The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 18, May 1, 2005, Article 21


Duane H. Feisel writes: "Having written a number of catalogs
for token collectors (several of which have won awards) and
extensively used most other token catalog, my advice to any
would-be token (or medal) catalogers to definitely have a
numbering system, but keep it simple. While a complex
numbering system may appeal to the very dedicated collector,
it usually will be a turn-off to the less dedicated collectors
representing a larger market for the catalog. Keep the
numbering simple and provide details in the listing itself.
Complex numbering also does not provide understandable

Scott Semans writes: "While I haven't authored any substantial
catalog myself, I deal in numismatic books in the ever expanding
numislit field of Asian numismatics, and I catalog numismatic
items in a wide range of fields. I have developed some definite
opinions on numbering systems! I think what Ron is considering
for his Goetz medal catalog is what I call a "suitcase" numbering
system - one in which the numbers themselves carry information
about the piece cataloged. This type of system is almost
universal among token cataloguers, and often used elsewhere.
An extreme example comes from Ray Bows' "Vietnam Military
Lore 1959-1973, Another Way to Remember" with TV954A-5
representing Vung Tau (TV) Airfield, an Army (A) base, a 5
Cent (5) token. Suitcase systems are useful in two ways: the
specialist can quickly tell something about the piece just from
a catalog number, and can communicate or make decisions
about the piece without even opening the book. More
importantly, if a 25 Cent token is discovered later, it can be
added in sequence without disturbing the existing numbers
(although there is no remedy for a new type between 954
and 955). I believe the disadvantages to such a system
generally outweigh the advantages. Numismatic authors tend
to think their books are bought and used mainly by specialists
in the field of their topic, while as a book seller I would guess
that only about 10-20% of the sales are to hard-core collectors,
researchers, or those interested in non-catalog features of a
work. Probably a majority of the buyers end up using it
casually, to look up a piece now and then, and if the arrangement
or layout of the catalog is unintuitive or complex, or the numbering
system requires a "how to use this book" section, the book will
get diminished use from the majority of its buyers. Dealers and
auctioneers, to whom look-up time is money lost, not relaxation
gained, will favor alternative works, and be less likely to stock
the book itself, and this will strongly influence what references
collectors buy. This will not bode well for sales of the second
edition in which the author includes all of the information and
newly discovered pieces brought to light by the first edition.
This is why I favor, in all fields, a "standard" (1,2,3) numbering
system with as few decimals and alphabetical prefixes and
suffixes as possible. Such numbers are shorter, easier to
remember, and will sort properly by computer. Since it is
logical to designate varieties and subvarieties as subsets of
the main number, the third subvariety of the second variety
of type 12 should be 12b.3. Alternative 12.2c is a close
runner-up, but sortability will be lost after 10 varieties (12.11
sorts before 12.2) rather than after 26 (12y sorts before 12z)
and generally there are more varieties than subvarieties.
Alternative 12.2.3 is disfavored for the same reason, plus it
is a digit longer. I feel that letter prefixes should be reserved
for intervening types discovered later (12, A13, B13,13) not
to designate broad divisions of the catalog such as ruler or
mint. Prefixed numbers do not sort, and conflict with the
common practice of using the author's initial to designate his
numbers. Roman numerals are long, unintuitive, do not sort
by computer and in my opinion utterly useless in cataloging.
Suitcase systems are helpful during the working phase of a
catalog, to remind the author of what piece the number represents,
but only cause grief if used as a final numbering. The problem of
how to insert later discoveries can be handled by leaving intelligently
chosen gaps in the number sequence, with letter prefixes and a
renumbered second edition as second choices but still, in my
opinion, preferable to a complex numbering system which may
confuse casual users. Although collectors complain bitterly when
a published numbering system is replaced in a later edition rather
than patched up to incorporate extensive discoveries, I would
urge authors to pluck up their courage and do just that. It will
result in higher book sales, a cleaner more intuitive numbering
system, and less temptation for later authors to use clunky
numbering schemes."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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