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Colonial Coins by Bowers


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Colonial and Early American Coins by Q. David Bowers, Atlanta: Whitman Publishing LLC, 332 pages. $49.95 –

(The full review originally appeared in the CSNS Centinel.)


Q. David Bowers has outdone himself. Far more than yet another interesting book about fascinating highlights in numismatics, Colonial and Early American Coins is a new standard reference for the new century. That is highly appropriate because as divisive as our politics can be – Howard Fast to Ayn Rand; Al Franken to Ann Coulter – perhaps no period of American history collects liberals and conservatives, paleos and neos, traditionalists and libertarians, as does the colonial and early federal. Proof of that is the fact that the popular edition of this book is sold out. (The premium binding is still available as of this writing, July 2009.)


“Colonials have always played to a fairly lively market, but a small one in comparison to federal coins,” Bowers replied to me via email (04/30/2009). “I am not aware of any time in American numismatic history, from the 1850s when collecting became popular, down to the present day, that, for example, a basic 1652-dated Pine Tree shilling in Fine grade has declined in value. A charting at ten-year intervals will show an increase. The reason for this is that Colonial coins have little if any interest to “pure” investors or speculators. Instead, the market has been completely comprised of buyers who are interested in Colonial coins and their history, and who cherish their ownership.”


Like other works in the Whitman Encyclopedia series of books, this volume also adheres to a standardized format that meets the most important needs of the broadest set of collectors. Each entry has a new Whitman number along with the variety numbers from the previous standard references, Ryder, Maris, etc., and an estimation of rarity. Most of the entries carry a vector of prices for grades Good through Mint State. (Others are seen too seldom at auction.)


Like the colonies themselves, modern numismatists are united in diversity. Opinions run deep. The Articles of Confederation showed that some of the founders contemplated Canada’s joining the new union. Yet, this book contains no Canadian coins. However, Hogge Island and Hibernia coppers have long been accepted as belonging to the colonial family. Those are listed at the back, because just which branches of the family tree are theirs is debatable.


For me, this work provides a rich treasury of economic facts about colonial America. The extensive copper coinages and the ready acceptance of both copper and silver from abroad are evidence of how people in those times and places bought and sold. The inscriptions, mottoes and devices of the coins are the rubrics for the political debates of 18th century America. You can read McCullough’s John Adams (or watch the video), but to feel the cobblestones under your feet, you need to hold a coin in your hand. This book provides the framework for understanding the numismatics which is the physical evidence of the taproots and bedrock of our nation.

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