Featured Fitz's Medieval Book Review

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Nov 13, 2016.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Since I am trying to be better read on the coins themselves and not just the history, I've been making an effort to read more coin related books. I know few here specifically collect medieval coins, but in case anyone decided to venture down this rabbit hole they might appreciate my thoughts on some of the literature out there. Or feel free to ignore it - I do this for myself anyway :D

    Torongo, Paul A. Collecting Medieval Coins: A Beginner's Guide. Self Published, 2013.
    ISBN 1492172022
    Price: $50.00


    Grade: C

    Paul Torongo attempted to do the nearly impossible by writing a book on how to collect Medieval Coins. Torongo's book certainly is for the beginner, as many of the basics of coins itself are covered. This is fine in and of itself, but there are numerous problems and difficulties with using the book. Organization seems to be Torongo's nemesis. The order of the contents lacks direction, the reasoning for the inclusion of many coins is random (with the phrase "here is a coin" literally thrown in at certain spots with no explanation as to why the coin is being illustrated), and the works cited is a complete jumbled mess. On the topic of the works cited, Torongo has compiled an impressive number of references for those interested in pursuing specific areas of medieval numismatics. However, there is no citation style in use, meaning sources are not easily found, and when a book is cited in text, the reader is referred to a number with no other identifier. This is incredibly frustrating when trying to check where more information can be found, or where a coin is catalogued (in which case the 'reference number' is eschewed, and the author's last name is given, which is worthless when the works cited isn't organized by author).

    There are other deficiencies I could go into greater detail (spelling & grammar errors, poor choices for examples, and constantly referring to the early Middle Ages as the "Dark Ages"); all make Torongo's book a frustrating read. However, there are positives. There is a great list describing cross forms and names (very common on medieval coins), and numerous Latin place names and their English equivalents. There is a basic introduction to Latin abbreviation marks, which I imagine would be useful to those not familiar with medieval palaeography. The pictures are generally good, and have been enlarged so that more of the details on the coins can be seen. There is a wide variety of coins from all over medieval Europe, which does give one a good taste of the wide opportunities one has in collecting medieval coins. This, more than anything, should be the reason for someone to pick up this book.

    Torongo's book is entitled A Beginner's Guide, and it is that. It seems natural that the beginner would reach for this book as it is readily obtainable from Amazon as a print on demand book, and it can be quite useful as an introduction only. As a reference, organization is its undoing, but it does have the benefit of being one of the few books to actually attempt a wide overview of medieval coins. As I was reading it, I kept thinking 'how could I do this better?' To be frank, I think the only way to cover such a wide range of medieval numismatics would be through a website (much like Wildwinds ).
    BenSi, L C, +VGO.DVCKS and 26 others like this.
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Thanks for the review.

    I could easily go into Medievals full time, but I prefer to just gobble up with whatever appeals to me and in my budget range, which will leave many out of my hands.

    I think this book had a writeup on E-Sylum at one time.
    +VGO.DVCKS and FitzNigel like this.
  4. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I'm not familiar with E-Sylum... looks like I now have more reading to do! Thanks @Mat
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Updated every sunday, newsletter that features book announcements, reviews and weekly articles on coins from around the web.

  6. Theodosius

    Theodosius Fine Style Seeker Supporter

    I think what the author meant by "here is a coin" is "here is a coin I happen to have in my collection".

    +VGO.DVCKS, dougsmit, galba68 and 2 others like this.
  7. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Very nice writeup. I have been considering adding more of these coins to my collection.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  8. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    There's plenty of great coins, but no good general overview (except perhaps Grierson's book, but I haven't read that yet...).
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Spufford, Peter. Money and its Use in Medieval Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
    ISBN 0521375908
    Cost: $62.00


    Grade: A-

    While Spufford's book is not necessarily about Medieval Coins, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe is essential for placing medieval coins within the context of history and their use. Spufford uses a wide variety of sources to explain the ebb and flow of coinage and economy, starting from Rome's money drain to the east (which would essentially continue throughout the Middle Ages), and the revival of coinage with the founding and opening of new silver mines. The book continues with the reintroduction of African gold, and then the bullion famine and revival of the fifteenth century. I was a little upset there was not more to be said on the twelfth century (my specialty and area of interest), but the reasons for that are addressed in the book.

    There are some minor drawbacks (mis-numbered footnotes, and constantly referring to other parts of the book in a repetitive nature), but overall this is a masterful overview of the medieval economy. It is now becoming a little dated (originally written in the 1970s, but due to circumstances in the author's life, not published until the 1980s), but as far as I'm aware, there is no other single volume work that addresses the usage of coin and other money in all parts of Medieval Europe. Incredibly insightful and interesting (isn't it?), and the appendixes are extremely useful for keeping all of the denominations and their values in order.
    BenSi, L C, +VGO.DVCKS and 12 others like this.
  10. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Lhotka Jr., John F. Medieval Feudal French Coinage. Rockville Centre, NY: Sanford J. Durst, 1994.
    ISBN: 1886720126
    Cost: $20.00


    Grade: B

    Lhotka has a few short books on differing areas of medieval Coinage. This volume saw life first as an article in The Numismatist, and was added to for this separate publication. While there is much in this book which is now outdated, this is a convenient English introduction to the feudal coins of France. French Feudal coins is a wide and diverse topic which can be difficult to cover, but there is a good explanation of the history behind the coins, and then a rather large attribution guide based on legends. The revised edition includes coins from the Low Countries, and more illustrations than the original. While I wouldn't recommend this for the serious collector of French coins, it's a great place to get a taste for what is out there.
  11. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    I appreciate your honest review. It is unfortunate when a book is unsuccessful, but it is better for the buyer to know that upfront. I'm sure the author put a lot of time and effort into it, and that is appreciated, but perhaps his ambition was greater than his skill.

    I'm focusing on ancients right now, but in my quest for knowledge I'm sure I'll move forward in time eventually.
    +VGO.DVCKS and FitzNigel like this.
  12. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    In terms of collecting medieval coins, it's not necessarily a bad book, but overly ambitious, and could have probably benefited from an experienced editor... (I'm assuming that was what you were referring to, as I believe my other reviews have been a little more favorable - plus I've always been a notoriously tough grader...)
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  13. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    An editor makes an enormous difference. When I was getting ready to publish my book, I didn't have a formal "editor" per se, but I sent it for peer review to a few people, and their comments and suggests were incredibly valuable in improving the readability, understand-ability, and usefulness of my book.
    +VGO.DVCKS, GerardV and FitzNigel like this.
  14. Aethelred

    Aethelred The Old Dead King

    Thank you for the review, I have been considering the book in the op
    FitzNigel likes this.
  15. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Walker, Ralph S. Reading Medieval European Coins. Second Edition.Fairfield, CT: Attic Books, Ltd., 2000.
    ISBN: 0915018551
    Cost: $25-$50


    Grade: B+

    There is probably no other coin book I know packed with so much information than this small 44 page book. This is a great introduction to one of the more complicated matters of medieval numismatics, which is simply reading the inscriptions. Walker's guide is well organized as a reference, and informative. The tables on names and certain abbreviations are useful, but not complete (although that would be impossible).

    There is much about medieval handwriting that Walker glosses over, stating that it was not used on Coins, but some of the additional abbreviation markers and letter forms used in the middle ages would help explain some of the oddities fund on medieval coins. The reason a guide such as this is needed is due to the evolution of handwriting, which was then copied on coins. Our letter forms look very similar to Roman letter forms, but one should not assume that means letter forms never evolved. For the thousand years we call the Middle Ages, handwriting and letterforms changed. When the renaissance began, scholar began emulating the old Roman letter forms (technically Carolingian for miniscul, Roman for uncial) because this was the classical culture that was the 'rebirth.' It was at this time of recreating Roman letter forms that the printing press was growing in use, and once words were 'typed' rather than written, it was less likely the forms would change (hence why we have Roman letters).

    For these purposes, the book is useful as an overall guide for reading Medieval Coins. However, anyone desiring to specialize in a particular are would be much better served by a guide for that area.
  16. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Thanks for the reviews. I keep telling myself to add more books to my book review section on the website but it never happens. Maybe you will spur me to do something.
    BenSi and FitzNigel like this.
  17. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    please do! I need to peruse your site more, but it is always extremely helpful when I need help with a Roman coin.
  18. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Withers, P. & B.R. and S.D. Ford. Anglo-Gallic Coins of Aquitaine, Bergerac, Issoudun, Ponthieu, Poitou and the royal coins of Henry V and Henry VI. Llanfyllin, Powys: Galata, 2015.
    ISBN: 978-1908715074
    Cost: $85


    Grade: A

    This is a fantastic catalogue of a well defined area of Medieval Numismatics. The authors have done a superb job of researching past literature on the series, and analyzing pertinent information from coin hoards, museum collections, and private collections to piece together a comprehensive and exhaustive catalogue of Anglo-Gallic coins. It has full color illustrations throughout, full size and weight parameters for each series, and explanatory notes when warranted (as well as citing primary sources for mint production when available). My only piece of criticism (and what prevents the grade of an A+), is the occasional passage written too informally for a work of scholarship (I'm a snob - sue me).

    My interest in Anglo-Gallic coins really comes from my first medieval coin: a denier of Richard I minted in Poitou. The book naturally focuses more on the fourteenth and fifteenth century issues from Aquitaine, as this is the large English territory held in France for centuries, and their distinct Coinage occurs mostly after the thirteenth century. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't an attempt to catalogue the coins of Normandy or Anjou, but I understand that these were of an immobilized type during the times of the Norman and Angevine kings of England (and as such, there is no way to determine 12th century issues from earlier). Despite this, the areas that could be covered for the 12th century are done well, and my interest in later coins of the series has been piqued by reading this catalogue.
  19. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Seems that it would be an interesting read. I do not have enough mediaeval coinage to justify buying it.

    I can however share this coin of Henry V.

    henry V.jpg
  20. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I do need to add an English Henry V... I suspect after I finish my other goals for 2017 he may be next
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  21. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    Fitz, any suggestion on which Medieval European country I should target? I'm looking for interesting silver/billon coins at moderate prices (ie. $150 or below). Any suggestions? So far all I have are one English hammered coin, a Hungarian coin, an Italian coin, a Spanish coin, and a crusader states coin.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
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