The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 17, April 28, 2019, Article 5


Just as decent numismatic books like Coins and Currency: An Historical Encyclopedia can sometimes be found outside numismatic circles, so too can interesting and useful numismatic facts be found in a whole spectrum of non-numismatic books. Jack Howes is the President of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4), and he reviewed some useful non-numismatic books in his "President's Corner" column in the Spring 2019 issue of The C4 Newsletter. -Editor

My interest in colonial coins and related stuff began as an adjunct to reading the history of the period. I find interesting parts in the whole of the period from Columbus to the Revolutionary War and its aftermath. I collected coins when I was young, typical stuff, Lincoln pennies, Jefferson nickels, etc. As is common, I lost interest when I got to high school. I got reinterested in coinage of the colonial period only after finding my way back to the history. Perhaps, I like being able to touch history. But my main point here is that I continue to read the history and I find that keeps me engaged. I have some suggestions for those looking for a way into the history of the period. Sometimes history books can be a hard slog and I have read my share of those kinds of books. I tend not to finish those or read only parts for a specific area I am studying. But there are others that are good reads from start to finish. Sometimes those books are not strictly history but rather historical fiction -- but so what.

mayflower book cover The first book I will mention is Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. By the title you might suppose it is about the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in 1620. Well, it is about them, but the book then covers the 50-year period until the end of King Phillip’s War. If you have never heard of this war, that alone is a good reason to read this book. How did that war affect the development of the colonies? What was going on while John Hull and Robert Sanderson were operating their Boston mint? Read this book to find out.

Island at the Center of the World book cover The next book is Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. A little more difficult than Mayflower but not much. Shorto wrote about the origins of New Amsterdam (Manhattan), the period of Dutch rule to when the English and the Duke of York took it from the Dutch. This book was based on a rediscovered trove of original documents in Dutch found in the New York State Library and only recently translated. How did what the Dutch started come to define a lot about what America has become? Yep, read this book.

In the Hurricane’s Eye book cover The last book I will recommend is one about Washington and the end of the Revolutionary War, i.e., Yorktown. In the Hurricane’s Eye also by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is a recent book, published 2018. Lots of books have been written about Washington. Some like Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington, I also recommend. Some not so much. This one I was unsure of and figured I might read only part. A few days later, I had finished it. One other point I want to make is that I often find numismatic related tidbits in these books that aren’t found elsewhere.

For example, did you know that the American troops involved in the Yorktown siege were rarely paid and when they did get paid it could be in different currencies?...

From Morris’s perspective, the most important part of the news about de Grasse’s in the Chesapeake was knowing the admiral had the 500,000 pesos collected by Saavedra in Havana. With that amount of money waiting for the French army in Virginia, Rochambeau was now willing to loan Morris the twenty-five thousand dollars in coins needed to pay Washington’s soldiers. Not only were the French providing the United States with a navy, they were paying its army. The day after Washington reached out to Morris, kegs of silver dollars began to arrive at Head of Elk. The soldiers watched in wonder as the paymaster knocked the heads off the barrels and the coins spilled out across the ground. “I received the only pay that I ever drew for my service during the war,” thirteen-year-old private John Hudson of the First New York Regiment later remembered, “six French crowns.” [Philbrick, In the Hurricane’s Eye, pp. 174-175.]

I am interested in hearing from members about books they liked or good reads they think I have missed! Email me or find me at the C4 convention in the fall.

Many thanks to Jack Howes and C4 for permission to republish this article here. If anyone has comments or questions for Jack I'll gladly forward them.

I've also read Island at the Center of the World; it provides a great perspective on New York's role in the world and its impact on the success of the nation.

I often save newspaper and magazine articles for our college student son. I've told him, "You are what you eat, and this is some food for your brain." I asked him once, "How long does it take to write a tweet or Facebook post?" Minutes. "How long does it take to write a magazine article?" At least a month, and sometimes several months. "How long does it take to write a book?" Books are typically the result of years of the author's toil and sweat, experience and insight. So which has the most nutrition for your brain? -Editor

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