Sunday, October 04, 2009

Overstruck Greek Coins

David MacDonald, Overstruck Greek Coins (2009). 14+272 pages. List price $40.

This is a wonderful book! It's a good-quality hardcover. There is no dust jacket but the cover is glossy and full color. (What's the word for that?) Every page is glossy and in color. Each coin is shown enlarged in its section and illustrated again actual size on 22 plates at the end. 160 coins are discussed. The undertype is presenting by line drawings.

This review is a work-in-progress as I haven't finished the book.

Although this book is readable it's not intended for beginners. MacDonald doesn't waste a lot of space defining terms that you already know. It's also not a catalog. In the preface it's made clear that the book isn't even trying to list all commonly encountered overstrikes. It's unlikely but possible that catalogers will start including "MacDonald -" when selling overstricks.

This isn't a breathtaking coffee table book listing the highlights of Greek coin art. The coins are nicer than average grade, and often uglier than average. As MacDonald points out
Overstruck coins are usually ugly. They are not popular with most collectors and, consequently, are avoided by many dealers.
What makes this book wonderful is that the overstruck coins are used to jump into open questions on dating of ancient coins. MacDonald describes simply the currently accepted dating and why it might or must be wrong. He gives enough hints that I could follow the arguments without having to go look up stuff in other books. That's the real strength of this book. In a lot of journal-level numismatic writing the authors are writing towards other PhD classics professors which makes them hard to follow. This book is much smoother.

Because only 160 coins are discussed in nearly 300 pages there is enough room to give background on the coins. We get a lot more than whose on the front and a date range like "480-460". Each coin gets a quality discussion which tells us not just the the issue dates, but often tell us which expert proposed the dates and the historical events that begin or close the date range.

The presentation, with a line drawing of the visible part of the undertype and a photograph of the coin is new to me. It's a good way to present an overstruck coin. MacDonald only reveals the visible lines so there isn't much undertype to see if it is mostly obscured by the overstrike. I would have liked to have seen more undertype, maybe illustrated with dotted lines in grey to indicate that they were reconstructed. Not including those lines is probably more scientific though, because who wants to see reconstructed features that might just be imagination? It's incorrect to make up things in coin catalogs! Thus I think MacDonald chose the right format even if I want something else.

Note that the cover picture on this post, from Whitman's web site, isn't the cover of the actual book, although they are similar. The fake cover says 'Edited by' David MacDonald. The real cover shows those five coins and two more.


Alfredo De La Fe said...

A friend of mine had the priviledge of reviewing the book and was incredibly impressed by the work. Some of his arguments may lead to new dates for various issues.

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