philippines coins. Four years later, he simply placed the eagle atop the shield for the Philippine pieces.

Barber Puerto Rico sketch


Alberto Paashaus writes:
I was wondering if I could get some help from other subscribers about a coin which was sold by Jacques Schulman in the Collection Judice dos Santos (I am searching for the 3rd part of this auction) and then sold in 1987 by Roland Michel/Sotheby´s.

1695 Brazil Pattern

It is the first Brazilian pattern, struck in 1695, and I was trying to find how much the coin was sold for. On the Judice dos Santos, the lot number is 1788 and in the Roland Michel Sale the number was 19, with an estimate of 25,000-30,000 swiss francs. I wrote an article about this rare coin and some people asked me about the auction prices, which I was trying to find since then, but without much luck.


Alberto Paashaus has been publishing a bibliography of the numismatic literature related to Brazillian coinage. It is on the web site of Forum de Numismática, the biggest forum in the Portuguese Language for coin collectors. The bibliography is illustrated with cover images, and is a great starting point for researchers. -Editor

Meili, Julius. Das Brasilianische Geldwesen Motta Moeda do Brazil

Alberto adds:
For now I am listing only the titles, mostly because my library is part in Brazil and part here in Portugal. By September, when I come back to Brazil, I will start to work on an outline of each book listed there.

To view the bibliography, see: Bibliografia Numismática Brasileira (


Dick Doty forwarded the following note from Peter Lane of Australia who writes:
I just learnt about the following concert from the National Museum of Australia. The Canberra International Music Festival 7-17 May has a piece composed by Elena Kats-Chernin and commissioned by the NMA called The Garden of Dreams. One of the movements is inspired by the Love Tokens. ( May 10 - Concert no.12. )


John Regitko submitted these observations on the use of challenge coins within the Military Payment Certificate (MPC) collecting community. -Editor
With reference to the column in the last E-Sylum about Challenge Coins, here is a different way of using (actually, NOT using) them:

Two years ago, I attended my first MPCFest in Port Clinton, Ohio. After over 50 years of travelling to coin shows (including ANA and CNA Conventions), it became my all-time favourite show (it is sometimes hard to explain why, but if you come to the next one, you can find out for yourself).

They don’t tell you anything, but at one of the organized dinners, everyone held up their MPC Challenge Coin…except me. I felt obligated/shamed into/volunteered to buy the refreshments (that’s beer to those of you who are not in the habit of writing press releases for coin shows where no mention of alcohol is ever mentioned) at the bowling that followed the dinner.

Last year, I again attended. Again, everybody pulled out their MPC Challenge Coin…except me. I bought the beer, knowing fully well that this time I had my Challenge Coin tucked away safely in a 2x2 holder in my wallet.

When you read that I again “forgot” my MPC Challenge Coin and had to buy the refreshments at the April 16 to 19 MPCFest, just remember that sometimes we care more about a numismatic object not getting scratched and the fun and fellowship that buying a round brings!

The "challenge" in the name "challenge coin" refers to just such practices - members of the group are challenged to produce their coin to prove their loyalty. The consequence for failing to produce one's coin is often the requirement to purchase refreshments.

Centuries ago forerunners of today's challenge coins were used to verify membership in secret societies; where such societies were outlawed the penalty for failing to prove one's membership could be as harsh as death, since a nonmember could be a snitch. So in comparison, buying a round of drinks, especially for one's friends as John notes, isn't so bad.

The police organizations handing out "challenge coins" to citizens are using them more like medals to recognize good behavior. -Editor


Numismatic literature for sale by collector

9,000 numismatic auction catalogs
1,000 numismatic books
Hundreds of different numismatic journals

Will provide very attractive pricing for sales of large lots.
Email Chris Hoelzle at for lists.


Kim Ludwig of David Lawrence Rare Coins forwarded the following press release about an interesting variety. -Editor
Smoking Liberty Variety In July of 2008 Ken Potter wrote an extensive and lavishly illustrated article reporting on the discovery of a most interesting and eye catching die variety found on an 1857 Liberty Seated Quarter dollar. It has since been embraced by the numismatic community and dubbed the “Smoking Liberty” variety.

Potter reported the variety was first spotted by collector John O’Hare who showed it to friend and fellow collector, Saverio Barbieri, in the early part of 2000.

So smitten by the variety was Barbieri he began an eight‐year search for more specimens. After searching an estimated 30,000+ Liberty Seated quarters of that date on eBay and shows across the country Barbieri found a total of 28 specimens bringing the known population to 29 pieces.

Barbieri approached DGS senior grader and well known variety specialist, Mike Ellis, if DGS was willing to attribute the coin as the “Smoking Liberty” variety. Having seen and attributed one already at DGS, Ellis examined all 28 of Barbieri’s specimens agreeing to place the attribution on the holder for the raw specimens submitted. Ellis says he has seen 29 different specimens..

This is an interesting variety that easily lends itself to the cute name. Thanks to Ken and Saverio for bringing it to the attention of the numismatic community. Perhaps in time it will make its way into the variety guide books. -Editor


Why go to the bother of counterfeiting paper money when you can just steal a shipment of brand-new notes from the printer? -Editor
Freshly-minted banknotes have reportedly gone missing at the Dar es Salaam International Airport after the shipment arrived aboard a Qatar Airways flight, local media reported on Friday.

The This Day report said that the shipment had started from Germany and arrived in Tanzania via a stopover in Doha of Qatar.

The newspaper quoted unidentified sources from Tanzania's central bank, Bank of Tanzania, as saying that the banknotes had been minted in Germany and had been all in the 10,000 Tanzanian shilling denominations.

The 10,000-shilling banknote is the largest denomination banknote now in circulation in the country.

To read the complete article, see: Freshly-minted banknotes disappear at Dar es Salaam airport (


Harry Waterson writes:
Here is a new exhibition at the Getty that may be of interest to your readers - Carvers and Collectors; The Lasting Allure of Ancient Gems.

Getty Gems Exhibit The beauty of carved gemstones has captivated collectors, connoisseurs, and craftsmen since antiquity. Precious markers of culture and status, gems were sought by Greek and Roman elites as well as modern monarchs and aristocrats.

This exhibition features intaglios and cameos carved by ancient master engravers along with outstanding works by modern carvers and works of art in diverse media that illustrate the lasting allure of gems.

The exhibition includes gems by several ancient master carvers, including Epimenes, Solon, Dioskourides, and Gnaios. These carvers sometimes signed their works, but the majority of classical gems are unsigned. With careful examination, anonymous intaglios and cameos can be attributed to known masters based on characteristics they share with signed gems. In antiquity, gems were engraved with personal or official insignia that, when impressed on wax or clay, were used to sign or seal documents. Carved gems were valued not only for their distinctive designs, but also for the beauty of their stones, some of which were believed to have magical properties.

From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, rulers, nobles, and wealthy merchants sought and traded classical gems, and carvers produced replicas and forgeries.

Getty Gems Frontispiece Sumptuous engraved catalogues of gem collections were published in the days before photography. Like the gems they illustrated, these volumes functioned as luxury objects. The engravings in these books sometimes improve upon the already excellent carving of the gems themselves.

Louis Philippe d'Orléans (1725–1785), the great-grandson of King Louis XIV of France, published his gem collection in an elaborately engraved volume dedicated to his cousin King Louis XVI. The frontispiece, shown here, depicts the duke himself and also represents the superiority of gems over other art forms: in the foreground, two cupids inspect the contents of drawers pulled from a large gem cabinet, while symbols of architecture, sculpture, and painting are relegated to the upper right and lower left corners.

For more information on the exhibit, see: Carvers and Collectors: The Lasting Allure of Ancient Gems (

I became introduced to engraved gems while visiting museums in London; they do have many parallels with numismatics. A number of engravers made gems as well as coin and medal dies, and many collectors acquired both gems and numismatic items.

As noted above, there are many great books covering collections of gems, and perhaps therein will be found interesting information for the numismatic researcher. I would encourage E-Sylum readers living near Los Angeles to check out the Getty exhibit.

Can anyone point us to a good recently-published reference on gems? -Editor


Thanks to Larry Mitchell whose email inspired this quiz. Who can tell us about the famous bibliophile pictured here?

Meredith Burgess


This week's Featured Web Site is Sean Breazeal's Medieval Coinage / Early Dated Coins site.

Early anno domini dated coins as a collecting area are generally agreed to be those prior to 1501 in large part because of the pioneering book on the subject by Albert Frey, who is truly the father of the study. By this time many states and cities of northern Europe were dating at least their larger silver coins and especially goldguldens and in just a few more decades it was unusual for a European coin NOT to have a date. I intend to consider coins dated to roughly the 1530s as there are some medieval holdouts even until this time.

1438 Riel

PREV        NEXT        V12 2009 INDEX        E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

Back to top