The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 49, December 1, 2013, Article 15


Fred Michaelson sent me a nice gift earlier this year - a copy of An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. As an introduction I'll let the author describe the book's genesis, from a 2010 interview. -Editor

Question: What’s a writing project that’s turned out well for you, and what did you learn from it?

Exaltation of Larks James Lipton: I cornered the market on the most peculiar habit of the English language, namely the designation of groups of things by a term. We all know a few, a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, a host of angels, and we use them without thinking about them. A chorus of complaint. One day I suddenly thought to myself, why a gaggle of geese, why a pride of lions? A pride of lions – pride, really, it is the quintessence of a lion; he’s proud. Who said that we will capture the entire quintessence of this beast in a single word, a pride of lions?

And that started me on a search that lasted for years. It took me finally to the bowels of the main reading room of the British museum where I was actually in possession, at last, of the original books of hunting in which these terms were compiled; principally The Book Of St. Albans. This is 15th century stuff. And I discovered it was a charm of finches, properly, when the only profession a gentleman could ever admit to was hunting. So he had to know the proper terms. He saw a charm of finches, an unkindness of ravens, a parliament of owls, an exaltation of larks, a leap of leopards. I mean, these are beautiful terms; an ostentation of peacocks. I was fascinated, and there they were, these lists that were compiled in the 15th century. Some of the first books every printed in England, it was that important.

And then I discovered a pontificality of prelates, a superfluity of nuns. And I thought, my god, they were playing word games with them in the 15th century. And I finally compiled all of the original terms with their provenances. And that took a lot of digging because most of them are in Middle English. So, I had to translate out of Middle English into modern English. And I fell in love with them and I began to invite my own. An acre of dentists. In the 15th century, they said a rascal of boys. So, I said an acne of adolescents, a lurch of buses, a slouch of models, and an unction of undertakers, in a larger group, an extreme unction of undertakers. And I couldn’t stop. It was like eating peanuts. And I wrote this big book, which became the definitive book on this subject and ultimately all the introductions that I wrote to the various sections of it became a love letter to this magnificent English language.

It was a very enjoyable book that gave me a renewed appreciation for the power and whimsy of the English language. A few that caught my fancy are:

  • An indifference of waiters
  • A charge of shoppers
  • A brace of orthodontists
  • A rash of dermatologists
  • An impatience of wives
  • A consternation of mothers
  • An ingratitude of children
  • A slew of exterminators
  • A euphemism of 'escort services'

And naturally, the book started me wondering about the collective terms of numismatics. There was one in the book: "A hoard of numismatists", along with "A stampede of philatelists". Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • A squint of third-party-graders
  • A coloration of cataloguers
  • An imagination of pedigrees
  • A swindle of hotel coin buyers
  • A shush of numismatic librarians
  • An erudite of E-Sylumites?

And what about collective terms for the things we collect? How about ...

  • A cartwheel of silver dollars
  • A Midas of double eagles
  • A misstrike of errors
  • A turnstile of subway tokens

I gave Fred a preview of this article, and he promptly provided the following:

  • a kindergarten of trimes
  • a tribe of Indian Cents
  • a certainty of proofs
  • a missive of mintmarks
  • an advertisement of counterstamps
  • an itinerant of hobo nickels
  • an oddity of 20-cent pieces
  • a lie of overgraders
  • a hope of submissions
  • a sty of hogge money
  • a tree of New England shillings
  • an alloy of Feuchtwangers
  • an oddity of VAMS
  • a Rickle of Ike Dollars
  • a hirsute of Barbers
  • a bust of dimes
  • a plain of Buffaloes
  • a dome of Jeffersons
  • a referendum of Leshers
  • an astigmatism of overdates
  • an emporium of storecards
  • a saloon of Bar Coppers
  • a reality of pillar dollars

So what are yours?

To read the complete interview transcript (or view the video), see: The Exaltation of Wordplay (

Oh, and I couldn't resist adding this related missive forwarded by Harvey Stack back in October (with a couple minor edits to help placate spam filters):

The American Medical Association has weighed in on Obama's new health care package. The Allergists were in favor of scratching it, but the Dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves. The Gastroenterologists had sort of a gut feeling about it, but the Neurologists thought the Administration had a lot of nerve. Meanwhile, Obstetricians felt certain everyone was laboring under a misconception, while the Ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted.

Pathologists yelled, "Over my dead body!" while the Pediatricians said, "Oh, grow up!" The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness, while the Radiologists could see right through it. Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing and the Internists claimed it would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow. The Plastic Surgeons opined that this proposal would "put a whole new face on the matter". The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the Urologists were p-ed off at the whole idea. Anesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas, and those lofty Cardiologists didn't have the heart to say no.

In the end, the Proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the a-holes in Washington.

Kralvevich esylum ad7

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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