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The E-Sylum: Volume 3, Number 40, October 1, 2000, Article 12


In response to the topic of "Devastating Reviews", Gilbert Ray Malone writes:

"Perhaps the review discussed below does not meet all the criteria set out by Tom Fort; however, it probably falls somewhere between "constructive criticism" and "published scorn".

I have assembled a small grouping of original numismatic literature to be displayed at a future show in Canada. The title of the exhibit is "Coins, Tokens and Medals of the Dominion of Canada: by Alfred Sandham -- A CRITICAL REVIEW." The centerpiece of the display is the neatly and thoroughly annotated copy of Sandham's book used by Professor Charles E. Anthon (editor AJN) in writing his detailed, scholarly and sometimes cutting review of Sandham's book in the May 1869 issue of the AJN:

  • 1."we intend to pay him the highest complement in our power, by pointing out the deficiencies"
  • 2."Looking at present edition as a first draught merely, we repeat our call for a second one"
  • 3."Our good Sandham must have 'nodded' over this page."

At times, Anthon verged on elitism: "And to Mr. Printer we would observe that 'Boquet', as he uniformly spells it, savors not of Ville Marie, ci-devant town of Novelle France; that his Latin, in the legends of the Medals more particularly, is often lame; and his English, as to orthography and punctuation, sometimes blind."

My display is an attempt to document the reaction of the numismatic community to publication of Sandham's book. In the June 1868 issue of the AJN, Sandham's book was announced with a very attractive broadside printed in color. In March 1869, a card was inserted into the AJN advertising the book - PRICE $1.00 American Currency. Many collectors haven't seen these inserts since they were frequently discarded when the AJN was bound.

Sandham did not heed Anthon's call for an immediate second edition; however, he did issue a supplement in 1872 that incorporated information provided by Anthon. Sandham's numbering system would continue to be used by cataloguers of Canadian coins for about 15 years. In the November 17-18, 1879 Bangs & Co. auction of Professor Anthon's collection, Anthon catalogued his own Canadian cabinet by Sandham number. In 1884, Woodward referenced Sandham's work in cataloguing the Canadian portion of the famous J. N. T. Levick Collection. Levick was a co-editor of the AJN at the time Anthon wrote his review.

A theme of the display is the parallel development of numismatics in the U.S. and Canada. Sandham, in 1872, started the Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, which he edited for about 4 years.

We don't know if Sandham was stung by Anthon's criticism. Sandham had taken full responsibility for the book including drawing all the coins for the eight full-page plates. As R. W. McLachlan notes in his sketch of Alfred Sandham (CANJ, Jan. 1911), Sandham received only a regular common school education -- cut short. In fairness, Anthon's review also contained much praise for Sandham. However, we do know that Sandham's book was not a financial success - 300 copies were printed, 250 bound and only 100 sold."

Wayne Homren, Editor

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