BOOK REVIEW: CURIOUS CURRENCY BY ROBERT D. LEONARD
The E-Sylum (2/28/2010)
Another book that came across my desk this week was an early review copy of Bob Leonard's Curious Currency. My first thoughts were in immediate agreement with a sentiment from Whitman Publishing's press release:
Richly illustrated with full-color photographs and drawings, and handsomely bound in hardcover, this 160-page book is a wonderful bargain at $12.95. It's a great way to get kids interested in collecting. . . a serious compendium for the student of numismatics. . . and a fun read for anyone interested in that ancient and always popular topic, MONEY!
It's a small guidebook (152 pages), but sumptuously illustrated in full color and well documented in 25+ pages of notes, bibliography, photo credits and index (there I go again, looking at the back of the book first). It really is a bargain - in fact, I heard one book dealer understandably grouse that it's hard to make any money on a book published at such a low sticker price. But bibliophiles and numismatists are the winners in this equation.
I was curious myself when I read the book's subtitle: "The Story of Money From the Stone Age to the Internet Age". I was expecting a book on Odd and Curious money, not ALL money. So I had to look and I did find a section on normal coins, several pages worth, although the emphasis was on odd-shaped coins, oversize coins, cut and plugged coins, countermarked coins, etc.
I do think the subtitle greatly oversells the scope of the book, but it's a minor quibble. It is after all a guidebook, focused on breadth rather than depth. As a bibliophile whose shelves once held a dozen other references on Odd and Curious money (Quiggin, Einzig, Opitz, the Schulman Howard Gibbs collection sales), Leonard's book is a handy one to have as a starting point.
It would be a fair question to ask why another guide book to Odd and Curious currency is needed when Opitz' 2000 book, An Ethnographic Study of Traditional Money is available. But that was published privately ten years ago and may not be so available anymore. Besides, every book has its own niche and I've never been one to turn down a 2nd, 3rd or Nth book on an interesting topic. The authors were cooperating, not competing. Bob Leonard lists Charles Opitz first in the Acknowledgements, and he appears on page 94 standing next to a huge piece of Yap stone money.
E-Sylum readers know I'm a fan of all types of unusual numismatic items, and the book is filled with interesting examples, including modern local currencies, 19th century British Labour Exchange Notes, and Pismo Beach Clamshell Money. One neat item I'd never seen before is Abernethy's Rock Money (p117): "Oregon City (Oregon Territory) pioneer merchant George Abernethy made change in his general store in 1844 by gluing miniature promissory notes to chips of flint discarded by Indians."
All in all, a nice piece of work. I think numismatists of all ages and stripes would enjoy it, and I hope to give some copies away to the young numismatists in my area. Like the "Griffin in Her Desk" book, I encourage E-Sylum readers to do the same.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: NEW BOOK: CURIOUS CURRENCY BY ROBERT D. LEONARD (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n08a04.html)