Joe Boling forwarded this book review by Richard G. Doty, curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. The book was published last year. Dick's review was published in The Numismatist. See below for a link to an earlier review.
Monumental Money: People and Places on U.S. Paper Money
Yigal Arkin: Arkin Publishing, 2012
ISBN 978-0-615-46454-1. Pp. 112. $17.95
Yigal Arkin has brought a breath of fresh air and a colorful approach to the study
of our federal currency. Monumental Money is most decidedly not for the
specialist, the person who knows the convoluted story of our paper money inside
out. But it is the perfect publication for members of a wider, more disparate group,
including those who’ve always collected American coinage but are now thinking
of branching out into paper; those seeking to interest others in a major area of our
numismatic history; and anyone who’s ever looked at our currency and wondered
who appeared on it, and why. Through a combination of fresh writing and colorful
images, Arkin reaches out and captures the interest of these and other readers,
creating a new audience for the appreciation of America’s paper.
Like ancient Gaul, this book is divided into three parts. ( Anyone who ever had to slog through First-Year Latin will recognize my reference. Those who don’t
recognize it, be grateful). The first section gives a
highly readable, well-illustrated survey of the money we see every day, but adds
interesting facts we are unlikely to have encountered. (Did you know that Thomas
Jefferson had Monticello’s floors painted grass-green in an attempt to bring the
outdoors indoors? I didn’t; but it somehow sounds like something our Third
President might have cooked up.) Part One concludes with the ill fated, redesigned
hundred-dollar bill: Arkin’s photograph affords his readers the clearest glimpse of
the new note they are likely to find – at least for the time being. Part One takes up
a bit more than half the book.
Part Two embraces most of the remainder, and it consists of an excellent survey of
our earlier paper money – anything and everything in commerce before the
universal, and surprisingly recent, sway of the Federal Reserve note. Arkin
touches briefly on colonial currency, but his main focus is on the various forms
taken by federal notes, many of whom the beginning collector is unlikely to know
well, if at all. He begins with an excessively rare treasury note from the War of
1812, but his survey really gets under way at the beginning of the 1860s: the
sectional tensions that turned into a shooting war in 1861 completely transformed
our paper money, as both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis sought and found
new types of currency to finance the mayhem.
In the North, demand notes were
one result, legal tender notes another, and fractional currency and national bank
notes others still. Most of this money went by the name greenbacks, an allusion to
the color adopted for back printing, one supposedly immune to photographic
counterfeiting. And in the South, a tint called China Blue resulted in an analogous
term for Confederate money, bluebacks. I call out the author’s explanation and
coverage of national bank notes for particular praise. He makes one of the most
confusing forms of our federal currency intelligible to beginners and intermediates
The final portion of the book illustrates those notes about which all of us have
heard, but which none of us are likely to have seen – the legendary high
denomination issues, ranging from the five hundred-dollar bill (chump change),
through the five thousand-dollar note (alright, now we’re talking real money), and
on to the hundred thousand-dollar gold certificate (whoa!). His illustrations are
superb, his thumbnail biographies of those gracing the money always informative
– and his bringing together of this material performs a useful service for those
collectors who like to get all their dreaming done in one place.
A decent index and finding guide for illustrations complete the work.
I found the book interesting, enjoyable – and I’d recommend it to anyone curious
about our currency, how it originated, the stages through which it has gone, why it
looks the way it does. As a Smithsonian curator, I occasionally have the privilege
of recommending outstanding books to museum visitors. Since Yigal Arkin’s
Monumental Money has already won my enthusiastic approval, I’ve chosen it as the “Curator’s Choice” at the National Museum of American History.
From the publisher's web site:
Author: Yigal Arkin
Trim size: 6.5 x 9.5
$17.95 (CAN $19.95)
For more information, or to order, see:
To read an earlier E-Sylum article, see:
BOOK REVIEW: MONUMENTAL MONEY: PEOPLE AND PLACES ON U.S. PAPER MONEY
Wayne Homren, Editor
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