The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 37, September 12, 2010, Article 10


Jonathan Brecher writes:

Surely any discussion of the worst numismatic books must include the many editions of Frank G. Spadone's "Major Variety and Oddity Guide of United States Coins", published in massive quantities from the 1960s into the early 1980s. Unlike the "100 Greatest" books on error coins reviewed recently, the Spadone book shows example after example of pieces that show nothing more than post-mint damage. To make matters worse, the book also shows enough legitimate errors that it is very difficult for a beginning (or intermediate!) collector to tell the real errors from the fantasies.

Fortunately, the Spadone book is slowly drifting towards numismatic obscurity, and most of the remaining references to it on Google are careful to point out how bad it is. Even so, there are at least seven copies currently available for purchase on eBay, and at least one listing Spadone as a reference in touting a coin slabbed by NCS for environmental damage

A lot of popular books drift into obscurity (often rightly so) with the passage of time. Scholarship improves and newer references take the place of old. The field of error coins is a good example - authors publishing in the 21st century are much more informed than their counterparts of 40-50 years ago. -Editor

To view the eBay lot description, see: 1959 Jefferson Nickel > LOOKS LIKE A "BLACK BEAUTY"!! (

Wayne Schroll writes:

I must admit when I first saw your call for worst numismatic book nominations I was afraid that this was going to turn into a real mud-slinging festival. Everyone has an opinion and people like to take shots at the guy on top; that sort of thing. But it didn't. And I was relieved to learn that apparently my fellow numismatic bibliophiles seem to share my opinion about numismatic authors to some degree.

There are some very talented and prolific writers that produce excellent book after book. And there are some writers that make their best, though not-quite-as-talented, effort at a book about some area concerning coins that fascinated them. And maybe some of those books just aren't all that great from a literary point of view. But in the end, all these books share a common foundation and a common goal. They try to tell the rest of us an interesting story about coins and their history and how those things tell us something about the way we are now and where we came from. No matter how poorly told the tale may be, there just might be something in it that we can each learn from.

Certainly there are a couple examples of books where people just seemed to have made it up as they went along, and these can easily be ignored. But when it's all said and done, I can't think of a coin book that I regret spending time reading.

I was a little worried about this, too, but I have faith in my readers, and generally, I wasn't disappointed. We all love our books, and Joe Boling's thoughts below are typical. -Editor

Joe Boling writes:

Our editor says "As a bibliophile I've only rarely met a book I didn't find something to love about." Amen, brother, and I'm not even a bibliophile.

Twice I have made multi-carton donations to the American Numismatic Association library from my own - in 2001 and 2006, both years when I sold major parts of my collections and I needed offsetting tax deductions. I was ready to sell the collections (I had mined them for all the information and pleasure I expected to be able to extract from them). But as I prepared the books for shipping, individually wrapping them (and inventorying them for the tax documents), I found I was far from ready to be rid of many of them - there was much more to learn from them. It was painful.

Then over the years since, as people have asked me to attribute and authenticate items previously in my specialty (Japan), I found I needed some of the books I had donated, and I have had to replace them (at prices higher than the deductions I took when I donated them). More pain. Yes, I could borrow them from ANA, but you all know that that is a distant third choice in terms of access.

So although I still intend for ANA to have the rest of my library (I barely touched the Asian-language parts of it in my first donations), I expect it to be a long time from now. There is just too much value in the contents of these books to part with them.

At least one reader however, was disappointed - subscriber #1 no less, Peter Gaspar, who writes:

History of Coins and Symbols in Ancient Israel I was disappointed at your accepting nominations for worst numismatic book. One objection to this topic is that it is bound to attract smear campaigns as it did this week when a book on ancient Jewish coins was condemned because it presented theories to which the nominator objected. If an E-Sylum participant doesn't like a book, he or she is free to write a negative review, which should contain arguments supporting a negative (or positive) opinion. But to call a book bad on no stronger basis than someone else's negative review is in my view inappropriate.

A second objection to the topic of worst numismatic book is that it belittles the demanding and important enterprise of writing numismatic books (and papers). I, for one, am grateful to every author, whether I agree with him/her or not, who has taken the time and trouble to study a topic and record what they have found and what their views are.

Faint praise or no praise at all is a sufficient expression of disapproval. Hurling invective at authors with whom one disagrees is destructive. Numismatists should reinforce each others efforts, not tear them down.

Peter's points are well taken. Certainly everyone is free to write a review positive or negative, and these are always welcome in The E-Sylum. I did feel compelled to add a note following Jonathan Brecher's note above on the Spadone books. Peter had a different take than I did on Bill Rosenblum's submission on the Wirgin and Mandel book. Bill cited two other reviewers who also felt negatively about it, and I thought this was sufficient supporting evidence. But Peter felt very differently, and in rereading Bill's submission I can see his point. So I wrote to Bill. -Editor

Bill Rosenblum writes:

I should have made myself more clear. Some of those reasons that I listed were from Paul Federbush's review, others are from my scanning the book.

Bill's unfortunately tied up this week with a family medical matter, and can't elaborate further at this time. But let's keep Peter Gaspar's points in mind. Perhaps we've run our course on this topic anyway. I expected several more submissions, but maybe folks are biting their tongues as Peter and Wayne Schroll suggest. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: ANOTHER NOMINATION FOR THE WORST NUMISMATIC BOOK (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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