The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 38, September 9, 2012, Article 6


Speaking of photographic plates, last week Dick Johnson discussed the tradition of having plates of coin images in numismatic books and catalogs. He argued that plates were no longer necessary. Some of you agree, but there are other considerations arguing for keeping the tradition alive. Here's what readers had to say. -Editor

Granvyl Hulse writes:

Plates in the back of a book are definitely out of fashion and frankly inconvenient to the reader. I have just had my 21st publication done on local Colebrook history. One of them was the identification and dating of every picture we could find of Colebrook taken before 1900. Every picture was accompanied by the related text. Modern printing methods will take your book any way you wish to present it.

Practically every computer program I have used in the last ten years allows for the combining of text and photographs and my publisher will print it on any type of paper I am willing to pay for. Years ago when I wrote the history of my local church I had to use plates. I am now in the process of of up-dating the history and will insert the photographs in their proper location.

Bob Leonard writes:

While I would agree with Dick that plates are an inconvenience for a catalog of medals, they are a valuable tool for identification of ancient and medieval coins, which are often anepigraphic or badly struck. The catalog of the Ratto sale of Byzantine coins has been reprinted and is useful today, because one can quickly scan the plates for a possible attribution. The MEC (Medieval European Coins) volumes also have plates, and the whole Sylloge concept is based upon them. On the other hand, Mitchiner's works on Oriental coins are difficult to use because you have to page through the whole massive volume hunting for a match, if you don't know where to start

David Lange writes:

Despite advances in book design and printing, I found that the prospect of integrating color photos within the text of my coin board book was cost-prohibitive. This was in 2007. It may have been less than it used to cost many years ago, but the printer still wanted more money than for simply arranging all the color images in plate signatures of eight or sixteen leaves. With a book selling thousands of copies, such as those printed by Whitman, the added expense could be absorbed, but this was not the case for a book having a limited market. I plan to arrange my next book on coin albums in the same manner, unless someone can suggest an affordable alternative.

Ray Williams of Trenton, NJ writes:

I agree with Dick Johnson that publishing a book with plates used to be much more economical than publishing a book with pictures throughout. But I disagree with plates no longer being necessary. With respect to collecting colonial coins, the use of plates makes attribution much easier. Rather than flipping pages to the one that matches your variety, you can scan a few dozen images on a plate very quickly, and sometimes more accurately too.

There's an aspect of books I really enjoy, from my comic book days... pictures. So if we are taking a census here, I would vote to have today's books include both plates and images illustrated throughout.

Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing writes:

Dick Johnson's comments on photographic plates were interesting. He's right --- modern photography and printing technology have largely made such plates a thing of the past. Speaking from personal experience: nearly all of Whitman Publishing's books are full-color now, and that includes smaller-format beginner guides as well as large, specialized encyclopediae. That transition was already under way when I came aboard in 2004. For a time, we did publish some books in black and white with a "color splash" --- a signature (32 pages) or partial signature (8 or 16 pages) printed in four-color process on glossy or semi-gloss paper stock. (See, for example, some early editions in the Bowers Series, such as the Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins. Another example: the Expert's Guide to Collecting and Investing in Rare Coins, which is a 688-page book, of which 672 are black and white.)

Economies of scale allow larger commercial publishers like Whitman to print books even as big as Q. David Bowers's Whitman Encyclopedia of U.S. Paper Money --- a 900-page, 8.5 x 11-inch doorstop! --- in full color, while maintaining a reasonable retail price. That book, by the way, was printed in the United States. Printers in Canada, China, and Mexico often offer competitive printing with no loss in quality. The Guide Book of United States Coins (the "Red Book"), currently at 448 full-color pages, is also printed in the USA.

For a smaller publisher, black-and-white might still be the most affordable, and perhaps the only affordable, printing option, especially if printing in the USA. In those cases, photographic plates may be the only way to include color in the production. Dick is right, this constrains the publisher to an old-fashioned and less flexible book layout, one that forces the reader to flip back and forth between text and illustrations. At Whitman, our typesetters (book designers, if you will, or "compositors") abide by fairly strict rules of page layout, always striving first to set an image on the same page where it's discussed in the text; if that proves impossible, then on the same two-page spread where it's discussed; or, as a last resort (which rarely happens), on the following page --- but in no instance should an image appear before the illustrated item is discussed in the body copy. We have that flexibility because everything (text, charts, photos, captions, and all) is printed on the same glossy or semi-gloss paper. A layout that depends on color plates, separate from the black-and-white text, doesn't have that freedom.

From time to time I still hear collectors refer to "plate coins." This makes sense if you're talking about an older book that actually has separate signatures (or partial signatures) of photographic plates. Technically, it's not accurate to refer to a "plate coin" in, for example, a recent edition of the Red Book. But old publishing terms --- like old numismatic terms! --- can keep a tenacious grip on life long after their prime.

Bob Van Arsdell writes:

When I wrote Celtic Coinage of Britain in the 1980's (in Applewriter II on a Apple II plus), it was almost as easy as today to put plates throughout a book. True, totally-electronic prepress systems make it even easier now, but it's been easy for decades.

I saw the case for putting the images alongside the descriptions, but I also felt a set of plates at the end was equally useful. People often need to compare images, or look up a type by its appearance - plates facilitate this.

The answer is simple - put the images in both places. The additional cost is minimal.

Over the last twenty-odd years, you'd be surprised how many people have commented about the way the double plating made the book easier to use.

Well, there you have it - do both! Put images alongside the text, but also in plates, where readers can view multiple coins at a glance. But for color images, those may have to be on a plate only due to the expense. -Editor

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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