John Kraljevich submitted this review of Neil Musante’s new work, Medallic Washington. Thanks! -Editor
Washingtoniana has enjoyed a central place in American numismatics for more than a century and a half. Despite this, its literature has had high
points and low points. James Ross Snowden’s 1861 A Description of the Medals of Washington was the first high point. That initial entry into
the field came with the imprimateur of the United States Mint and all the stature that came with it. Only an extraordinary effort could bump it from
its perch, but that effort came just two decades later, when William Spohn Baker released his Medallic Portraits of Washington in 1885.
Numismatists never took to Baker’s Engraved Portraits of Washington, published in 1880, but Baker’s book on coins, medals, and tokens became
the bible in the field.
Like the original bible, Baker’s work reached the masses only after a masterful editing. George Fuld’s 1965 edition maintained the dignity and
layout of the original, but added illustrations, useful marginalia on rarity and provenance, an excellent introduction, and a useful suffix on
compositions and values. The book was worthy of Fuld’s expertise and breathed a new life into a then-dusty tome.
If Krause Publications giveth to the world of Washingtoniana with the 1965 Fuld edition, it tooketh away with the 1993 Fuld-Rulau debacle. Rife
with errors, laid out with the energy and discernment of a toddler running through a pile of autumn leaves, it introduced chaos and misinformation
into a field that had previously enjoyed organization and scholarship. While the world of exonumia collecting bloomed at the dawn of the 21st
century, the most august of American exonumic specialties remained lashed to an anchor bound in colorfully decorated boards. Only freeing itself from
the Rulau-Fuld book would allow the world of Washingtoniana to flourish once more.
The first time I met Neil Musante, I told him he had written the perfect book. Neil’s work on the products of Springfield, Massachusetts engraver
John Adams Bolen was a simple masterpiece: perfectly organized, nicely illustrated, compactly bound and delivered, replete with original research
that answered every conceivable question. As I didn’t know Neil when he wrote it, I could only imagine it had sprung from his hands like Athena from
the forehead of Zeus: fully formed and damn near flawless.
Having become friends with Neil, I now have greater insight into his research and writing process. He is indefatigable, an easier laurel to lay at
his feet than the word is to pronounce aloud. He flipped every stone, photographed every collection, spoke to every specialist, and considered every
theory. It took him years. The product of his Herculean labors would embarrass Baker and offend Snowden, as he has neatly outdone them both.
Neil’s book is big. Too big, if you ask me, if only because I yearn for new enthusiasts of Washingtoniana to have a paperback that will engage and
edify them for the price of a pizza. Neil’s work could not be so restrained, and one volume became two. Editing the books for length would have
affected their subject mastery, so while I rue the fact that new collectors are unlikely to plunk down the price tag, I’m glad to have every single
page. All the standard information is there: artists (some newly identified) and minters, designs and compositions, rarity and notable offerings. The
special information is there too, with easy to read storytelling and fascinating context on each medal and raison d’etre. Neil included Rulau’s
sometimes fanciful list of compositions, a reflection of his easygoing personality as much as anything. When Rulau received reports of a medal
existing in white metal, lead, pewter, and spelter, he liked to list four different alloys instead of recognizing four different descriptions of
medals that were otherwise identical. It’s a small complaint, but one that may continue to trip up perfectionists and completists.
Other faults are few. Neil and I have some disagreements on the histories of particular medals; it is fortunate that dueling was no longer an
option when we discussed whether the Sansom medal or the Halliday medal that copied it came first. Neil will probably point out some typos, but no
one else is apt to care. There are some things that smell like fantasies to me that Neil includes out of a sense of responsibility to those who have
included them in the past. Future collectors will undoubtedly be glad to have them in the book rather than melted into a single large decorative lawn
ornament, as I would prefer.
Snowden wrote a foundational reference whose usefulness will endure. Baker wrote a landmark that has defined how collectors approach a daunting
field. Musante has created the ultimate work on the medals of George Washington, a magnum opus whose writing should be appreciated, but not without
recognizing the research and organization that allows it to shine so brightly.
Sturdily bound and beautifully produced in England, Musante’s Medallic Washington is a joy to hold despite its ironic nation of origin. The price
tag will only seem steep to those who haven’t seen the book. No one who professes any interest in Washingtoniana that surpasses the most trivial
curiosity can live without it. My sincerest hope is that this book sells out promptly and inspires Mr. Musante to tackle further briar patches in the
field of American medals. Few authors in American numismatic history have managed to handle difficult material as deftly or publish a reference as
worthy of their labors.
My set arrived last week and I heartily concur that Musante's magnum opus sets a whole new standard. Another Neil (Mr. Young) sang, "Hey,
hey, my, my; Rock and Roll can never die". Well, neither can books. Medallic Washington is Exhibit A in the case against The Death of The
Book in numismatics. It's available from Charlie Davis, who sent this ordering information. -Editor
Neil Musante’s two-volume work Medallic Washington is now available for sale. Published August in Great Britain by Spink, the initial small
allotment sent by air was quickly exhausted at the A.N.A. Convention and only now has the bulk shipment been received. In two blue cloth volumes,
crown quarto, 850 pages with several thousand color illustrations, Medallic Washington lists and describes with historical background 1200 tokens,
medalets and medals produced through the centennial of Washington’s inauguration. The material has been completely rearranged and reorganized as
reflected by the new GW-xx numbering system which should set the standard for years to come.
The set is available exclusively from the undersigned at $175.00 postpaid. A special edition edition by the Harcourt Bindery is planned. Details
will be available on inquiry.
Charles Davis, Numisbook.com
P.O. Box 1
Wenham, MA 01984
Tel: (978) 468 2933
Fax: (978) 468 7893
Wayne Homren, Editor
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