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Numismatic Literature: #1 Book for Beginners? (Roman Imperial)


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Hi All, 

@rNumis's recent thread on numismatic literature got me thinking... 

If you could recommend just 1 (ok... maybe 2) book(s) for a beginner focused on Roman Imperial coins - what would it be? 

I've been pretty content thus far to rely on the internet, and I do think there's a wealth of information available these days. Seems to me a numismatic library isn't necessary like it used to be. But, I imagine it's still valuable to have extra resources handy, and probably a bit "nicer" to browse a book-in-hand

Thanks in advance for the recommendations!

John

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The books by Sear. Roman coins and their values. I can recommend those. Not as complete as RIC, though, and the value estimates are pretty useless. It has nice pictures, and interesting back ground info. 

More basic is the one by Van Meter, the Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins. Its pretty complete, but you have to get used to working with it.

Books seem to still contain more info then the internet. or perhaps im horrible at searching. There are other interesting books, about the history behind coins, for example. Eg the book by clive foss. 

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Ancient Coin Collecting (Vol. III) by Wayne G. Sayles is a good book for the beginner:

Ancient Coin Collecting - Vol III, 2nd ed. : Roman Politics and Propaganda (vcoins.com)

Also the first volume in Mr Sayles' series is highly recommended. This one is a more general book about collecting ancients, not focused on Imperial Rome in particular:

Ancient Coin Collecting, Vol. I, 2nd Ed. | Ancient Coin Books (vcoins.com)

 

I highly recommend Sear also. I don't know of any other affordable reference work that is reasonably comprehensive. I have the first volume (Rome is covered in 5 volumes) which covers the Roman Republic to Domitian. I enjoy looking up my coins even if I already have the RIC number. You can buy them one at a time or all 5 in one set if you want:

Sear: Roman Coins & Their Values. 5 volumes complete | Roman Imperial Coins (vcoins.com)

 

It isn't focused on Roman coins in particular, but I found this book to be immensely enjoyable and helped broaden my knowledge and appreciation of ancient coins. I highly recommend it!

100 Greatest Ancient Coins: Harlan Berk: 9780794846329: Amazon.com: Books

 

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Posted (edited)

I think that you’re right that a library of introductory books isn’t as necessary as it was in the past. There are just so many good online sources of information these days. So, I’d recommend skipping the beginner or generalist books (Sear, Sayles, etc.). Where books still shine as valuable resources is when you have a particular interest or focus. If you like Constantinian London mint coins, there’s a great resource in “The London Mint of Constantius & Constantine” by Cloke and Toone. If you like Alexandrian coins, books by Milne and Emmett are great resources. There are many more examples for focuses like Roman Republic, Gallienus, Gallic emperors… and so on… that are essential to finding up to date information on these subjects.

Now… on my advice above… I’ve done the opposite of what I suggest. I have all of the books that I think you could skip. I love books and love thumbing through them, but have found I only use these generalist books very occasionally and only because sometimes I just want to kick back with a book. 

Anyway, unless you just like spending money and/or collecting heavy things you don’t use… I’d find a few interests first, and get some books specializing on those areas.

Edited by Orange Julius
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The Sear books are great, especially for the many illustrations.  I have every one, save for 4, which seems to be the scarce/rare one.

The one by Van Meter is a bargain.  Forum has it, I believe, and is/was $35.  That was my first real reference, and is a nice beginner's book.

I don't know if the electronic version of ERIC is still up, or if it's still free.  It was some years back.

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Posted (edited)

If we are talking pure beginner then I suggest NOT spending your money on Reference books (RIC/Sear) - this information is widely available online... I would suggest you spend your money on new coins!

If you are interested in LEARNING about ancient coins and ancient coin collecting then I suggest Wayne Sales books. They are very reasonably priced used and so enjoyable to read.

Also one of my favorite books to this day is  "Coinage In the Roman World" by Andrew Burnett. Its an incredible book that is so well written, engaging and accessible that I cannot recommend it enough.

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Edited by Constantivs
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I love "A History of the Coinage of the Roman Empire" by David Vagi. It is in two volumes, the first of which is a detailed history of each emperor. The second volume concerns their coins. I feel it is the historical aspect of this hobby that enriches the numismatic component so much. Vagi's work is just packed with historical content which allows you to appreciate the coins so much more.

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Posted (edited)
15 minutes ago, Octavius said:

I love "A History of the Coinage of the Roman Empire" by David Vagi. It is in two volumes, the first of which is a detailed history of each emperor. The second volume concerns their coins. I feel it is the historical aspect of this hobby that enriches the numismatic component so much. Vagi's work is just packed with historical content which allows you to appreciate the coins so much more.

I would agree - but I haven't seen a used set for under $200 USD lately.

Edited by Constantivs
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Posted (edited)

Everyone is different, but I haven't found materials online to be anywhere near as useful to me as a new learner as books have been.  I'm the sort of person who needs some "hooks" to hang new concepts and information on.  And I like things organized systematically.  I want to see how such-and-such relates to such-and-such.  I find that books that are written for pedagogical purposes supply this systematic, conceptual framework that I need. I do know a number of numismatists with far more knowledge than I have argue that one doesn't need to rely on books very much (if at all), but I wonder if they aren't taking for granted the knowledge that they already possess--knowledge which probably came in (large) part from books.  Or, perhaps I'm just missing the best learner's websites online!

Having said that, I have at least seen some of the online material.  I find much of it to be very specialized, though not all, of course.

I agree with what others have said here about Sayles.  I read his Vol. 1 (3rd edition, if I remember correctly), and found it as a general introduction to ancient coin collecting to be very useful, notwithstanding that it is heavily dated (cf. his discussions of how "the internet" has changed the hobby).  Sayles offers a very good overview of the coins and the field of collecting them that beginners can do well to study.  

I began his second volume in his series--the one on Greek coins--many months ago, but life events put my numismatic learning on hold for a considerable amount of time.  I am going to resume now! What I can say, is this: if his Roman book is anything like his Greek book, it will be well, well worth the investment of your time and money.  I intend to read the full series.

Also, I can mention that if you contact him through Vcoins, you may be able to get a discount if you are ordering more than one volume.  And the prices there are quite reasonable to begin with.  I am happy to buy from Sayles' Vcoins store, and I recommend it to others.

As for Sear, I have his one volume book "Roman Coins and their Values."  This is a very concise catalogue that is intended to serve as a reference book.  By all means, buy one if you wish, but this is actually one area that I think the internet does considerably better, since Sears' work is, by necessity, leaving out so many coins.  Online, there are thousands more coins that are catalogued, with better photos, and current market prices.  As for good information about history and numismatics, Sears' work is not the right source for that.  It is a very concise catalogue, nothing more--though it is useful as a concise catalogue. 

I am aware that Sears has a 5 volume version.  I am interested in seeing it, but have not been able to get my hands on one yet.  

Edited by NathanB
Just a few touch-ups for clarity and grammar.
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As a beginner, if you need a book, I bet you don't want to spend too much money on them.

Sear's "Roman coins and their values" is a very good one IMO, but acquiring the 5 volumes will cost you around 300$. An alternative would be the 1988 edition, in one volume only, available used for around 30/40 $ and spanning the whole period. Of course it's far from complete, of course you can only use prices as a rarity index (a very relative one at this) but it's still a good introductory book I think

Just my two sestertii

Q

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This is great input thanks guys! 

Makes sense to me that the reference books are kind of substitutable with wildwinds, etc. - I will probably order a couple of the Sayles books and 1 or 2 others

I really wish the Vagi books were more reasonable, but I can't shell out $200 on books. Would rather buy more coins... 😄

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Posted · Supporter
21 hours ago, Constantivs said:

If we are talking pure beginner then I suggest NOT spending your money on Reference books (RIC/Sear) - this information is widely available online... I would suggest you spend your money on new coins!

If you are interested in LEARNING about ancient coins and ancient coin collecting then I suggest Wayne Sales books. They are very reasonably priced used and so enjoyable to read.

Also one of my favorite books to this day is  "Coinage In the Roman World" by Andrew Burnett. Its an incredibly book that is so well written, engaging and accessible that I cannot recommend it enough.

image.thumb.png.60739dcbf07618bf224495d4e7d30d13.png

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I second the recommendation for this book - a great read - it has much information and analysis not found in catalogues of coins.   There are companion volumes for the Celtic World and the Greek World.   The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage is also good, though larger and more expensive:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Oxford-Handbook-Greek-Coinage-Handbooks/dp/0199372187/ref=sr_1_1?crid=EU8L8KE4KWF&keywords=Oxford+Handbook+of+Greek+and+Roman+coinage&qid=1654649358&sprefix=oxford+handbook+of+greek+and+roman+coinage%2Caps%2C40&sr=8-1

ATB,

Aidan.

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When I was a new collector many moons ago, before the internet, I had the one volume sear Roman coins and their values and the two volume Greek coins in their values. They are short enough that you can take a bookmark and steadily flip through them over a few pleasant weeks.  Read the parts that grab your attention and look at the pictures for the rest. Then you will have seen a lot of the major rulers, types, portraits, cities, etc. and when you're looking at coins online you will have a much better idea of what they are. You may not remember all of the coins from the book but you will retain a surprising amount. I flipped through all three books several times over the course of the years and it has helped broaden my knowledge.

John

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On 6/7/2022 at 8:56 PM, akeady said:

@akeady Thanks for the recommendation Aidan - just ordered it from Amazon. It's $50 for the new softcover...not exactly cheap, but for a 600+ page collection of diverse articles by some well known authors, it seems not exactly expensive either 😄.

From the description: "...The subsequent thirty-two chapters, all written by an international group of distinguished scholars, cover a vast geography and chronology, beginning with the first evidence of coins in Western Asia Minor in the seventh century BCE and continuing up to the transformation of coinage at the end of the Roman Empire. "

Looking forward to reading it!

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Has anyone read "Money and Government in the Roman Empire" by Richard Duncan-Jones?

Not a coin collecting book per se, but as someone with a lot of finance and economics training I am really interested in this higher level, economics-focused review of Roman coinage. Wonder if it's any good?

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5 minutes ago, jfp7375 said:

Has anyone read "Money and Government in the Roman Empire" by Richard Duncan-Jones?

Not a coin collecting book per se, but as someone with a lot of finance and economics training I am really interested in this higher level, economics-focused review of Roman coinage. Wonder if it's any good?

I enjoyed Kenneth Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy

image.png.b0f96eaa2867b523f6d8ba080c3f1ccb.png

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31 minutes ago, Alegandron said:

I enjoyed Kenneth Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy

image.png.b0f96eaa2867b523f6d8ba080c3f1ccb.png

Kenneth Harl is one of my favorite professors from The Great Courses. I've listened to his course on the Vikings probably 3 or 4 times.

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Ah yes, the Great Courses. I bought many of their DVDs years ago. I have watched Garrett Fagan's courses many times. I have others too, but he was my favorite. Sadly, he passed away in 2017. 

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1 minute ago, rNumis said:

Ah yes, the Great Courses. I bought many of their DVDs years ago. I have watched Garrett Fagan's courses many times. I have others too, but he was my favorite. Sadly, he passed away in 2017. 

I had no idea he'd passed away. I'm currently listening to his course on The Roman Emperors (from late republic/Julius Caeser up to Constantine I) on Audible 

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I actually took several courses at Indiana University back in the 70's from Dr. J Rufus Fears.  He was later known by Great Courses.  He was Professor of the Year at IU 4 different times, and went on to become History Chair at University of OK, where he was Professor of the Year several more times.  He was awesome in the 5 or 6 Ancient History courses that I took with him. Really had a passion and brought it all to life. Unfortunately he passed a few years ago.

 

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RR AE Double Litra 235 BCE 19.5mm 6.54g Rome mint Hercules r club - Pegasus r club ROMA Cr 27-3 HN Italy 316 S 591

Edited by Alegandron
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13 hours ago, rNumis said:

Ah yes, the Great Courses. I bought many of their DVDs years ago. I have watched Garrett Fagan's courses many times. I have others too, but he was my favorite. Sadly, he passed away in 2017. 

That's sad. I have only one of his courses - Great Battles of the Ancient World - but I have listened to that multiple times. Someday, I would love to get his History of Rome.

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