Fred Schwan writes:
Regarding the Agricultural Medals book, I read Dick Johnson's earlier detailed review.
Dick made a comment that really caught my eye. Here is what he said:
"I was also impressed with your numbering system -- technically called a geographic-numeric open number system -- for the ease in which to add more specimens in the future while retaining the existing numbers."
So here is my question. What is the source that designates the names of numbering systems? I like the name and its purpose, but I want to read more about the technical source!
I forwarded Fred's question to dick Johnson - his response follows. Thanks!
Every cataloger of numismatic items has a duty to choose a numbering system convenient to the items he is describing. Fred Schwan asked about a term I used in describing the numbering system Andy Harkness' chose for his listing of Agricultural Society medals in his recent book.
I complimented Andy for his choice of the numbering system he used. I called it "geographic-numeric open number system." It fit the items he was describing like a glove.
Fred asked if this is from some published source or is this just something I made up. It is closer to the latter, but I had intended to publish something about numismatic numbering systems -- perhaps an entire chapter in a book I would someday like to write, "How to Catalog Coins, Medals and Tokens." (Unfortunately it ranks 5 in current priority list of numismatic books to write).
I will extract some text on numbering systems I had prepared from my Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology (even before this is published). Creating a number system is the equivalent of creating numismatic shorthand. A number or letter-number combination is shorthand for a long name., plus it aids in arranging the items in order at any later time It is applied to only one variety and once it is published for all to use it becomes embedded in numismatic literature. We have seen auction catalogs with only three elements -- lot number, catalog number, condition. That is enough information for a potential buyer to intelligently bid on.
As a cataloger gathers a large number of specimens in his chosen topic, he must arrange these in some order. This is the key to his numbering system. This can be chronological, geographical or some other sequential method. Numismatic items with a lot of varieties require a different system, for example, from that with a run of one-of-a-kind items.
Here is a list I mention in my entry on numbering system in my Encyclopedia: Straight numerical, Open numerical, Numerical, Outline, Straight decimal, Consecutive decimal, Letter-number combination, Numerical coding for data processing (often with zeros in front of integral numbers) or a variety of alpha-numeric combinations of these.
Problems arise after the catalog is published and newly discovered varieties need to be added to the arrangement. How easy to add these is a factor of the number system.
Here are some examples:
Straight numerical -- Hibler & Kappan's So-Called Dollars. Pro: Their arrangement was chronological so their number system retained this. Con: They numbered every variety in that same sequence, so new varieties have no place to be added. This was a problem for the editors of the second edition of this work.
Open numerical -- Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of Colonial and U.S. Coins. Pro: he left open numbers to be added for denominations currently being struck. Excellent. Con: He could not have anticipated bullion coins being issued by the U.S. Mint, thus there are no open numbers for these -- they must be relegated to the end of his numerical system.
Outline -- If anyone remembers NASCA auction catalogs, it was their policy not to renumber the lots but to add late lots in proper sequence but to number the lots with an outline number. Pro: they got in. Con: it was very confusing.
Letter-Number combination -- Best example is Bob Julian's Medals of the United States Mint of the first Century.
Coding for data processing -- Some of George Fuld's early writings on Lafayette and other series were chosen for compatability with data processing, then newly in use.
We could list dozens more, each with their good points and bad.
Muling , for example, creates problems, where it may be ideal to number both obverses and reverses. But this is a no-no for most everything else. [for his list of medals sculptor Joseph Colletti gave separate numbers to both an obverse and reverse even that had only one reverse. This is ONE item for cataloging, not two.
Tip for catalogers when using multiple element catalog numbers: make it one word. Connect the elements with a period, dash, slash or such. And the reason for that is everyone has unrestricted use to that number. You cannot copyright one word, thus it is in public domain once it is published. You can, if you wish, mention, say, on the copyright page how you would prefer these items to be cited, with the cataloger's initials or full last name or however. But no need to put your initials on every item (as the authors did in the recent publication The Secret History of the First United States Mint.
Fred, this reply may not satisfy your inquiry - the best advice at this time: arrange items before deciding a number system. Then use common sense in choosing a number system.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
BOOK REVIEW: AGRICULTURAL AND MECHANICAL SOCIETY MEDALS OF THE U.S.
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