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The E-Sylum (8/15/2010)

Book Content

Medals Sometimes Lie

by John W. Adams and Dr. Fernando Chao (h)
with the collaboration of Anne E. Bentley

Adams, Medallic Portraits of Admiral Vernon I was hoping to write this review BEFORE this week's ANA convention, but it was not to be. Last's week's volume of E-Sylum correspondence kept me editing until late Sunday, just before publication. But with so many of you attending the convention, my email workload was pretty light this week, freeing up some time to write something myself.

By now many of you will have attended author Adams' presentation about the book at the Numismatic Bibliomania Society Symposium on Thursday the 12th. I don't know how I could top a presentation from the author himself or the remarks of prior reviewers such as Joel Orosz, who wrote:

“Medallic Portraits of Admiral Vernon does such a superb job of defining the previously indefinable, the only numismatic book in English to which it can appropriately be compared is Sylvester Sage Crosby’s Early Coins of America.”

But here goes.

As previously noted (see below for Alan Luedeking's item from a 2005 E-Sylum), some fourteen numismatic authors from around the world have previously tackled the subject. What does Mr. Adams' work add to the canon? Well, I have to agree with the dust jacket text, which states:

Despite the plethora of available material, there are two needs that have not been met in previous accounts. The first is for images. Because of the small differences between many of the varieties, words along inevitably fail to support attributions, leading to confusion, and inaccuracies.

The second need has been for a balanced history of the events. English authors have tended to view Admiral Vernon as a knight in shining armor. Spanish-speaking authors have seen Vernon as a pirate and an overrated one at that. Using source documents drawn from both sides of the conflict, we have attempted to provide a balanced view.

Earlier works that I've seen pictured only a few of the medals, and often poorly at that. The color illustrations throughout the Adams book certainly remedy that problem, although my aging eyes would have appreciated some enlargements to enable easier viewing of some details of these intricate medals.

As a bibliophile I greatly appreciate the Prior Art chapter, which enumerates and describes all fourteen major earlier works on the topic, from 1835 to 1966. The four-page Bibliography references a wide range of books, articles, correspondence and auction catalogs.

Cabinets visited include the American Numismatic Society, British Museum, Massachusetts Historical Society, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, National maritime Museum, Greenwich, Royal Coin Cabinet, Stockholm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, and Yale University. Several E-Sylum readers also contributed by submitting their private collections to the census, including Syd Martin, David Menchell and John Sallay.

Admiral Vernon Medal vn2-153

Online information is limited, but the bibliography notes Plowman's Coins-of-Panama.Com ( The above image of a typical medal is taken from the site.

The battles commemorated by the Admiral Vernon medals took place between November 1739 and April 1741 as England and Spain struggled for control of the New World. Most are related to events at Portobello and Cartagena. The extensive History of Events chapter (p13-31) provides a very interesting review of the events and personalities involved - a must-read for understanding the background of the medals.

The core of the book is The Medals chapter, comprising pages 33-200. Each medal is illustrated obverse and reverse, with size, composition and rarity information along with text descriptions of the legends and devices.

Appendix I holds tables of concordances with the major prior catalog systems for Admiral Vernon medals, including Betts, Ferrari, Milford Haven, Medina and Grueber (Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland).

Collectors and bibliophiles are getting a quite substantial book for their money. The large 240-page hard covered book is coffee-table sized (12" by 9"), bound in grey cloth, with a beautiful full-color dust jacket.

To order, contact publishers Kolbe & Fanning, Gahanna, Ohio, 2010. $95.00 plus $5.00 shipping in the United States, $25 to Canada and $40.00 elsewhere. To visit the firm's web site, see:

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: NEW BOOK: MEDALLIC PORTRAITS OF ADMIRAL VERNON (

To read Alan Luedeking's note on earlier authors, see: ON JOHN ADAMS' ADMIRAL VERNON MEDALS WORK (

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