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Allen G. Berman, Warman’s Coins and Paper Money - Identification and Price Guide, Third Edition
Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff
Allen G. Berman, Iola: kp books, 2005. $21.99
In the normal course of things, I suspect that this interesting and worthwhile book would be off the radar screen of most readers of this periodical. This is part of the entire series of Warman’s Encyclopedia of Antiques and Collectibles. Allen Berman himself, a noted numismatist, author and dealer, notes that “this book was originally conceived to be a basic guide to the hobby written simply but intelligently for both beginning collectors and curious laymen.

It is all of that, and more. The scope of the book is global, with extensive listings for the United States and Canada, including pricing in two grades. The depth of the study, in a timeframe, is impressive, as it begins with the electrum issues of Lydia (the first coinage) and ends with the euro.

Considering that this book might really be an introduction to the hobby, attention is paid to the role of the coin dealer in the scheme of things. Mr. Berman suggests factors by which a dealer may be judged – word of mouth reputation, longevity in the business, membership in professional organizations, and the quality of advertising and catalogues.

But, in this day and age, much coin collecting is done on-line. The author speculates that “it is entirely conceivable that in another few years one-third of all numismatic sales will be done over the internet.” From personal experience, I can attest to the validity of that observation, since there is one area of exonumia that interests me and I had wondered where all the items that should have been on the market had gone, and the answer was “onto the net.” One of the points the author makes about the net is so compelling that it deserves to be quoted in full.

“Ever more powerful search engines are making doing numismatic research a reality. Unfortunately, too many collectors are confusing that somewhat random scattering of information on the Internet for a substitute for basic books. It does not even come close. All too often I have heard people say

‘I tried to look it up on the Internet and couldn’t find it.’ This does not mean that the coin is rare. It more often means that the individual has spent hours using his computer when ten minutes with a Standard Catalog of World Coins would have provided a simple answer, and more likely a more accurate one.”

The book is organized into a fairly logical progression of sections – United States coins, United States paper money, Canadian coins, ancient coins, medieval and renaissance coins, European coins, African coins, early Islamic coins, early Oriental coins, coins of the Americas, and world paper money.

When it comes to illustrations, they are profuse. I can easily conceive of sitting down with one of your favorite “whatsits””– you know, the coin you could never pin down–– and stand a good chance of finding it here.

However, if I have a bone to pick, it is with some of the illustrations. In the section on grading United States coins, the illustration for the almost good Liberty Standing Quarter looks like it is for a Mint State 63. In the section on Canada, the picture that is supposed to be the tiara bust of Elizabeth II is really the reverse of a 1968. beaver. In the color illustration pages, the Edward VII Canadian fifty cents is repeated, with the first citation under an 1897 ten cents. What is listed as a Edward VII British florin is really a Hungarian five-hundred forint piece. And lastly, in a classic blooper, three Islamic coins are depicted at a ninety-degree rotation–– the early Umayyad dirhem, the Sind fractional dirhem, and the Ghaznavid multiple dirhem. But, I have seen similar rotation errors in museum exhibits.

I would like to have seen a section on the Kushan Empire, which flourished in northern India two thousand years ago and which produced many coins (seen cheaply at all shows) that are really mystifying if you don’t have any notion of what they might by. And, in the Americas, the Danish West Indies aren’t covered (this was a series from the early 1700’s to the early 1900’s), even though they are mentioned in the section on Denmark.

These quibbles aside, this is a fun book. And if you have a bag of coins to give a young person as a gift (how many of us got started with just such a present), then maybe this guide should go along with the package.
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