Michael Marotta's Blog

10 Feb 2016

Book Review - Collecting Ancient Greek Coins by Paul Rynearson

Library | Michael Marotta

The newcomer to our hobby will benefit greatly from these insights, but this is not necessarily a book for beginners. While aesthetic enjoyment cannot be ignored, the purpose of the narrative is to help the buyer acquire the best values for the money. That this is a book for the mature collector is perhaps best illustrated by a reference to the 1957 movie, Boy on a Dolphin starring Sophia Loren, a film that “many readers will remember” – though perhaps many others will look it up on www.imdb.com and order it via Netflix.

Book Review – Collecting Ancient Greek Coins: A Guided Tour Featuring 25 Significant Types by Paul Rynearson, 2009, 256 pages, $29.95.
(This review originally appeared in The Celator in 2009.)

The lateDr. Paul Rynearson was one of a few dealers with a strong academic background in fine arts, with a master’s from Claremont and a doctorate from the University of Southern California. Rynearson launched his career with a series of articles, mostly for the Society of Ancient Numismatics back in the late 1960s and mid-1970s. He authored Byzantine Coin Values: A Guide (1967, 1971). Working with Claudia Wallack Samuels and Ya’akov Meshorer, he co-authored The Numismatic Legacy of the Jews : As Depicted by a Distinguished American Collection (Stacks, 2000). His work for others is the stuff of tout: “Heritage World Coin Auctions January 2003 Signature auction will be anchored by an incredible collection of ancient coinage from the estate of John L. Warner. … Having a centerpiece collection as important as the Warner Collection guarantees that the attention of serious collectors around the world will be riveted to this auction … We are also pleased that Dr. Paul Rynearson will be cataloging this important assemblage.” It is clear that he knew the coins and their markets.

In this book, Rynearson established his baselines with 26 essays on the historical background, the artistic themes, general principles of numismatics, and warnings about forgeries and alterations. He also defined some pathways to discovery for the beginner and provided a roadmap to famous collections for the advanced buyer.

The second half of the book examined what are easily defined as the two dozen (25) broad types that define ancient Greek numismatics, from the Celts to the Baktrians. Rynearson showed them in their development over time, as types and styles changed. Obvious paradigms of style from archaic through classical to Hellenistic are easy to follow with the “Boy on the Dolphin” nomoi (didrachma or staters) of Taras. The coins of Alexander the Great fall into a narrower range. In both cases, Rynearson pointed out the significant features. Writing about the bronze tokens of Magna Graecia, he said: “There is great diversity of color in patination on bronzes. We are no longer considering shades of gray – sea greens, rust reds, and sky blues have been added to our palette. On rare occasions a coin’s rich and beautiful patina… transforms a pencil sketch into an oil masterpiece.” By this time, he had already warned the reader about artificial toning and resurfacing. Therefore, the emphasis on known auctions and attributed collections takes on special emphasis, the better to avoid a recent creation.

Writing about the silver coins of Sicily, Rynearson made a general point: “One gauge in estimating rarity is to search sale catalogs and collection references for die variations. If you discover that all the existing specimens are from only a handful of die pairings, it’s most probably a rare coin type, relatively few were originally struck, and the number which now exists is likely to be small indeed.”

The book also presented two different bibliographies. In “Advancing as a Collector” is a descriptive inventory of 25 publications running from the Ars Classica catalogs through Grierson, Jones, Kraay, and Price to the NFA Catalogs, the SNGs and ending with Margaret Thompson’s work on New Style tetradrachms. Just acquiring these classics is an independent endeavor, of course. In addition, the book closes with the working bibliography of over 120 titles.



Level 6

Great book review and thoughts! many thanks...also a wonderful movie too! ; )


Level 6

Interesting, a reference much needed.


Level 5

Just looking for additional reviews.


Level 5

Sounds like a must read. Thanks for the feedback!


Level 5

Nice review Michael. You are always thorough.


Level 7

Hi Mike! Great review. The reason I like your reviews as you know I can't read anymore. I can retain some of the basic article and that's why I follow you! You give a person like me a chance to still learn,and ancients are just important today as they were back then! It's unfortunate I never got into that part of the hobby. That's my loss. But you keep it alive for me and I am gratefull. Looking forward to the next one. Thanks.mike

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