The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 50, December 3, 2017, Article 5


Paul Withers of Galata Coins in Llanfyllin, Wales submitted these thoughts on Dirty Old Books in general, and one in particular: Craig’s Germanic Coinages. Thanks! -Editor

I recall that many years ago I either heard someone say, or saw in print somewhere ‘there is nothing so fascinating as an old newspaper’; to which you might add ‘and old books’.

 We are still processing for sale the books that we bought, a long while ago, from the library of Professor Philip Grierson. There are many treasures, and already a pile of books that will go no further than our own library, though there are many more that we hope will find new owners to cherish them. For me, there is always a little frisson of delight when I use a book that has belonged at some time to a numismatist of note, especially those I have known, or with whom I have corresponded.

 One of the old books that has come to light is a copy of William D Craig’s Germanic Coinages, a remarkable work which was published in 1954 and is still useful today.

 But let me take you back to 1954. Here in the UK, although the war was over and rationing had just finished, there was still general austerity and goods although no longer rationed by law, were rationed by price. Just after the war in Europe, we did not have what is now termed a refugee problem, in those days they were called ‘displaced persons’. Factory workers worked a 48-hour week and £10 for a week’s work was a reasonably good wage.

 Our house had an electricity supply, hot and cold running water and an indoor toilet, you might say we were flush, certainly, we were compared to my maternal grandfather whose home was lit by gas and candles, and his water supply was cold water only. His sanitation was an outdoor earth and ashes closet.

 Television, black and white, of course, was beginning to become available, though you had to be relatively well off to afford a set. A great deal of effort had been made the previous year, 1953, to make it available here in Wales so that people could view the coronation as it happened. We didn’t have a set, so my family, who had the day off for the big event, walked five minutes down the street, to the house of my uncle Alfred’s father, a retired pensioner from the Boer war. His many children had clubbed together to buy the television set for him, the biggest and best available. He was a lovely old chap and he and his wife had a large number of children now all grown up. He had come back from the Boer war in South Africa in 1901 and returned to mining, only to have an accident that precluded him from taking part in the next conflict. He smoked a pipe, the smell of which I loved. He wore a waistcoat, with four pockets that seemed always to have something interesting for his numerous grandchildren, and he seemed not to worry that I wasn’t directly related to him, I lived in the same street and one of his sons was married to my mother’s sister.

To a young child his waistcoat pockets seemed truly magic, there were always wrapped sweets, real treasures in the days when they were rationed, but his wife had a shop and presumably sources for buying such goodies, although I suspect now that these were black market. Another pocket housed a large gold watch, which was on the end of a double Albert, from the other end of which there dangled a seal, which rotated, and a coin, not an ordinary sovereign, but an ‘oom’ Paul Kruger pond, which he had brought back from South Africa when the war ended. He explained that Oom (“Uncle”) Paul was president of the Transvaal, or South African Republic, from 1883 until his flight to Europe when the South African (Boer) war broke out. It was June 2nd, 1953 and I was proudly wearing the new black blazer, onto which my mother had sewn the badge of the town grammar school, for which I had passed what was in those days called ‘the scholarship’.

That morning, or perhaps the day before, we had heard a radio announcement that Mount Everest had been climbed by a British team including Edmund Hilary, who was almost immediately knighted for his efforts, never mind the fact that it was his Sherpa guide Tensing who was the first to the summit ! India, and much of the rest of the world was still part of the glorious British Empire and the Dominions beyond the Sea. What a triumph for coronation day !

Although my parents didn’t have a television set, entertainment was available several nights per week if we took a bus ride to one of the town’s four cinemas just a mile or two away, and if we walked home instead of taking the bus, we could afford a fish and chip supper from a shop that we passed on the way. That year we were even going on holiday to stay with my father’s aunt Clara, in Worcester. All was well in the world.

 I didn’t know it, but far away, in California, where another of my father’s aunts lived, William D Craig, a lawyer, then in his early 30s, was about to publish Germanic Coinages.

My British-born American great aunt Beat(rice), after whom my father’s sister was named, in the hope of a legacy, was something of a legend in our family. She sent us food and other parcels during the war, one of which I remember particularly well, contained a cowboy doll with leather leggings, with which I was not allowed to play because I might get it dirty. This didn’t worry me unduly because I had a panda, which I much preferred, because whilst I could cuddle a cute little panda, I certainly didn’t want to cuddle a cowboy, with or without leggings, even if he did have a gun. Great aunt B evidently didn’t go in for much cuddling either, for her husband was never mentioned. However, she must have been rich because she not only had a car, which she could drive, she had a pilot’s licence, and could and did fly small aircraft to ferry her boss around, amazing to a small boy who lived in a tiny town where vehicles were often still horse-drawn, and until relatively recently the appearance of aircraft was preceded by sirens warning us to take shelter before the bombs fell.

 However, back to Craig, who was born in the USA around 1920. He became an attorney, but his passion was not the law, but German coins. In 1954, he published Germanic Coinages (Charlemagne through Wilhelm II), which became the standard reference in the field. The Galata website has the following description of the book:  

William D Craig. Published by the author, Mountain View, California, USA. HB (linen cloth) viii + 242 pages, illustrated with several hundred line drawings. With separate 16 page stapled supplement, and duplicated instruction slip on how to use it. 172 x 248mm.  

So what distinguishes this from other books published at the time and a great many that have been produced since ?

Here is part of the author’s preface, which tells us some of the story. He says:

“This book has been compiled to meet what I have long considered an urgent necessity. The field of German numismatics, often termed "the greatest speciality," has been almost neglected outside Germany itself because of the difficulty and expense encountered by novices attempting to attribute their first German coins. One could readily purchase publications on the currency of Greece, Rome, Latin America or Britain for a small sum, but a decent-sized library has been required to even begin with Central Europe. Since most collectors are loathe to acquire reference libraries disproportionately more valuable than the coins they describe, interest in the German series has lagged. To alter this situation, some sort of general catalog has been badly needed. However, in view of the several hundred thousand coins involved, any attempt to compile even a list of major types was destined to economic failure. As a substitute, numerous experts have written catalogs limited to the monies of individual states. Other catalogers have listed the contents of large public and private collections in Europe. Still others, like J W Scott, Eklund, and Professor Davenport, have compiled more or less complete lists of certain coin types such as coppers or thalers. Thus the field has been covered in vertical and horizontal cross section, as well as by the scatter-shot method, but no one has produced a reference work which, by itself, could be used to attribute the majority of German coins the ordinary collector is likely to encounter. This handbook is my effort in that direction. In addition to outlining the realm of German numismatics for the beginner, this work is designed as a source of basic information for the advanced student and dealer. It should prove invaluable as an aid to rapid and complete attribution of large lots.”

In short, this is a serious, considered and well-thought-out work, the like of which had not been published before. It was the book that Craig needed when he started to collect Germanic coinages. Along with the works of Dalton & Hamer, Charles W Peck, it goes onto my list of the top ten books that ought to form part of every numismatic library.

He continues: “As shown in the Table of Contents which follows, the present volume contains, at least in sketchy fashion, data on nearly every factor useful in identifying Central European coinage.”

The contents of those chapters are as follows:-  1. A Simple Guide to Heraldry. II. German Armorial Devices. III. The German States: History and Rulers. IV. General Monetary History of Germany. V. Mints and Mintmarks. VI. Glossary of Monetary Units and Terms. There are appendices:- A. Rulers' Monograms Identified. B. Patron Saints Identified. C. Counterstamps Found on German Coins. D. Place Names. E. Translations of German and Latin Titles. F. Table of Coin Denominations. Its worst defects, as the author admits, are (1) insufficient information to attribute more than a portion of German medieval currency, and (2) the absence of lists of mintmarks. “These have been eliminated perforce due to space considerations.

Coins of the Middle Ages are best identified through familiarity based on experience. The next best means is through the lavish use of photographs. These are quite costly, and since beginners rarely obtain unattributed medieval currency, pictures are not a sound investment here. Mintmarks are often highly useful as an aid to attribution, but inclusion of a reasonably complete list of them would double the size of the present volume. Consequently, it is suggested that anyone interested in this phase of German numismatics consult Leonard Forrer's monumental work, A Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, published in London during the early part of the century.”

What Craig does not tell us is the real reason why there is no German book on German coins written by a native-born German. Personally, I have always thought that it was a slur on Germany that the standard reference on German coins was written by an American. However, most Germans collect only the coins of their own state or region of Germany prior to 1874, the coins of United Germany from 1874, or some collect the coins of the 3rd Reich, or those of the DDR, or modern Germany. Nowadays some collect only the euro coinage issued in Germany – but then there have always been collectors with no imagination.

The current situation regarding the availability of the fundamental works on German coins has not changed greatly. A fair number of the important ones were reprinted back in the 1950s to commemorate the centenary of their original publication. Wonderful, but many of them were self-defeating for they were often printed only in the same numbers as the original printing, usually only a hundred or so, and are also now long out of print, difficult to find and rather costly, or both ! Worse still they are (obviously) in German and the majority of Americans, like the largely monoglot English, suffer from that compound of arrogance, ignorance and insularity that makes them believe that everyone should speak English because it’s a superior tongue to all others.

For this reason, this wonderful book is just as valuable now as it was back in 1954 and just as necessary for the thinking collector of Germanic coinage, even those who live in Germany. Whilst writing this I discovered, through the marvels of the internet, that in 1966, Craig upped- sticks and moved to Hobart, Tasmania. Here he discovered a new passion - philately. Over thirty years he compiled, edited and published nine comprehensive catalogues of British Commonwealth and Australian States revenue stamps. The first, on Tasmania, appeared in 1978; the last, for Victoria, in 1999. The most recent update of which was issued in 2002. According to the internet source, each of his catalogues is a scholarly work including newly researched information that had not been published previously. Like ‘Germanic Coinage’ these were published privately by Craig himself. Why did he do that ? Because, particularly in the USA, the nature of the mass numismatic market is such that only those books that are cheap and cater for the masses, will succeed. Any that are specialist, different from the norm, investigative, designed for the thinking person, are destined never to make it make it to the top of any popularity poll, for everything is governed by price – a sure way to replace quality and excellence with mediocrity.  

Even more astonishing is that I could not find an obituary for Craig, so perhaps he is still alive, nearly a century old and living quietly in the obscurity of a retirement home. Regardless of whether he is, or not, I salute him, his spirit is still alive through his books. He inspired me to publish under the Galata imprint numismatic books that I and others write on subjects that deserve to be adequately researched and there are still corners of the numismatic world that need illuminating, so I go on writing and publishing.

My own comment on this work is ‘A most informative and useful book.’ Suitable for a somewhat reserved listing of secondhand and antiquarian books. However one of my original comments on the condition of one of the copies that we have for sale, which said ‘Dirty cover, but contents good’ had to be changed before it sold. Are present-day buyers of books totally lacking in humour ?

To visit the Galata web site, see:

As of 2014 William D. Craig was reported in The E-Sylum to be alive and well in Australia at the age of 95. -Editor

Today at a highly respectable 95 he resides in a nursing home on the Aussie mainland. His collection will comprise a major segment of Downies sale 317 on July 8-10 to be held in their Block Arcade auction rooms, 98–100 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. The catalog for this sale is currently being compiled. Interested readers wanting details will need to keep a weather eye on the Downies website:

To read the complete article, see:

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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