Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues 1368-1960. Volume Two
Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff
Neil Schafer and George S. Cuhaj, Iola: Krause Publications, 2004. $65.00
This, the third in the series of catalogs devoted to world paper money, is one hefty book. It is three inches thick, softcover, basically the dimensions of a standard letter sheet, and presents 1,176 pages of information.
What is truly fascinating about this book is that it does begin coverage in 1368, in the Ming Dynasty of China. I know that it has always been one of the great maxims of numismatics that paper currency was invented by the Chinese, and this one is true. The notes are large-sized bills in high cash denominations (remember, the cash was the little bronze coin with the square hole in the middle). They continued to be issued until the sixteenth century, and this series in one of the more exotic to be featured.
It is always a treat to look at illustrations of early currency, when there was a bit more manual attention to the notes. The paper was made by hand. The blocks for the vignettes were hand cut or engraved. The printing itself involved real muscle work, and the signatures were in pen and ink
As might be expected, however, the bulk of the coverage extends over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As you follow the progress issues for many nations, it is illuminating to see the impact of technology on the appearance and quality of the notes, including such features as colored ink, intricately engraved security device, security paper and so forth.
To me, what differentiates this book from its earlier predecessors are two major factors. The first of which is that we now know of more issues from many countries, and the second is that we know more about most issues. Plus, there is the consideration that there has been in increase in issuing authorities in the decades after the Second World War.
Now, one of the considerations with modern world paper money is that it is possible to build a very respectable collection, with many and colorful items, from all over the world. And not spend an arm and a leg doing it. This much cannot be said for many other branches of collecting.
This catalog is incredibly useful (and easy to use Ė an important feature) in sorting out an accumulation of banknotes. Even if you canít actually read the inscriptions, there are usually enough clues (as in style of numbering or variety of script) so that you can figure out roughly where the note might be from, and then use the old match item with picture trick to make the identification. This process tends to be successful as the book is profusely illustrated.
Another feature which is really helpful is that some of the more modern issues are broken out by signature variety, which means that you get a better feel not only for the date of the note but also a real handle on the individuals responsible for the issue. With some notes the attention to signature is incredibly precise, noting differences among hand signed, printed signature and stamped signature (as on some of the late ninteenth-century notes of Cuba).
The major reality check about a catalog like this comes down to grading and value. While guides for grading are provided, there still is a strong element of subjectivity in determining condition, particularly when the surviving samples are small or when the note was produced under less than modern conditions. Which leads me to the one fault I find in the grading and pricing category.
In some cases Very Fine is the highest grade listed, which probably does reflect the top of the line for the generally available current population. But higher grades often do exist, and there should be some general guideline for extrapolating or estimating the value. But, all things taken into consideration, this again is one of those references that ought to be on the bookshelf of any serious collector. It covers a lot of time and territory, itís a bit expensive, but itís more than well worth it.
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