Ancient Coin Books

It has been said that the coin collector should spend 10% of the coin budget on books. Below are short reviews of a few books that I feel might be of interest to the collector of ancient coins. New reviews will be added as the mood strikes me. I make no promises on a schedule - I learned something from promising to update the Featured Coin page weekly! Please do not take my omitting any particular book as a comment against the work. Eventually, I will get around to most of the common books. This page was written in 1998 and really needs updating to include books published since then. When will I do that? I wish I knew!

Click on the listings below to be taken to a particular review or scroll down this page to see them all.

Sale Catalogs: My Favorite Numismatic Reference Source (an opinion)

Greek Coins

Anthony, John, Collecting Greek Coins

Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum - Copenhagen

Roman Coins

Bruck, Guido Late Roman Bronze Coinage

Kent, J.P.C. Roman Coins

Sutherland, C.H.V. Roman Coins

Vagi, David L. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire

Sayles, Wayne G. Ancient Coin Collecting III, the Roman World-Politics and Propoganda

Various authors, The Roman Imperial Coinage

Butcher and Ponting, Chemical Composition of Roman Silver Coinage, AD 196-197

Van Meter, David, The Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins

Failmezger, Victor, Roman Bronze Coins A biased review by the photographer

Suarez, Rasiel, Encyclopedia of Roman Imperial Coins II (ERIC II) A much too long review of a huge book

Other Coins

Shore, Fred, Parthian Coins & History, Ten Dragons Against Rome

Not Coins but Interesting to the Collector

Jones, A. H. M., Constantine and the Conversion of Europe

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Auction Catalogs & Price Lists

Library purists will say this 'review' does not belong on my 'book' page but the work here considered is, without doubt, the most valuable part of my numismatic library. This work is the joint effort of hundreds of the finest numismatists and is constantly updated with new information. To date my collection includes over a thousand volumes with new items added (and less worthy parts deleted) almost daily. I refer, of course, to my accumulation of illustrated coin price lists and auction catalogs.

To be fair, it must be noted that this resource is filed with errors and half truths. Nowhere (except, perhaps, on the internet) is it more necessary to read critically. Coin dealers vary from brilliant scholars to complete hacks and the publications they release mirror this range. Many catalogs are only of value as a source of coin photographs to augment the few provided in standard references. Some certainly provide practice in identifying errors in the information presented. Many, however, are great resources providing valuable tidbits of information even if the lack of an index makes finding what you need quite a project.

Whether you subscribe to the current issues from the dealers or find back issues in the trash of another collector makes little difference. Obviously, you can not expect dealers to give you these items free unless you are likely to be buying the coins. After the sale the value of the catalogs continues as a reference source. Members of our local coin club regularly bring stacks of catalogs to meetings to give to others who might have room to store them. Some catalogs are collectables in themselves and have a value on the numismatic market. With a little effort, each collector can find a source.

I hate to single out any specific dealers' catalogs as worthwhile examples for fear of slighting others, equally worthy, by their omission. Having said that, I will proceed to single out a few series that I have found useful. Note: I am not suggesting you buy (or don't buy) coins from these dealers. I am simply saying that reading a few volumes of their catalogs will add considerably to your numismatic knowledge.

Classical Numismatic Group (CNG):

First is my personal favorite: Classical Numismatic Group auction catalogs (as this is written they are up to number 45). Outstanding photographs illustrate coins with descriptions immediately below the photo (BIG plus!!) rather than on a separate plate page. References are given to specialized works covering that coin. Very occasionally, notes explain why the coin is special or give a little history of the times that produced the coin. While most coins are reasonably high grade and attractive, the selections include a little bit of everything (whatever is consigned for sale). The editors are not afraid to illustrate a low grade rare item or an exceptionally nice common coin making the series useful to a wider range of collectors. This is not a dealer who only bothers with perfect examples of the most popular coins. The catalogs include a heavy concentration of ancients with a selection of medieval and a smattering of modern 'world' coins. If you run across a source (you can't have mine!), back issues of CNG sale catalogs will make a great addition to your library.

Harlan Berk:

Compared to CNG, Harlan Berk's are thinner and more concise. The few notes offered are succinct and tend to point out coins worth noticing. Only rarely (the Probus antoninianus showing Calliope comes to mind) do they expound in depth on a coin. Excellent photos are on separate plate pages (requiring flipping back and forth). Catalog references are provided but many coin descriptions do not even mention the reverse type. These, of course, are obvious when you look at the photos. What makes the Berk series (now at #101) worth keeping is the wide selection of interesting examples of special coins from common series. For example, hundreds of different Probus types have been shown providing the illustrations lacking in RIC. To learn about coins, one should look at as many coins as possible. Second choice would be to look at a few thousand coin photographs. A stack of back issues of Harlan Berk catalogs will certainly provide thousands of excellent photographs of coins worth seeing.

European Auction Houses:

Several large European auction firms issue gorgeous catalogs filled with magnificent photos of some pretty excellent coins. Text will be in German or French (after learning a few terms a dictionary makes this not a problem even if you do not read the language). I do not pretend to know all of the various series available (and am currently receiving none of them) but have seen excellent catalogs by H. Lanz and Numismatica Ars Classica among others. Contents vary, of course, from sale to sale. Many houses sell ancients as a small part of their 'World' coin business so each collector will need to compare their interests to the material covered before buying these volumes.

Specialty Collection Catalogs:

Almost any coin specialty has, at one time or another, seen the sale of a truly exceptional collection. Persons interested in that specialty should own that catalog. In my specialty (Septimius Severus), THE sale was the Arnold collection sold by Glendinning in 1984. Recently, the Michael Kelly collection (Spink, 1997) added another 'must have' catalog for the Severus fan. In 1992, Joel Malter sold the Wilkinson collection of Greek silver, notable for its inclusion of small denominations often overlooked by Greek collectors. Dealers in numismatic literature might be able to suggest to you what sale catalogs cover your particular specialty. Ask them. Back to menu Feb 98

Anthony, John, Collecting Greek Coins, Longman, 1983

Collecting Greek Coins is a refreshing change from all the catalogs and price guide books that take so much room on our shelves. This paperback book is for reading not reference. Chapters tell the story of some part of the Greek world and the coins that accompanied that part of history. By giving a feel for the history, the author answers "why" the coins were as they were rather than just listing the types. After completing the geographic tour of the Greek world provided by the first thirty chapters, we are treated to a section which discusses ten possibilities for assembling thematic Greek coin collections relating to, for example, the Odyssey or Monsters on coins. The book is very readable and includes just enough maps and photos to illustrate the points made. Printing and photo quality are only fair. The same text could have been illustrated with large photos resulting in a 'coffee table' book for the Christmas trade that would have sold for many times the price. As it is, the book is full of information with legible, actual size photos. The book was remaindered about ten years ago and is now out of print. It is worth seeking out from dealers of used books. Back to menu Feb 98

Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum - The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals Danish National Museum

SNG is a series of large format picture books illustrating great public collections of Greek coins. The Danish collection (called "Copenhagen") is catalogued in eight volumes (often sold separately or as a group for $1000+) of nice photos of plaster casts of coin you may have trouble finding elsewhere. Many of the coins are low grade and there is little information other than the identity of the coin. Still the individual volume covering the issues of the area of your interest can be quite interesting. Coins are arranged geographically and include the Greek Imperials of the region. Persons interested in assembling a few of the common and popular coins will not want this depth of coverage and those really into a speciality will be quick to note that there are many coins not included in the collection. I consider the books a valuable source of images which can aid the numismatic education. At present I only own a few volumes but recommend the series to anyone whose interest is specialized by region or who has a lot of money burning a hole in their pockets. Back to menu Jan 99

Bruck, Guido, Late Roman Bronze Coinage, An Attribution Guide to Poorly Preserved Coins, Translated by Alisdair Menzies

When I was working with Tory Failmezger on the photos for his book on Late Roman Bronze Coins, I was shown a copy of the long out of print, 1961 German original of this book. The nature of the book would have made it possible to use even in a language I did not read but being rare and hard to find ended my interest. Now in 2014, Alisdair Menzies has done us a great service by reprinting the book and doing so in English translation. They say, "A picture is worth 10,000 words." At that rate, Bruck is to be valued in multiple millions. The book is as different from any other coin book as one could imagine. There is little text but at least a thousand (I did not count them) line drawings showing things we might see on Roman coins from 317 to 450 AD. These drawing illustrate the differences in design that could allow identification of coins with no legends or mintmarks. The real value of the book is the realization that there are all these clues to the differences that make it possible to identify coins without their legends. Certainly a little legend will assist in making even more coins identifiable but a combination of a few letters and the Bruck clues will open the path to what might seem like miracles of identification. Every page has charts of drawings pointing out, for example, that the large A obverse field mark on Falling Horsemen from Aquileia appears above the laurel ties while the same coin from Siscia and Sirmium has the A below the ties. Some coins may require two or three of these clues before yielding an ID; some will just be narrowed down but not certainly identified. There are drawings of the various trees found on the hut type coins, over two dozen drawings of bust types as used by different rulers on Beata Tranquillitas types, sketches of the different mints' ways of seeing the Gloria Romanorum horsemen of Magnentius and tricks for identifying Urbs Roma wolves without benefit of mintmark letters (a wolf with theta on her shoulder is from Thessalonica, bristles on shoulder and rump mean Constantinople, etc.). The book might be faulted in that the material studied was all from one museum so there are a few coins not covered to the completeness of others but Bruck was a master at looking closely to say the least.

Collectors who buy only perfect coins may want to skip this information. Those who believe everything you need to know about a coin will fit on a slab label will be bored silly. Even if we only have nice coins it is fun to look for the clues and see if our coins support Bruck's observations. The book is not large but is jam packed with information (trivia, perhaps) that a certain breed of collector will find fascinating. I recommend it highly. Back to menu Mar 15

Kent, J.P.C. Roman Coins, Abrams, 1978

While I will have a few problems with the book, let me start with the fact that the 1430 images by Max and Albert Hirmer are consistantly the finest black and white photographs I have seen. The book is a large format, thick tome well filled with information and opinions hard to find elsewhere. The first section is a 54 page narrative essay on Roman coins with marginal numbers that refer the reader to the wonderful array of photographs that make up the following 199 pages. After that we get 82 pages of textual labels for the 785 coins shown in the plates. Obverses and reverses are not combined and do not always show up on the same page. Some coins are shown on one side only. All images are black and white but small notes on the pages with the photos tell us which are gold (most!) if you know the names of the various Roman denominations. Photos are enlarged irregularly between 1.5x and 8x with better coins getting larger size but the two sides of a coin often shown to a different scale. I believe the publishers went out of their way to make the book hard to use. Were the book reissued with paired images in color the result would be beautiful beyond description.

Still, the photos are the best part of the book. Coins were selected for their beauty and rarity rather than because they illustrate some point in the text. For example, we are told that the first Julia Domna portraits resemble the unattractive Scantilla but the only first legend Domna shown is the immaculate British Museum Venus aureus. They did not stoop to finding an unattractive example. In fact, the entire book includes only a handful of coins that would not grade Extremely Fine. The average coin is a mint state aureus with far more medallions than denarii. This is a picture book with much interesting information in its few textual pages. Lest this sounds like a negative review let me point out that plate 578 alone made me glad to own the book. (Your favorite may differ!) I bought mine used on eBay but it is quite possible to find them elsewhere for several times the price. The book is long out of print but worth seeking out if you will not be depressed in seeing about 780 coins nicer than anything you might hope to own. Buy one if you find a copy at a price you are willing to pay. I do suggest you also read my next review on a similar book, also out of print, by the same name. Back to menu Mar 15

Sutherland, C.H.V. Roman Coins, Barrie & Jenkins, 1974

It is no accident that this review follows the one above by the same name. Both are thick but this is a bit thinner and smaller in format. You may note that the two authors shared the credits for Volume VIII of Roman Imperial Coinage. Mr. Kent got top billing on RIC, on my review, on book size and on photo quality. I prefer Mr. Sutherland's style of layout and at least some of his textual opinions. He says the Eastern mints of Septimius Severus were 'inferior' but at least he names them suggesting he had read Volume IV of RIC which is more than I can say for Mr. Kent who only comments that Severus must have used several mints. Neither author stooped to include a single 'inferior' Eastern Severan coin. Fans of the Twelve Caesars will probably find the selections better than this Severan collector did.

If Sutherland gets my vote for text he loses a lot in photo quality. Many of the coins shown in the two books are the same specimen but they did not reproduce the same photographs of those same coins. However more of the Sutherland selections are coins you and I might hope to own instead of oversize medallions we will probably never see. The photographic lighting is decidedly inferior in the Sutherland book. Many of them are still good photos and, unlike Kent, many of them are in color. Captions do not give enlargement factors but do give sizes of the coins. The smaller format pages make the largest photos smaller. They are still nice enlargements. On average, Sutherland sells for under half of Kent. I would like to know the story behind these two men who obviously knew one another publishing such similar books at roughly the same time. Which should you buy? Both, of course! Back to menu Mar 15

Vagi, David L., Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, Coin World, 1999

The most awaited event of 1999 was the publication of David Vagi's two volume work on Roman Imperial coins. In most respects, we were not disappointed. These two volumes belong in EVERY numismatic library. The books contain a wealth of information presented in a manner that makes it easy to read the part necessary to understand a newly acquired coin or to answer a newly arisen question. Some may criticize the amount of repetition (the story of the death of Geta is retold for each of the family members) but this same repetition insures that the important points are not lost on the casual reader. Volume One is a serialized history of Rome told with a chapter for each of 250+ rulers and family members who appear on coins. The content and presentation are excellent with short introductions to various periods added to help the reader understand the links between the individual biographies. Where history has left the facts less than clear, the author explains the theories and is quite open about the fact that not everything in Roman history is fully understood (by him or anyone else).

Volume Two begins with a truly great 180 page introduction to collecting Roman Imperial coins. Chapters cover types, denominations, mints, dating, grading and other subjects that must be understood by someone at all interested in collecting these coins. This section alone, if published separately, would be a great service to hobby and to the education of beginning collectors. The catalog that occupies the following nearly 450 pages is, in my opinion, the least valuable part of the books. Again listed personality by personality, tables list a few representative 'special' coins and price them in three different grades. Common or 'not special' coins are lumped together by denomination with a general price for all similar coins of that ruler. Therefore, for example, we see a listing (Vagi 1746) for denarii of Septimius Severus priced from $15 to $100 and eleven more listings for 'special' types (it will be easy to ask why some were included and others omitted!) ranging from $20 to $3000. Most collectors (and nearly all dealers) will consider his prices low but I see them as representative of average auction results and coin show sales where the dealer provides little in the way of services other than making the coins available. Coins trading by private treaty with full dealer advice and services will certainly sell for more. While the entries are numbered, the plain fact that 95% of coins seen in the marketplace are covered only by the generic listings (like our example of Septimius Severus' Vagi 1746). The catalog will do little good for identifying specific types. Each reign listing includes a list of obverse legends that should allow identification of most coins to the ruler but persons wanting a laundry list of all the types found will still need a set of RIC (also reviewed on this page).

Prepublication hype suggested this work would replace the David Sear book (not reviewed here but due a major revision which I hope will spur me to include it). Vagi is no Sear. The intent and coverage is entirely different. Vagi is entirely on the Empire while Sear is most interested in the Republic and is seriously short on treatment of coins after the Julio-Claudians. Vagi has over 800 pages on history and collecting information before getting to the catalog section; Introductory sections of Sear are minimal. Most serious collectors will own both.

The two Vagi volumes are well bound and well produced (although I find the font used hard on the eyes due to the thin lines and small size). Photos are not overly numerous but what were provided are really excellent selections from my favorite resource (did you read my review of old auction catalogs?). The book was dressed up with old line drawings from public domain sources that have nothing to do with coins and waste (my opinion!) space better used with more of the excellent CNG photos of coins. A third volume reproducing all the types available from their files and indexed to Vagi pages would make really great resource. As it is, the books are a great value at the full list price and will become a standard of the numismatic library. Back to menu Jan 00

Sayles, Wayne G., Ancient Coin Collecting III, the Roman World-Politics and Propoganda, Krause, 1997

The six volume set on collecting ancient coins by the former publisher of the Celator magazine could well be the most important books on collecting ancient coins. The reason is not the quality of the books, certainly not a bad effort, but the practical fact that the publisher has made the books available through the regular book trade; in many places they will be the only books available on ancient coins. This will be the book that exposes the next generation of collectors to the hobby and, all things considered, it does the job well.

The format takes the form of a series of articles on various related subjects each with its own bibliography for further reading. In Volume Three, this is a list of Emperors, mostly one per page, telling the history of the reign and illustrating the obverse of one select coin. Reigns that issued coins for other members of the Imperial family also have a photo on one obverse for each person. This is my main criticism of the Roman book. The reader might be led to believe that the fun of Roman coins is only on the obverse. Articles showing the reverses of the coins make up only only about ten percent of the total. Had the list of Emperors section been illustrated by both sides of that one coin for each person the title "Roman World-Politics and Propoganda" would have been much better served.

The books appears to have been rush to publication (just like this web site) with a few errors of spelling and fact creeping through. Had the book been read before publication for 'peer review' perhaps vol III, page 16 would not mistake Caracalla as meaning 'little boot' (Caligula is 'little boot'; Caracalla's name referred to the Germanic cloak he wore). Aside from a few petty problems of this nature, the book provides a good overview of the subject and should be a valuable addition to the library of any beginning collector. I particularly recommend the first volume on general collecting. It is a 'must read' for those new to the hobby. Back to menu Feb 98

Various authors, The Roman Imperial Coinage, Spink, various dates

This work is a set of ten HUGE volumes. Covering the span of the Roman Empire from the beginning to 491 AD, 'RIC' attempts to list every coin known to the authors. Each of the volumes was written by the leading experts in the field. Dating from the 1920's to the recent (1994) release of Vol. X there is quite a variety of styles and approaches to the subject. Photographic quality is, at best, not consistant and certainly nowhere near the level of the scholarship that went into the text. Since the work discusses types rather than individual specimens the is no data on weight and diameter of the examples. Beyond the catalog of types, excellent introductions to each reign discuss many details of the coinage. Useful indices of types and legends are provided.

The books are not easy to use for beginners. Being able to locate a coin in the catalog requires you already know the subject pretty well. Each author organized the material in a slightly different fashion so the user has to learn a new system when moving from volume to volume. Most volumes were divided by mint and then by date within the mint. Successful use of the books takes practice but if you have spent over $1000 for a set of the books you should not mind a little work to access all that information. Some information is dated and made incomplete by new finds in the age of the metal detector. My particular specialty, the Eastern mint denarii of Septimius Severus, is covered poorly. Other areas fare better. I regret the decision to include in these books a rarity scale listing how many of each coin was found in a select sample of major collections. Dealers and collectors tend to misread these rarity scales and fail to realize that there are a few million ancient coins not contained in the collections recorded so many of the very rare listed items are barely scarce.

RIC is not for everyone. Some collectors may want the volume that covers the period of their specialty; 'advanced' collectors and dealers will buy the set. Beginners should spend the money on other books. Vol. I was recently revised and Vol. X is new. The others need updating. Particularly in need of help is the scarce Vol. V which sells used for more than it is worth. Recent reprints have made the set accessable This is a great resource with vast amounts of information but the books must be used critically and with the realization that the information is imperfect in places .

I posted the following note on Numism-L in response to a question on RIC: "RIC is a set of 10 volumes written over a span of many years by a number of different authors who had in common that they were among the leading scholars in their field and were willing to undertake a huge task. One suspects that some of them never read the volumes that came before or they were so set in their ideas of how the material should be presented that they did it 'their way' despite any confusion they would cause to people who had used the earlier volumes. Some of them were not consistant even within a volume. Eastern denarii of Elagabalus were separated by mint into a section of their own but the parallel coins of Julia Maesa from Rome and the East were lumped together in one list."

"When most coins bore mint marks (Vol VI-IX) it made sense to list coins by the mint in order by date within the mint. As a result the RIC number for a coin struck at London for Constantine would be many pages from an almost identical coin struck in the same year at Alexandria. The scholarship in sequencing all the minor differences into issues was massive and the result is very useful to the advanced collector. To the beginner with a few poor condition or partly illegible coins, RIC is worse than useless. If you can not read the mintmark on a coin and are not advanced enough to recognize the style, trying to find a coin in RIC is nearly impossible. For collectors who just want a coin of Constantine showing Sol, the mint mark and RIC number are wholly irrelevant. "

"For a reason I'll never understand, Sear decided to list the mint mark on his example coins and quoted the RIC number for that exact variety. By doing this he confused his target audience (beginners) with information that needed more than a little explanation. Cohen dodged the subject by not listing mint marks and made his work much easier to understand (unless being in French is a problem)."

"New collectors who come to ancients from collecting US machine made coins often bring expectations of collecting by sets with each coin fitting into a hole in their Whitman folder. It simply does not work that way. There are so many differences in ancient coins one from another that the 'complete listings' like RIC have to make choices on where to draw the line as to what gets another number and what number it will be. Some volumes list a coin that was issued for more than one ruler together so 1 can be a coin of Constantine while 2 is Licinius. Similarly, a bit later in the series, 1a is Valentinian while 1b is Valens with the same reverse and minor devices. Earlier the same denarius issued at the same mint for Septimius Severus and Julia Domna could be 347 and 608. It should be mentioned that the numbering started over for each mint in the Constantinian period. Therefore, there are several coins numbered '1' and if you are not given either the page number or the mint name the RIC number alone is not a great deal of help. A set of RIC requires spending $1000 and making a commitment to spend the time necessary to learn how to use all that information. 1000 hours hard work should get you started on a volume or two."

"From all this you might think I am discouraging the purchase of RIC. Not at all. The books themselves are probably better investments than any $1000 worth of coins but only if you read them, understand them and critique them for their shortcomings. Of course, if you wrap them in plastic and never open them you will sell them for more when your collection goes to market than if you destroy them with daily use. What a waste!"

Back to menu Feb 98 updated Jun 98

Butcher, Kevin and Ponting, Matthew, A Study of the Chemical Composition of Roman Silver Coinage, AD 196-197 in American Journal of Numismatics 9, ANS 1997

This report of a study on the chemical composition of coins of Roman Emperors Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus corrects the errors commonly found in studies of this type. The authors were careful to select coins from four very well defined groups that, together, make up the Roman coinage of the years covered. By not trying to cover too wide a span, they greatly increased the validity of their results.

Secondly, a new (to me before I heard of this study while it was being done) method of coin analysis was used. A tiny hole was drilled in the edge of each of the subject coins to provide a core that would allow analysis of the whole coin structure without total destruction of the coin. The authors take care to explain why the other popular non-destructive methods are faulted. Coins tend to be of different composition on the surface than at the center. This is partially due to the production of corrosion products ('patina') on the surface (which are scraped away in some methods) and partially the result of flan 'pickling' operations that enriched the surface precious metal content by removing base/trace metals to improve the appearance of the finished product. This layer can vary greatly in thickness and would be difficult to avoid in the methods that analyze an abraded surface.

Coin were selected from the mint of Rome bearing IMP VIII ; from the Eastern mint group known as Laodicea 'Old Style' dated IMP VIII; from another Eastern mint group: Laodicea 'New Style' dated IMP VIII and VIIII and from the issues of Clodius Albinus as Augustus attributed to his mint at Lugdunum. The Albinus coins were shown to be much higher silver confirming the theory that Albinus issued coins on the Flavian standard of about 80% silver.

The most interesting point made by the article was the observation that trace elements found in the Laodicea 'Old Style' and 'New Style' coins differed greatly. This would suggest that the source of metals was different and, further, that the placement of both groups at one mint needs to be reconsidered. Since other workers have suggested that 'Old Style' might be from the 'COS II' mint called 'Emesa', this study begs to be continued to compare the trace composition of those two issues.

This article is a fine example of the direction of progress in numismatic scholarship. The information is presented clearly with complete tables of results. I hope to see more reports of studies of this type --- as long as they don't want to drill into MY coins. ;) Back to menu Feb 98

Van Meter, David, The Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins, Laurion Numismatics, 1991

This book missed being a truly great numismatic work by, in my opinion, a very small error. It is filled with positive points and is easily worthy of a place in any collector's library. After a short (57 pages) but well composed introduction to Roman coins, the catalog attempts to list all of the types of Roman coins without getting bogged down in listing of minute varieties. Coins of all denominations are listed separately by reverse type. The common obverse legend used with the type is noted along with a short description of the coin and an occasional word of explanation on the significance of the type. Many coins are illustrated using photos clipped from old sale catalogs (quality varies). Values are indicated by a unique (and not intuitively obvious) code system of 'VB' numbers.

The error (remember this is just MY opinion): The author introduced a new numbering system for major types and broke down some minor variations using a slash. For example, the Fortuna Reduci seated denarius by Septimius Severus was listed as number 39/1; Fortuna standing as 39/2 and Fortuna standing sacrificing over an altar was 39/3. Some listings (but not all) were cross referenced to Cohen or RIC. I believe that the market was not ready to abandon the existing standard number systems and adopt this new one. The lack of complete cross references prevented use of the book as a resource for collectors wanting to know what coin was being offered by a dealer. Had it listed coins together by denomination and in Cohen order (the numbering system in the public domain) even though that would have left gaps in the numbers, I believe the book would have been a major success. Obviously coins not in Cohen would have required intermediate numbering and the later Eastern Emperors not covered by the scope of Cohen would have required assigning some numbering system. I assume that copyright considerations prevented cross referencing to Sear and some other recent works.

As it is the book is a great effort. Introductions to reigns are well done with notes explaining points that need to be understood for that particular reign. With a little practice, the book becomes easy to use. I never 'warmed up' to the 'VB' value system but do not have a better answer to handle the problem. I might have suggested a 'VB0' listing for those dirt cheap common coins that make up the lowest part of 'VB1' (under $100).

For years this handbook was out of print and not all that easy to find. Now, it has been reprinted and is easily available at a reasonable price. A completely reworked new edition would be a great help to beginning collectors and dealers alike. New or used, Van Meter is a book to be added to every numismatic library. Back to menu Apr 00

Shore, Fred, Parthian Coins & History, Ten Dragons Against Rome, CNG, 1993

The Parthians were recorded in history mainly as the enemies of Rome. They left no written history of their own to balance the scales. Coins of the Parthians present the collector with many variations on a very few major types. The kings rarely even wrote their own name on the coins but used the name of the founder of the dynasty Arsakes. In this book Fred Shore does an excellent job of relating what is known about Parthian history. In addition, he catalogs his beautiful collection of Parthian silver coins in an exceptionally clear manner. Listings are illustrated with excellent photographs and explained by italicised notes to clarify any point that might not have been otherwize obvious. He is much less successful, however, in the catalog of bronze coinage. Few of these were illustrated due to the poor state of preservation of the specimens. These missing photographs would certainly have done nothing for the beauty of the book but they would have greatly expanded its value to collectors willing to consider owning these wretched little bronze coins. As it is, this is still a great book that belongs in every numismatic library. Back to menu Feb 98

Jones, A. H. M., Constantine and the Conversion of Europe, Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching, 4, U. of Toronto Press, 1978

Facts about the times of Constantine the Great are difficult to separate from reports colored by historians with an agenda. To Christians, Constantine was the man who ended the persecutions of their faith; a man who could do no wrong. Pagan historians had difficulty seeing the good in the man. Certainly he was so powerful that negative information was not published until the primary sources were long gone. The author discusses critically the evidence from all sources including bits of information from surviving inscriptions and documents to present a balanced view on the events of the early 4th century AD. I found the discussion of the events surrounding the deaths of Crispus and Fausta most interesting. While this is not a coin book, collectors of the Constantinian period should enjoy knowing more about the history of the period they collect. This little paperback is clearly written and full of information about a period not well covered by historians. Back to menu Feb 98

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith