A new and expanded second edition of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, authored by noted historian and professional coin dealer Harlan J. Berk, debuted on March 12 from Whitman Publishing.
In this richly illustrated volume, Berk takes the reader on a personal guided tour of the numismatic antiquities of Greece, Rome, the Eastern Roman (so-called Byzantine) empire, and other parts of the ancient world.
The first edition of was the fifth entry in Whitman Publishing’s “100 Greatest” library (which now includes nearly a dozen volumes) and the first title in that collection to focus on non-American collectibles. It earned the Numismatic Literary Guild’s prestigious award for Best Specialized Book on World Coins.
The new second edition includes a foreword by British numismatist and author Italo Vecchi, who calls the book “a remarkable catalog of 100 exceptional coins” and “invaluable for all serious ancient-numismatic academics, historians, dealers, and amateurs alike.”
In addition to coin-by-coin essays updated with the latest research, the new edition features many upgraded photographs and new content. The latter includes a narrative on “How to Collect Ancient Coins, and What to Avoid,” written in Berk’s engaging, often humorously direct style, with real-world advice from his 55-plus years of experience. This includes insight on how to get started, where to find ancient coins, how to specialize, wise long-term decision-making, and storage and insurance.
Berk also discusses how to authenticate, grade, and assign value to ancient coins. His newly expanded introduction also includes a three-page image gallery of denominations for ancient coins. It shows 55 Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins in gold, silver, bronze, and copper, ranging in size from the tiny 4.5 mm obol to the hefty 47 mm silver dodecadrachm.
Berk offers an illustrated guide to grading ancient coins, from the perfection of Fleur de Coin (FDC), a term the author considers over-used (“As a dealer, out of several thousand coins I grade each year, only one or two can truly be called FDC”), to worn Good condition. He describes the importance of artistic quality in ancient coinage and how it changed over time
His market-oriented advice covers determining the value of ancient coins, being aware of counterfeits, and buying online. Berk offers market values for each of the individual specimens pictured in the book. And “The Education of a Numismatist” gives the reader resources on major numismatic associations, the importance of building a personal library for research, and extensive suggested readings, both general and specialized.
The process for determining the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins was complex. Berk submitted to Whitman Publishing a roster of about a hundred well-known scholars, active coin collectors, and professional dealers from around the world. Each was asked to list and prioritize, from 1 to 100, their choices for the most significant ancient coins.
Their feedback was compiled and analyzed, resulting in the ranking of the 100 greatest. These include unique and high-valued pieces that most collectors can only dream about, as well as more widely available and popular ancient coins.
“Some of the 100 Greatest ancient coins are famous from passages in the Bible or other texts,” said Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker. “Some are so beautiful and iconic that every collector wants one. Others have dramatic or poignant stories, or are connected to legendary figures. Each coin is steeped in history and has a unique tale to tell.”
Berk has pointed out that a good number of the 100 Greatest are readily collectible for $100 or less. Others are valued in the thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars.
A two-page spread is devoted to each of coins No. 1 through No. 10, with Nos. 11 through 100 enjoying a full page. In the banner at the top of each page is the coin’s rank; a descriptive title; the city, state, or region from which it hails; and its date of striking (or an approximation).
Beneath is an enlarged illustration of the coin; a notation of its actual size in millimeters; and, ghosted in the background, the numerals of its 1–100 rank. This is followed by an essay that sets the coin in its historical foundation and describes the virtues of its numismatic greatness. At the bottom of the page, a timeline charts the coin’s position in history, with the birth of Christ marked for context.
Rounding out the book is a gallery of relative sizes, showing each coin in its actual diameter, and a selected bibliography of research sources.
“100 Greatest Ancient Coins is not just a price guide or a fancy picture book,” said Tucker. “This is a fascinating introduction to collecting and studying these important coins. Many hobbyists have been inspired and energized to start or expand their collections after reading Harlan Berk’s work.”
Whitman Publishing is the world’s leading producer of numismatic reference books, supplies, and products to display and store coins and paper money. The company’s high-quality books educate readers in the rich, colorful history of American and world coinage and currency, and teach how to build great collections. Archival-quality Whitman folders, albums, cases, and other holders keep collectibles safe and allow them to be shown off to friends and family.
Whitman Publishing is the Official Supplier of the American Numismatic Association. As a benefit of membership in the ANA, members can borrow the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins (and other Whitman books) for free from the Association’s library and also receive 10% off all Whitman purchases. Details are at www.money.org.
The publication of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins reflects Whitman’s long history in world coin and ancient coin numismatics. It joins such works as Coins of the Bible (Friedberg), the Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins (Klawans), and the award-winning Money of the Bible (Bressett). Other Whitman books in the field include Collecting Ancient Greek Coins (Rynearson) for beginning and intermediate collectors, and the Guide Book of Overstruck Greek Coins: Studies in Greek Chronology and Monetary Theory (MacDonald) for advanced students.
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