Researcher exhaustively studies medallic representations of George Washington

Results published in illustrated two-volume work
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 12/15/16
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An independent review of Medallic Washington, Volume I, 1777-1860; Volume II, 1861-1890, 830 pages, by Neil Musante, published by Spink & Son, London and Boston 2016:

The following is as much an appreciation as a review, introducing a dramatic new addition to American medallic literature.

I learned long ago that indepen­dent book reviews are of the great­est value to enquiring readers, though few independent reviews ever appear. 

Books have been the bone and sinew of American numismatics since coin and medal collecting first began in the United States.

Pioneering books on coins, medals and tokens began appearing somewhat erratically in the mid-19th century on a hit or miss basis. Dealers published some premium lists disguised as books, and a very few dedicated specialists published their own studies for the few interested collectors.

The most serious efforts were those created by the few learned societies then existing, notably the New York-based American Numismatic Society. Then Augustus G. Heaton’s Treatise on the Mints of the United States appeared as a private publication in 1893 and permanently turned most American collectors exclusively toward U.S. coins by date and Mint mark. 

Washingtoniana leads the way

A note on vocabulary: “Washingtonia” is a tall palmate-leafed palm tree seen in southern California and Florida; “Washingtoniana” are objects relating to the life and career of the Father of Our Country. A trivial point that aids clarity.

In pre-Civil War United States, interest in medals had already developed, particularly in medals of George Washington. The first deluxe book on the subject was James Ross Snowden’s A Description of the Medals of Washington; of National and Miscellaneous Medals, published by the U.S. Mint in 1861.

Mint Director Snowden created an exceptionally handsome large format reference based on the Mint’s own medal collection. A treat to the eye, the book actually presented many sketchy or inaccurate descriptions.

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