US Coins

Go big or go home - large books worth a look

Dr. Edward Maris wrote A Historic Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey, With a Plate. It stands nearly 19 inches high and towers over a "Red Book."

Image courtesy of Joel J. Orosz.

A couple of “Numismatic Bookie” columns from 2013 to 2014 discussed the smallest numismatic literature: miniature books measuring as little as 2.375 inches tall.

This month, we focus on the tallest American numismatic book, A Historic Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey, With a Plate. Its author, Edward Maris, was a physician by trade and a Quaker by faith, and judging by this book, he may have coined the contemporary admonition to “go big or go home.”

How big is The Coins of New Jersey? It towers over a copy of the “Red Book.” Standing a whopping 18.875 inches in height, it became the tallest numismatic book in America upon its publication in 1881, and has never relinquished that title. Most books are classified as octavo (the “Red Book”), or quarto (a major auction catalog).

The tallest volumes are classified as folio, but the Maris book is an “elephant folio,” which can measure up to 23 inches tall.

What was behind producing such an ostentatious skyscraper of a book? For Maris, it was all about the “Plate” in the subtitle. He identified varieties (82 obverse and 57 reverse) of New Jersey coppers, and sought to place, on a single photographic plate, an example of each, with drawn lines connecting die pairs.

It required 140 coin images to depict each obverse, reverse, and die marriage. Placing all on one page would allow comprehensive “at a glance” variety identification, but presenting 140 photographs big enough to show detail necessitated huge pages: hence the “elephant folio.”

Even in that jumbo format, the maximum was 70 individual images per page, so the plate is bound into the book folded in half.

Even 134 years after publication, these photos allow attribution of the coppers “at a glance,” just as Maris intended.

In an 1881 letter published in dealer Ed Frossard’s magazine Numisma, Maris projected publication of 115 books, but only 50 copies seem to have been printed. This combination of rarity and quality make The Coins of New Jersey one of the priciest books in American numismatics.

Two high-quality reprints have been issued, however, one by Quarterman Publications in 1974 and the other by CFG Publications (pictured) in 1987. Both contain a reproduction photographic plate.

However Maris’ book is no longer the last word on the subject. The ultimate book for collectors is New Jersey State Coppers, by Roger S. Siboni, John L. Howes, and A. Buell Ish, published by the American Numismatic Society in 2013.

Fittingly, it is a folio book, but in respect to Dr. Maris, not quite an elephant folio!

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