US Coins

The Numismatist editor on what makes a great article

The longtime editor of the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication also collects 19th century cathedral medals created by Belgian engraver Jacques Wiener, as well as tokens advertising, commemorating or depicting vintage films and movie stars.

A good editor makes any writer better and Barbara is one of the best editors our hobby has seen. She envisions an exciting future for publishing where printed and digital books and magazines comfortably coexist and reach new audiences.

Q: What separates a good numismatic article from a great one?

A: In my experience, numismatic articles tend to fall into four categories: “how to” features; research papers; historical overviews; and personal experiences. A good numismatic article clearly lays out the topic and gets to the point, without sounding like a high school term paper. A great article brings the reader on a journey, allowing him to experience the writer’s fascination and frustration, success and failure. Sometimes, collectors just want to feel validated — that another hobbyist enjoys the same coin series or has dealt with the same challenges. 

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Q: What are some of the challenges of running a magazine for a membership organization, and do any articles you’ve published stand out for you?

A: With the ANA’s diverse membership, it is virtually impossible to please all readers all the time. Rather, we strive to present high-quality articles on a great variety of topics. If a reader learns one or two things of value in each issue, I feel we have done our job. Too often, collectors don’t look past their areas of specialty. I like to believe The Numismatist helps expand their horizons. In the October 1986 cover story, Numismatist Editor N. Neil Harris wrote of his personal experiences diving on the sunken Spanish galleon Atocha and described many of the coins salvaged from the wreck. Along the same lines, Robert D. Evans’ article in the April 2008 issue detailed the salvage of the SS Central America, again a first-person report. The scholarship and photos were amazing. For the November 1983 issue, I worked with Eric P. Newman on his fascinating article entitled “Benjamin Franklin and the Chain Design.” It was my first exposure to true numismatic scholarship and to the great numismatist himself.


Q: What’s the biggest mistake that a numismatic writer can make?

A: I’ll give you three! The first is not writing about what they know. Familiarity with the subject — either personal experience or in-depth research — conveys a sense of confidence to the reader and makes for a more engaging story. Second is failing to adequately proofread the text. Errors in fact, spelling and grammar cause reviewers to doubt the overall accuracy of a submitted manuscript. And third is not allowing editors to do their job. A good editor makes any writer better.


Q: When you started at the ANA, did you expect to make your career there?

A: I typically don’t look very far down the road. I always have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. My August 1981 hiring as a part-time editorial assistant for The Numismatist was serendipitous. My work at the ANA has become my life, and the employees my extended family. I am thankful for the ANA’s continued trust and support. It’s nice to think that, perhaps, I have made a difference.

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