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Review from Spink’s Monthly Numismatic Circular, 1911

Historia Numorum, A Manual of Greek Numismatics, New and Enlarged Edition, by Barclay V. Head, assisted by G. F. Hill, George Macdonald and W. Wroth.

Royal 8 vo. 967 pp. + LXXXVII pp. introduction, V Tables and VII Indices. Numerous illustrations in the text.
Published by Clarendon Press, London, 1911.
Price with cloth binding £ 2.2.0 net.
with morocco binding £ 2.6.0 net.
May be obtained from Spink & Son Limited, 17 Piccadilly, London

No work on ancient Greek numismatics has ever rendered greater services than Dr Head’s ‘Historia Numorum'.

It’s first publication in 1887 was epoch-making; it gave a fresh impetus to the study of classical coins; it became the indispensable companion to all students of Greek archeology, the most useful ‘imultum in parvo’ reference book of all numismatists.

When presenting Dr Head with the ‘Corolla Numismatica‘ on his retirement from the keepership of the Medal Department at the British Museum in 1906, the late Sir John Evans, expressed the earnest desire that the erudite author of ‘Historia Numorum’ might be spared in the interest of science and live to see the second edition of his standard work, the completion of the crowning work of his life.

Sir John Evans is no longer amongst us, but his wish has been realized; and we heartily congratulate Dr Head on the speedy termination of his great task.

As the author points out in his preface "during all the five-and-twenty years which have elapsed since the publication of the first edition of ‘Historia Numorum’ there has been no interval, pause, or standstill in the steadily increasing output of numismatic works, all necessitating changes of some sort in the text of the ‘Historia’. Catalogs of public and private collections, and innumerable special articles in the periodicals devoted to classical numismatics and archeology, have all had to be taken into account. In Great Britain alone no fewer than seventeen volumes have been added to the still unfinished ‘Catalog of Greek Coins’ in the British Museum, while the Hunterian Collection at Glasgow has been scientifically arranged and described by Dr G. Macdonald in three stately quartos (1899-1905)". A corresponding number of important works have seen the light on the continent within the same period. To mention only the principal, Babelon’s various Catalogues and his ‘Traitť des Monnaies grecques et romaines’, Dr Imhoof-Blumer’s numerous memoirs and papers, published either as separate volumes or in contribution to various periodicals, the publications of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, Dr Haeberlin’s monumental work on the Aes grave of Rome and Central Italy, and the able works of Mr. J. N. Svoronos, keeper of coins at the Athens Museum.

To incorporate all the new material available since 1887 and to condense it in the way Dr Head has done was not an easy task, and could only be accomplished by one who, having such a wide grasp of the subject, was able to discriminate between the wheat and the chaff, the contributions of real practical value and the mass of speculative literature varying more or less in reliability.

The author was well advised in publishing the revised edition of the ‘Historia’ in one volume, thus retaining its style and appearance with which we are all so familiar.

Some portions of the former edition have been omitted which were not of absolute necessity, but notwithstanding the additions amount in all to no less than 160 pages, consisting principally of new references, descriptions of coins recently published, interesting notes, etc.

In his revision of the ‘Historia’ Dr Head secured the eminent assistance of Messrs. G. F. Hill, and Warwick Wroth of the British Museum, Dr George Macdonald of the Hunterian Museum, and Prof E. J. Rapson who gave their special attention to the respective parts of the work with which they were most familiar.

Admirable as the new edition of ‘Historia Numorum’ is, it does not, perhaps, altogether come up to the expectations that were held out. Scientists may challenge as out of date some of the theories on metrology, classification, etc. that Dr Head still retains. Some minor publications, chiefly German, have remained unnoticed. But it is not my province to pass any adverse criticism on a book which must ever remain the standard work on Greek numismatics. Some varieties which have come to light within recent years are omitted; thus to mention only one, the remarkable didrachm, acquired in 1906 by the Berlin Museum, showing on obv. in front of a horse, a naked warrior by the side of whom is a youth engaged in fastening his armour. It is also a matter for regret that all the old blocks have been used again for the new edition, as some of them which were of poor quality might have been recut at little expense, and fresh ones included. A few autotypes plates at the end of the book showing characteristic types of the various periods of Greek coinage would have been also a welcome addition, without materially increasing the size of the volume.

These matters of detail were no doubt thought of by the author, who found good reasons for issuing the ‘Historia’ in its present form, and any further comment is unnecessary, as Dr Head’s name is the best guarantee of the high quality and thoroughness of the work.

L. F.