The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 41, October 11, 2009, Article 5


MacDonald, Overstruck Greek Coins

In recent weeks I've been swamped with reader submissions and haven't had time to write up my own. Well, Ed Snible shamed me into it this week with his October 4th blog review of David MacDonald's new Whitman book, Overstruck Greek Coins - Studies in Greek Chronology and Monetary Theory. First, some excerpts from Ed's review, then some additional thoughts of my own. -Editor

Ed Snible writes:

Although this book is readable it's not intended for beginners. MacDonald doesn't waste a lot of space defining terms that you already know. It's also not a catalog. In the preface it's made clear that the book isn't even trying to list all commonly encountered overstrikes. It's unlikely but possible that catalogers will start including "MacDonald -" when selling overstrikes.

This isn't a breathtaking coffee table book listing the highlights of Greek coin art. The coins are nicer than average grade, and often uglier than average. As MacDonald points out

Overstruck coins are usually ugly. They are not popular with most collectors and, consequently, are avoided by many dealers.

What makes this book wonderful is that the overstruck coins are used to jump into open questions on dating of ancient coins. MacDonald describes simply the currently accepted dating and why it might or must be wrong. He gives enough hints that I could follow the arguments without having to go look up stuff in other books. That's the real strength of this book. In a lot of journal-level numismatic writing the authors are writing towards other PhD classics professors which makes them hard to follow. This book is much smoother.

Because only 160 coins are discussed in nearly 300 pages there is enough room to give background on the coins. We get a lot more than who's on the front and a date range like "480-460". Each coin gets a quality discussion which tells us not just the the issue dates, but often tell us which expert proposed the dates and the historical events that begin or close the date range.

Note that the cover picture on this post, from Whitman's web site, isn't the cover of the actual book, although they are similar. The fake cover says 'Edited by' David MacDonald. The real cover shows those five coins and two more.

Ed's eyes are sharp, although the "fake cover" found on the Whitman web site is probably an earlier marketing prototype that someone forgot to update. Luckily I have a copy of the real book in hand and scanned the true cover image below (shown to the right of the "fake" cover). -Editor

MacDonald, Overstruck Greek Coins MacDonald, Overstruck Greek Coins

To read Ed Snible's review, see: Overstruck Greek Coins (

I guess I'm one of those beginners who could have used a little more introductory text, but what is there is quite good. I enjoyed reading about the history and use of overstriking and countermarking in the ancient world. My own introduction to the practice came at a talk by Roy Van Ormer at the Western Pennsylvania Numismatic Association many years ago. Roy talked about 19th century counterstamps on U.S. coins, a series I began collecting myself shortly thereafter.

Overstrikes and countermarks in the Greek world were primarily economic in nature, although many also had some aspect of advertising (but of a political rather than commercial nature). The majority of coins in the book were completely overstruck on an earlier coin, but there are some countermarks, such as the countermark of a Lion's Head shown on page 116 (Lysimachia c227-250 B.C>).

Each coin illustration is accompanied by a line drawing showing where to look for indications of the design of the undertype coin. I found these very useful and I'm sure they took a great deal of time to produce for the book. I also greatly appreciated Appendix B, which illustrates all of the coins pictured in the book at actual size.

It was interesting to see a group of square coins (p201-208). One is pictured on the book's cover. The rare shape is remarkable as an exception to a steadfast rule - coins are generally round. Why that is is one of my favorite numismatic questions, and I enjoy discussing it with new collectors: Just why are (nearly) all coins are round?

I noticed one typo in the introduction - the author wrote "close systems" where I think he meant "closed systems" (page xi). And on page 87 I just didn't get the reference to "an obvious numismatic pun." As as a neophyte student of ancients I'm in no position to critique the author's research, but his arguments are well presented. He makes what seem to be good cases for the chronology of events surrounding the making and overstriking of these coins. I think the book will be a great addition to the library of anyone who collects or deals in these coins. -Editor

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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