The second edition of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, by Harlan J. Berk, debuts in March 2019, two weeks before the American Numismatic Association’s National Money Show. Here, distinguished European numismatist Italo Vecchi, an award-winning scholarly author himself, reflects on Harlan Berk and the importance of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins.
The first edition of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, by Harlan J. Berk (Whitman, 2008), was an instant success. This second edition again highlights Harlan’s personal choice of 100 princely coins of unusual historical interest and beauty from the Late Archaic period to Late Antiquity. Each coin is described according to artistic merit, historical context, and metrology. This edition presents, in an easily accessible format, Harlan’s scholarly and oft-cited study “The Coinage of Croesus,” a clearly numbered catalog of all gold and silver coinage of that ruler, which makes this book invaluable for all serious ancient numismatic academics, historians, dealers, and amateurs alike.
This is not just a simple reprint of the earlier version. Harlan’s selections have been modified and his descriptions and images improved, and he has added a useful summary of ancient gold and silver denominations.
Harlan Berk is an internationally renowned coin dealer and art collector whose profound scholarly knowledge applies not only to ancient numismatics, but to early archaeology, Dutch master paintings, the 20th-century Chicago school of painting, and more, as befits a modern Renaissance man. He follows in the tradition of the early collectors of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins that have fascinated erudite men and women since ancient times. As Suetonius reported of Augustus:
At Saturnalia, or at any other time when the fancy took him, he distributes to his company clothes, gold, and silver; sometimes coins of all sorts, even of the ancient kings of Rome and of foreign nations.— De vita Caesarum, 75
Theodora, sister-in-law of Constantine IX, is reputed by Michael Psellus to have “gloated over her collection of darics, for which she had bronze coffers made,” (Chronographia, 6.63).
The 14th-century Italian humanist, scholar, and poet Francesco Petrarca, whose discovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited with initiating the Renaissance, is also recorded as one of the first known collectors of ancient coins. Other early collectors included Pope Boniface VIII and the emperor Maximilian I. Coin collecting became fashionable among the literati and members of the aristocracy—especially kings and queens—during the Renaissance and was called the “Hobby of Kings.” The first known book dedicated exclusively to ancient coins was published in Paris in 1514 by Guillaume Budé: De
Harlan Berk’s corpus of 100 remarkable ancient coins is the latest in a long line to hold up a mirror to our nature, allowing us to see ourselves as we were in the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome—cultures much like our own but still tied to slavery and the land, more primitive and casually cruel, yet in outward show and art far more beautiful and, for many periods, inwardly happier and more content (though always threatened, like us, by rising tides of barbarism and internal strife).
As a native of Chicago, Harlan will be daily aware of the contrast between opulence and poverty, splendor and misery, that characterise any new Athens, Rome, or Constantinople, yet he has not allowed his friendly and hospitable disposition to be corrupted by pessimism. His wife, Pam Berk, like the amiable spouse of many a devoted numismatist and collector, has long tolerated with patience her husband’s obsession, which has made this remarkable catalog of 100 exceptional coins possible.
100 Greatest Ancient Coins, 2nd edition
By Harlan J. Berk; foreword by Italo Vecchi
Hardcover, 10 x 12 inches (coffee-table)
144 pages, full color
Retail $29.95 U.S.
About Whitman Publishing
Whitman Publishing is the world’s leading producer of numismatic reference books, supplies, and products to display and store coins and paper money. The company’s high-quality books educate readers in the rich, colorful history of American and world coinage and currency, and teach how to build great collections. Archival-quality Whitman folders, albums, cases, and other holders keep collectibles safe and allow them to be shown off to friends and family.
Whitman Publishing is the Official Supplier of the American Numismatic Association. As a benefit of membership in the ANA, members can borrow the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins (and other Whitman books) for free from the Association’s library, and also receive 10% off all Whitman purchases. Details are at the website of the ANA. The publication of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins reflects Whitman’s long history in world-coin and ancient-coin numismatics. It joins such works as Coins of the Bible (Friedberg), the Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins (Klawans), and the award-winning Money of the Bible (Bressett). Other Whitman books in the field include Collecting Ancient Greek Coins (Rynearson) for beginning and intermediate collectors, and the Guide Book of Overstruck Greek Coins: Studies in Greek Chronology and Monetary Theory (MacDonald) for advanced students.