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BOOK REVIEWS: 100 GREATEST AMERICAN MEDALS AND TOKENS BY JAEGER AND BOWERS

The E-Sylum (11/18/2007)


Book Content

The E-Sylum: Volume 10, Number 47, November 18, 2007, Article 5

BOOK REVIEWS: 100 GREATEST AMERICAN MEDALS AND TOKENS BY JAEGER AND BOWERS

My copy of the much-anticipated '100 Greatest American
Medals and Tokens' book by Katherine Jaeger and Q. David
Bowers arrived on Tuesday. It's been well worth the wait.
By necessity, the text describing each of the items is short,
enabling each page to include a title header, value estimate
footer, and two photos. But just because the text is brief,
don't dismiss it - good things come in small packages. The
text is well-written, short and to the point - perfect for
highlighting the most important and interesting facts about
each piece.

Some good, original research went into the text, and libraries
lacking this book will have holes in their coverage of
American numismatics. For example, item #95, the Washington
/ Column Indian Peace Medal has never been illustrated before.
Discovered in the collection of the British Museum by George
Fuld in 1960, the only other known example is in the hands
of the Micmac Indian tribe in Nova Scotia.

The most prominent characteristic of each entry is the
photographs - a sumptuous feast of eye-candy for the numismatist.
Most of the images are reproduced at a diameter of 60mm, with
the actual sizes being described in the text. Whitman Publishing
and the authors deserve special recognition for their commitment
to obtaining and reproducing the finest images available. It
is easy for the casual reader to take them for granted, but I'm
willing to bet that gathering the photos was the most lengthy
and difficult part of writing this book.

Kudos to whoever selected the photo of George Washington's
Mount Rushmore profile to accompany the 1792 Washington
"Born Virginia" medal (#72) - the juxtaposition is a delight.
As the caption states, "Borglum's profile is remarkably similar
to that on the Born in Virginia copper."

As I mentioned in earlier E-Sylum items about the upcoming
book, I was pleased and privileged to be one of the reviewers
invited to vote on the "contestants". But the most difficult
thing for me was voting intelligently without having illustrations
of the items in front of me. I understood however, that the
authors and voters were in a "chicken-and-egg" situation -
the authors couldn't gather photos of every item until the
top 100 were selected, while many of us voting wished to have
photos on which to base their votes.

Several E-Sylum readers offered their assistance to the project
and deserve recognition from bibliophiles everywhere. Some of
these tokens and medals are so rare that without the cooperation
of collectors the book might never have been completely
illustrated. Those offering specimens for illustration include
Remy Bourne, Ray Dillard, Dick Johnson, Chris Neuzil, Dave
Perkins, Pete Smith, Steve Tanenbaum, Alan Weinberg and Ben Weiss.

Leafing through the book I encountered favorite after favorite.
Call me a guy who never met a numismatic item he didn't like,
but I didn't see a single piece that I could argue didn't belong
in the book. Some of my favorites are: the 1818 New Spain Jola
(#96), the Washington / Column Indian Peace Medal (2 known, #95),
the 1746 Annapolis Tuesday Club medal (3 known, #80), the 1824
Washington / Lafayette counterstamps (#48), Hard Times Tokens
(#34) and the 1714 Glouchester Court House token (#33).

Topping the list was (naturally) the 1776 Libertas Americana
Medal, which the authors note won the top spot by a good margin.
It certainly had my vote for No. 1 - its beauty, symbolism,
craftsmanship and place in history are unparalleled. A close
second was I believe, also my second choice - the Washington
Before Boston medal.

The 18-page introduction opens with a discussion of the
book project, then describes in approximate chronological
order the making and use of tokens and medals in America.
At 148 pages, the hardcovered glossy dust-jacketed book
looks somewhat thin, but the large coffee-table page format
makes for an impressive appearance.

The next time someone asks me for a list of books a newcomer
to numismatics ought to read, '100 Greatest American Medals
and Tokens' will be on it. This is probably the first
numismatic book that I would unquestionably recommend to
people both inside and outside of the hobby. When they're
old enough, I just might give a copy to each of my kids so
they can start to understand what Daddy finds so fascinating
about those little round things he collects and hunches over
the computer writing about.

Dave Bowers writes: "The book was very stimulating to do,
and I learned a lot in the process."

Dennis Tucker writes: "Image gathering followed the 80/20
rule: 80% of the images were relatively easy to compile, and
20% were like herding cats! If the hobby community weren't
made up of so many helpful, generous collectors and researchers,
the image gathering would have been next to impossible.

"There's been a lot of passionate debate and conversation
about this book already. I like reading and hearing dissenting
opinions on what should have been No. 1, what should have made
the list and didn't, etc. From the amount of spirited discussion
online and elsewhere, I'd say that medals and tokens have an
energized fan base and are doing just fine!"

Katie Jaeger writes: "The Micmac medal was published in the
British Journal 'The Medal' in the 1960s, and in the 1970s,
photos were shown in the Maine History Journal. But never
in the U.S. numismatic mainstream, to be sure!

"Some who already knew the material inside and out were
disappointed as to the rankings - nobody will ever be
completely happy with any 100 greatest in any field; of
course, that is impossible. When I watch those TV countdowns
of 100 movies, 100 comedians, etc., and wait patiently through
all the commercials to see what No. 1 is, I usually end up
saying to myself 'Are they nuts?' "

[The debate is where all the fun is. As Katie notes, it's a
pointless task to argue over whether a certain item "ought to
be" ranked 65th instead of 66th, and since 100 is such a small
fraction of the hundreds of thousands of possible candidates,
there will always be legitimate candidates for inclusion in
a future edition. I also think that now that the images
and background are published for the 100 items chosen in the
first edition, some of them are likely to be ranked differently
in future editions (some higher, some lower). -Editor]

For more information, visit the Whitman Publishing web site:
Full Story

[One of the opposing opinions comes from Dick Johnson.
He agrees that Whitman has produced a great book, but takes
issue with some of the contents. -Editor]

Dick Johnson writes: "Just received this week: '100 Greatest
American Medals and Tokens.' It is the third in Whitman's '100
Greatest' series following 'Coins' and 'Paper Money' and it is
outstanding. Authors Katie Jaeger and Dave Bowers are to be
commended.

"The illustrations are stunning: full page, full color, high
quality. The items are arranged in order and the first ten rate
a double page spread; remaining 90 got the full page treatment.
Each page is so attractive it could be removed from the book
and framed. Whitman's art department and the printer in China
outdid themselves.

"However, the book is misnamed. It should be '100 Notable American
Medals and Tokens'. For included among the 'Greatest 100' are
OPA Tokens (no. 81) and Sales Tax Tokens (no. 82). I have nothing
against these items, they exist and are widely collected (as a
teenager I formed collections of each myself).

"But to consider an OPA token a "greatest"? American coin
and medal artists are screaming "How could this be? Where
is the artistic quality, the creativity in their design?"
Similarly, sales tax tokens were issued for a very limited
purpose (for a short time). They were struck from quickly
made dies that generally lack artistic design. To consider
them a "great" is an insult to artists, diesinkers, engravers,
medallists, who labor for days to create attractive glyptic
art objects with permanent meaning preserved in metal forever.

"Perhaps I am at fault. When offered to be a 'selector' for
this project I declined. I objected to the concept of placing
both medals AND tokens in the same book. Each numismatic
category has ample number of great items. Maybe if I had
accepted I could have proved the folly of including such
lackluster items and putting both medals and tokens in one
book.

"Be that as it may, I recommend buying this book. In fact,
buy several copies. Give them as gifts. Let's drain Whitman
of its stock of this first printing. Then, perhaps, for a
second edition it could be replaced by two books, each
extolling the greatest in each class of these fascinating
and desirable numismatic items. That would be the Greatest!"

[I differ with Dick on this point. It's not called the "100
Most Artistic Medals and Tokens", either. I could see a market
for a "Most Artistic" or "Most Beautiful" book, but when I
read the word "Greatest", I think "Most Important". And from
an historical and economic standpoint, OPA and Sales tax tokens
are just as important as many other included items. And there
are some highly-ranked medals which aren't too much to look at,
like the primitive Micmac medal (and I don't care much for the
design of the Admiral Vernon medals, either). But they are
all important and "great" in their own way. Still, like Dick,
I would welcome separate token and medal volumes and perhaps
these will come to pass in the future. -Editor]

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