The Numismatic Bibliomania Society Logo



The E-Sylum: Volume 4, Number 14, April 1, 2001, Article 12


Asylum Editor E. Tomlinson Fort writes:

"Mr. Rachtootin makes an interesting point about historians taking little interest in numismatics; as a sometime history lecturer at Penn State’s New Kensington, PA Campus, I think I might make a couple of comments.

First, the interest of historians, like any other research field, is ignited when material is available. The brutal fact is that most numismatic publications are so obscure that few academic libraries make any real effort to get them. To be honest, aside from the ANA and ANS does anyone know of a research institution which has The Asylum in its collection?

There is also the question of the amount of evidence. The reason ancient and medieval historians work with coinage is that so little evidence from before the thirteenth century survives. For example, lets take the case of the Social War (c.90-88 BC). This civil war between the Roman Republic and a coalition of Italian city states had repercussions that lasted for generations afterwards. However, no contemporary account survives. Our chief sources are Plutarch (especially his lives of Sulla and Marius) writing almost 300 years later and a highly condensed outline of lost books of the historian Livy (Livy wrote two generations after the war but the epitome was probably made in the third or fourth century AD). The only contemporary evidence for the government of the Socii (Latin for Allies, hence "Social War) are a couple of very fragmented inscriptions and the coinage. If one is going to examine this conflict then one must look at the coins in depth, if for no other reason than there is little else.

This case is true for much of the ancient and medieval world. Government records and contemporary historical accounts do not really begin to survive in bulk until the 13th century and later. Coinage is the one historical evidence that survives in appreciable quantities before this period.

However, if one looks at the American Civil War (1861-1865) the amount of evidence is staggering. Even if you had as much money as Bill Gates and as much free time as John Burns you could not even begin to go through all the primary sources in your lifetime -- forget the secondary sources. If you are studying this period the coinage and paper money is a very small piece of a giant iceberg. The historian must pick and choose and at the moment questions regarding currency, coinage and tokens have not attracted attention.

For historians to become interested in modern coinages you need people at graduate schools to become interested. The quickest way would be to endow a chair or two in Monetary History at a couple of Universities. The holders of these chairs would publish articles and books on the subject and their graduate students, when they find jobs, will continue to expand the research boundaries.

Another way to get the academic world interested in coinage would be for numismatists to publish articles in historical journals. However, it is time for the historian in me to bite back. While numismatists often rightly claim that historians take little note of them the reverse is also true. I have read many numismatic works where the author demonstrates a shocking lack of the understanding of the use of historical documents or the society which produced the coinage, paper monies or tokens being discussed. Numismatists have to learn to quit relying on third hand works, many of which are very out of date, and actually dig into the primary source material.

A few well researched articles on American Civil War tokens published in prominent journals would begin to stimulate interest among historians."

Wayne Homren, Editor

Google NBS ( Web

Content presented in The E-Sylum is not necessarily researched or independently fact-checked, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

This is a static archive page documenting the originally published content. Links were active at the time of publication but may no longer work. Check subsequent issues for corrections and commentary.

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature.   For more information please see our web site at There is a membership application available on the web site.  To join, print the application and return it with your check to the address printed on the application.  Visit the Membership page. Those wishing to become new E-Sylum subscribers (or wishing to Unsubscribe) can go to the following web page link.

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

Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS Webmaster
Privacy Policy