By David Thomason Alexander for CoinWeek …..
100 Greatest Modern World Coins
By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker; Foreword by Donald Scarinci.
Whitman Publishing LLC, 160 pages, lavishly illustrated, hardcover.
Rarely has a numismatic book published in modern times achieved the overall excellence displayed by this newest Whitman Greatest title. Authors Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have collaborated with remarkable success in compiling their list of “Greatest” world coins produced since the opening of the 20th century.
The authors were (and still are) well aware of the controversies lying in wait for their exhaustive labors. Opening with a definition of “Greatest,” they determined that no single factor could place any coin in this rarified category. Several had to be considered for each coin listed, including history, beauty, popularity, quality, rarity, and value. Above all, they selected coins with a story, the key ingredient that makes any coin appealing to determined collectors. Every effort was made to widen the scrutiny of geographical regions and countries beyond a narrow Eurocentric focus. This has resulted in a relatively thorough examination of coins of the Far East, Asia, and Africa that have been so often ignored by mid-20th-century catalogers.
In this quest, certain historical figures loom larger than they might in traditional survey histories. British monarch George V, King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India, appears repeatedly since during his reign (1911-1936) the British Empire reached its peak and began its transition into a Commonwealth. Thus, rarities in the still-new coinages of Canada, South Africa, and Australia receive attention, illuminated by carefully chosen portraits of King George and such figures as Canada’s Governor-General Grey, South Africa’s S.J.P. Kruger, Generals J.B.M. Hertzog and Field Marshal Jan C. Smuts.
British mega-rarities illustrated and described include the never-issued 1937 Proof coins prepared by The Royal Mint for King Edward VIII, subsequently the Duke of Windsor after his abdication and marriage to American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson. The coins were fatally delayed by the new king’s fuss over which way his head would face. All denominations are illustrated, from bronze farthing through gold five pounds.
Non-collectible British coins of more recent years include the 1953 Elizabeth II gold half sovereign, sovereign, two and five pounds – of which only three of each denomination were ever struck. Unlike her father’s 1937 coinage, no collector-only gold coins were to be struck, but photos of these great rarities are enough to fill any collector with hopeless yearning.
In its representation of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese rarities, this new book has no equal.
Chinese coverage is complicated by the authors’ decision to present transliterations of Chinese names and terms in the Pinyin rather than in the older Wade-Giles style. Generations of western numismatists were raised on the older method and it is a difficult adjustment to make. If adopted, however, the newer style will harmonize future numismatic publications with those in most other fields of study.
The Chinese rarities listed provide an unequaled roster of historic coinage. The accompanying portraits and artwork of the last emperors and such later figures as General, President, and almost-Emperor Yuan Shikai offer windows into a turbulent era of Chinese and world history. Much of the confusion dating back to pioneer Wayte Raymond and his compiler Howland Wood in creating the 1938 Coins of the World is resolved by the meticulous Morgan-Walker listings.
Elsewhere the authors’ resolve uncertainties in such once-puzzling areas as the gold coinage of modern Romania, where a 1940 six-coin gold set of King Carol II is superbly described and richly illustrated. Carol, “that bounder” to his British cousin King George V, issued these somewhat ostentatious coins in 1940 to celebrate his 10th anniversary on the throne that he usurped from his young son Michael. They proved to be Carol’s last coinage issues.
Among modern central European coinages, notice is taken to the early postwar coins of West Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland, “Federal”, not “People’s”, Republic) and East Germany, the “German Democratic Republic” (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), with a somewhat benign review of the latter, now vanished regime. The legendary wartime 1916 German East Africa gold 15 Rupien is presented but without mention of the remarkable colonial war waged under Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who ended World War I during a successful invasion of British Rhodesia.
Italian rarities include both silver and gold issues of the numismatist king Victor Emmanuel III, who reigned 44 years through the most difficult of times, making his last act on Italian soil the gift of his vast collection to the Italian people. His son Umberto II succeeded him but the monarchy ended before coins could be prepared.
Among truly modern coins of exceptional historical interest but not earth-shattering rarities are the five 1991 Russian pieces inscribed GOSUDARSTVENNYI BANK SSSR (or the “State Bank of the USSR”), the last issues of a disappearing Soviet Union that soon after dissolved. Here is another example of an important but not overwhelmingly costly modern coin set.
Perhaps the most distinguished achievement, apparent throughout this book, is its successful emphasis on the Story behind each coin listed, regardless of market value or auction record. Not every collector may be able to obtain world-class rarities, but none can escape the inspiration of their tumultuous stories set forth so skillfully by Morgan and Walker.
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100 Greatest Modern World Coins can be ordered from CoinWeek Supplies, P.O. Box 221591, Chantilly, VA 20153 at $22.46 USD per copy.