The E-Sylum:  Volume 5, Number 22, May 27, 2002, Article 3


  For the past two weeks I've had the pleasure of reviewing
  a copy of Q. David Bowers' new book, "A California Gold
  Rush History."  The subtitle is quite appropriate: "featuring
  the Treasure from the S.S. Central America -- A source
  book for the Gold Rush historian and numismatist."

  From a physical standpoint alone, the book is stunning.
  Weighing in at eleven pounds, the full-color 1,051 page
  book is not to be taken lightly - literally or figuratively.  In
  heft it is comparable to Jacques Loubat's 1878 classic,
  "The Medallic History of the United States 1776-1876."
  One can only hope that the spine of Bowers' massive book
  will stand up over the years better than Loubat's.  Loubat's
  publication was bound in two volumes, and a multivolume
  treatment may have been a better choice here.

  The color illustrations are impressive.   Today we are
  blessed with technologies that allow such illustrations to be
  printed cheaply.   How different classic American numismatic
  literature would look had color printing been half as advanced
  a hundred years ago.

  If you'd ever wondered what an already prolific scholar like
  Q. David Bowers could produce given a healthy budget of
  time and money, this is the answer.  Dwight Manley and the
  California Gold Marketing Group are to be commended for
  funding the effort to the tune of $500,000.  Only someone
  who hadn't seen the book could dismiss it as a simple
  marketing tool.  With the first printing under 5,000 copies,
  the subsidy works out to over $100 a copy.   Given the harsh
  realities of numismatic publishing today, it is obvious that such
  a feat could never have been accomplished without deep
  pockets.  Numismatists, historians and scholars everywhere
  owe the project's backers a hearty thank-you.

  As discussed earlier in The E-Sylum, mainstream historians,
  for numerous reasons, tend to give numismatics short shrift.
  Likewise, many American numismatic authors tend to give
  primary historical sources short shrift.   Bowers' next book
  is an example of authorship which sacrifices neither.   Perhaps
  mainstream historians will now take note of the rich vein of
  material to be found in numismatic sources.  If that occurs,
  Bowers' book could have a legacy far beyond the study of
  the Gold Rush.

  As a bibliophile, my secret vice is reading books topsy-turvy.
  First, I look to the back of the book hoping to find a
  comprehensive index.  Next, I search for a bibliography, and
  then, for detailed footnotes.   With those chores behind me,
  I'll review the table of contents and begin reading the chapters
  of interest.

  The index was a disappointment.  At just five pages, it doesn't
  seem to do the book justice -- it has the feel of a computer-
  generated index rather than one compiled by human editors.
  A thousand-page book deserves a more comprehensive index.
  How could a reader ever locate a topic if it doesn't appear in
  the index?   The index listings appear heavily weighted toward
  person and place names, although to be fair many other topics
  are found - the infamous Committee of Vigilance, for example.

  The seventeen-page bibliography was much more satisfying.
  But the real treasure of the book is its footnotes.  Virtually
  every page carries a section of notes highlighted in red ink.
  This is where many real gems may be found.  One such set
  of notes are found on p664, describing improprieties of Mint
  Superintendent L.A. Birdsall.

  Numismatically, the most obvious contribution of the book is
  the cataloging and illustration of hundreds of gold assay ingots,
  organized by maker and mold.   Never before has such a
  quantity of ingots been illustrated in one place.   Other details
  of numismatic history are found throughout the book -- while
  a number are gleaned from previously published sources, many
  others are the result of original research.

  Any review of Bowers' book could go on and on with
  information about its contents, but I'll stop here.  Suffice it to
  say that my recommendation is to Buy This Book, although
  I recognize that by preference or necessity, many may
  prefer to borrow it from a library instead.

  Yes, it's expensive, but like any good book its purchase price
  is the merest fraction of the value of the research that went
  into making its publication a reality.  If you have any interest
  whatsoever in California gold coinage, Gold Rush history, or
  American history in general, make room for this book on
  your shelf.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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