by Q. David Bowers
The Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins
, the latest Whitman Publishing book by Q. David Bowers, debuted this month (March 2021) and is already nearing a sellout, with a second print run planned. The 288-page book is volume 25 in the popular Bowers Series of numismatic references. It is available from bookstores and hobby shops and online (including at Whitman.com
) for $19.95. Here, Bowers discusses his long-held interest in the money of the American Revolution.
Continental money has fascinated me for a long time. My involvement in dealing in Continental Currency and Continental dollars in the 1950s led me to read many books on the history of the era, including J. Benson Lossing’s encyclopedic two-volume Field-Book of the American Revolution and the peripheral Timothy Dexter Revisited, by John P. Marquand, published in 1960. Soon after reading the latter, I went to Newburyport to visit the Dexter mansion on High Street and, courtesy of the owner, explored the beautiful building and grounds. The surrounding land was much smaller than depicted on engravings. At one time Dexter was one of the most interesting and enigmatic figures in town, with life-size statues of historical figures in the front yard (a few survive and have been restored). As I relate in my new Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins, the source of Dexter’s fortune remains somewhat of a mystery, but it was most likely arrived at by speculation in federal and state Revolutionary War debt and Continental currency, the latter of which could be purchased for as low as $1,000 in paper for $1 in coins. He later redeemed it at a very profitable ratio after the federal government, under our current Constitution, instituted a redemption policy.
Along the way, I formed a collection of bills by issue date and denomination, except for several that eluded me, including the 1775 $20 on French paper. I found the inscriptions and mottoes, which I first came across in the J.W. Scott Stamp & Coin Company Standard Catalogue No. 2, Paper Money, 1889, to be absolutely fascinating. The continuing research of Eric P. Newman, a fine friend from my teenage years onward, kept adding new information. A researcher par excellence, Newman’s works were factual rather than theoretical or guesswork, needing little later revision.
My experience with so-called Continental dollars has been extensive. Over the years I have bought and sold all of the die combinations. A favorite was the 1776 coin with the misspelling CURRENCEY corrected by the last two letters being recut and an ornament being added. Among these was the coin in the Emery May Norweb Collection that was sold to Eric Newman.
Eric was almost alone in his in-depth research into Continental dollars until 1991 when Michael Hodder’s “The Continental Currency Coinage of 1776: A Trial Die and Metallic Emission Sequence” was published by the American Numismatic Association. This treated emission sequences, weights, and other data in a manner that had not been done before. At the time Michael was on the staff of Bowers and Merena Galleries in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. In 1993 he, along with a small group of others, founded the Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4), which grew to include today’s hundreds of members and to publish multiple reference books.
In the second decade of the present century the coins—or are they medals?—attracted a new wave of attention, especially as to where and how they were minted and distributed. Recent thought has been excellently synopsized in John M. Kleeberg’s study, “The Continental Dollar; British Medals or American Coins?” published in the Journal of Early American Numismatics in December 2018. By then, other researchers including Bill Eckberg, Erik Goldstein, David McCarthy, and Maureen Levine had published other theories, mainly that the coins were in fact medals and had been made in Europe. Today, the debate continues. I present various ideas and detailed information in chapters 5 and 6 of my new Guide Book.
While I’ve always been fascinated by the Continental Currency bills and metallic pieces, their history has been an even greater attraction. The advent of the Internet has made it possible for me and others to do research with an ease that was not achievable earlier. No longer do I have to go to the American Antiquarian Society, the Library of Congress, and other institutions to fill out call slips and wait for a group of books to arrive. A few keystrokes make thousands of books, newspaper articles, and other sources available. In recent times I have gathered together my research notes dating back to the 1950s, arranged them in some semblance of order, and added much new information.
It is my hope that you will find the new Guide Book not only a useful companion to studying and perhaps collecting Continental Currency and “dollars,” but also to enjoy reading about their history. I found the new (to me) information on the tyrannical restrictions that Congress placed on even discussing the depreciation of paper money to be especially remarkable. I think you, too, will learn much that is surprising, fascinating, and wondrous to consider.
Q. David Bowers has been in the rare-coin business since 1953, including in recent years as a founder of Stack’s Bowers Galleries. He is a past president of the American Numismatic Association, a trustee emeritus of the New Hampshire Historical Society, and a fellow of the American Antiquarian Society. He has been a key numismatic consultant to the Smithsonian Institution since the 1960s, and has advised the United States Mint and Treasury Department. The author of more than 60 books including many standard references, he serves as numismatic director of Whitman Publishing, and is senior editor of Mega Red, the expanded edition of the Guide Book of United States Coins.
# # #
The Latest Whitman Guide Book Illuminates the Financing of America’s Independence
by Christopher R. McDowell
The Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins, the latest Whitman Publishing book by Q. David Bowers, debuts March 2, 2021. The 288-page book is volume 25 in the popular Bowers Series of numismatic references. It will be available from bookstores and hobby shops and online (including at Whitman.com) for $19.95. Here, Journal of Early American Numismatics editor Christopher R. McDowell explores the importance of the new book.
The Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins brings together all of the national currency and coins of the American Revolutionary period in one place for the first time. The diversity of numismatic materials produced during this time in our nation’s history is unequalled. It was a time of bold experimentation in everything from paper to designs. Nothing was yet fixed; every motto, legend, image, and word was new and significant. Some ideas were better than others, but practicality and the exigencies of the moment often, but not always, held sway over beauty. The May 10, 1775, $20 Continental Currency bill with marbled border is one of the most beautiful and fascinating pieces in American numismatics. Anyone looking at the swirling red, blue, and yellow shades of its marbled edge, with authentic signatures and a unique motto selected by Benjamin Franklin himself, knows it is something special. But it was gone in a flash, never to be repeated as Congress struggled to keep expenses in line as the war raged around them. All later currency was printed on paper produced regionally. Each bill and each coin of this era tells a special story of our forefathers’ fight for independence and liberty. No aspect of American numismatics is more deserving of our time and effort than what appears within this book. This is the genesis of all that followed and there is no better guide on the tour through this special subject than Q. David Bowers.
I am the editor of the Journal of Early American Numismatics, formerly the Colonial Newsletter, a publication of the American Numismatic Society. I had known of Dave Bowers for decades before I met him, but we were personally introduced after I wrote an article on Daniel Van Voorhees, an eighteenth-century New York silversmith involved in the production of Vermont copper coinage of the 1785 to 1788 period. Dave contacted the publisher to ask if he could have a special copy of my article, which I agreed to. From that day to now we have corresponded weekly, sometimes daily, regarding colonial numismatics.
Although Dave’s interest extends beyond American colonial numismatics, the coins and currency of the Revolutionary period have been of special interest to him since the 1950s. He has been involved in the sale of the finest colonial collections ever assembled and has known most of the great collectors of the twentieth century, but Dave is also a scholar. He has written and sold more books than any other numismatic author past or present. His books are both popular and influential.
What is the secret sauce that makes Bowers’s books so popular? That is the question I asked myself when he first made me aware he was working on this project. Fortunately, I was permitted to be part of the action and watch as the manuscript moved from concept to physical book. Through this experience I gained valuable insight into how Dave operates. He is without a doubt the current “Dean of American Numismatics,” and it was indeed a privilege to get an inside look.
The first ingredient in Dave’s secret sauce is a great topic. This book fills a void—a gap in our numismatic knowledge that screams to be filled by a single, easily available study. For reasons that will never be clear to me, numismatists have in the past segregated currency from coins in written works. Even at auctions, colonial currency is sold in one room and coins in another. I remember striding into an auction in Baltimore to take my seat when a friend approached me to say I must be lost, as they were auctioning colonial currency in that room and the colonial coin auction was in the next room over. Why can’t both be in the same room? Why can’t both be in the same book? Certainly our forefathers did not reserve one pocket for paper and the other for silver. Both circulated together, and both should be studied and enjoyed together. The Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins does that. It brings into one place both paper currency and coins, the way things were meant to be.
The second ingredient is superb research. Dave’s unparalleled numismatic knowledge is, of course, a huge advantage, but no single person can know everything. So, he has gathered many friends around him who are experts in a wide range of subjects. When he comes across a topic where he knows someone else has been conducting research, he contacts that person to learn what’s new. As Dave put together this book, he contacted dozens of experts to ask questions. In this way, he made sure that what he wrote was correct and up to date. The world of colonial and early American numismatics is in a state of flux. New ideas and theories are questioning and sometimes upending many of the concepts that were once considered established dogma. Take, for example, the Continental dollar coin. In recent years our view of this coinage has changed considerably. In writing this book, Dave contacted all the major players in the current debate over the origin of this coinage and synthesized their thoughts and writings; however, he did not just parrot back other’s thoughts, but he analyzed everything and made it his own. This same process was repeated over and over as this book moved forward to completion. Dave strives to get it right and plugs away until he does. Thus, I can say that this book brings forth the most up-to-date and accurate information available in any single book on the topic of Revolutionary-era paper currency and coins.
The third ingredient is readability. Many of the topics contained in this book are complex, but Dave has a way of making everything easy to understand. In this way his works can be enjoyed by both the novice collector and the advanced numismatist. In preparing this book, Dave was particularly struck by the fact that Congress forced its ever-depreciating bills on the public. That is, as the value of Continental bills began to decline from over-production, counterfeiting, and hyper-inflation, Congress began to require, under penalty of law, that unwilling merchants accept them at face value. Those who refused were labelled Tories and subject to all sorts of deprivation, ridicule, or worse. This totalitarianism is not an account printed in our history books, but it is a fact brought to life in these pages. The hidden story of these bills and coins is an important and underappreciated aspect of this nation’s founding. By gaining a fuller understanding of this topic, we can better appreciate the struggles of the Revolutionary era.
Part of readability in numismatics is having great illustrations. All of Dave’s books, including this one, contain images of the very finest bills and coins available. Dave is able to draw from his own collection, the library of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, and selected private and public sources to bring to the reader the best of the best. These images enhance the experience like nothing else can. There are hundreds of images in this book.
The final ingredient is setting an available price point without skimping on quality. Far too many of the numismatic books published today cost on the far side of $100 and are thus of small print runs and are seen by a relatively restricted audience. Dave strives to price his books at a level that makes them accessible to the general public. This is nowhere more evident than with the present publisher: Whitman Publishing, which has issued dozens of his titles and editions. At the same time, all of his books are nicely bound, with fine paper, and include beautiful color images. As a general rule, books such as this are not read and thrown away, but rather purchased with the intent to be placed on a bookshelf and enjoyed over a lifetime. Thus, it is important that the book be a quality product specially designed to last and be displayed for years to come. Dave’s extensive experience in publishing makes it possible for him to create and have others publish a very high-quality product at a price everyone can afford.
The Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins includes all the ingredients that make for a superb numismatic publication. After reading it you will have a much greater understanding and appreciation not only of the currency and coins of the Revolutionary period, but also of the hardships faced by our forefathers in shaping this great nation
Christopher R. McDowell studied history and political science while enlisted in the U.S. Army, graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Marshall University in West Virginia. He earned his J.D. at West Virginia University College of Law, after which he served as an Army officer overseas in the JAG Corps. Today McDowell is an attorney focusing on criminal and commercial-related litigation as well as real-estate transactions. As editor of the Colonial Newsletter (and now the Journal of Early American Numismatics), he assists other researchers in uncovering the mysteries and correcting the record of our numismatic past, as well as conducting his own extensive research and writing.
# # #
by Dennis Tucker, Publisher, Whitman Publishing, LLC
Like many hobbyists, I’ve read Q. David Bowers’s books since I was a young collector. For more than fifteen years I’ve also had the honor of being his publisher, adding many new works to his extensive oeuvre. As for Mary L. Martin, I’ve known of her for almost as long—Dave sings the praises of Mary’s parents, and of Mary herself, as experts in the field of postcards. It was an honor to finally meet her in person a few years ago, at her shop in Havre de Grace, Maryland, as the three of us discussed their latest collaboration, the 432-page Guide Book of Collectible Postcards.
Early in the planning process for this book, Dave shared some letters written between himself and a well-known postcard collector: Andreas Brown, president of the famous salon-like Gotham Book Mart (West 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan’s Diamond District). Dave had invited Brown’s feedback on a manuscript he was preparing on the postcards of Alphonse Mucha. Their letters back and forth are a fascinating exploration of grading, rarity, market values, buying and selling—every aspect of the postcard hobby, “an interesting field of interesting people collecting interesting things,” as Dave put it in one letter.
Those letters illustrate that Dave Bowers is neither a newcomer to the hobby, nor a dilettante. They were written in 1980. His coauthor on the Alphonse Mucha book was Mary L. Martin the elder—mother of his current collaborator.
Collectors of coins, paper money, medals, and tokens have known Dave Bowers as a prolific researcher and writer since the 1960s. Some also know he’s written authoritative references on other interests, such as automatic music machines and early silent-film history.
Over the years as Dave’s publisher at Whitman Publishing, I’ve often been asked, “How does he write so many books?”
First of all, as Isaac Asimov and other productive authors have said, “A writer writes”—and Dave has been doing this for more than fifty years. But what he does is multi-faceted and immersive, more than the simple (but important) physical act of sitting down at a desk and putting pen to paper.
The cornerstone of his system is the Bowers archives. Long before the Internet, Dave was compiling a personal library and research center of books, newspapers, magazine clippings and snippets, and other resources—anything and everything relating to his scholarly interests. He read and studied decades’ worth of old periodicals and made note of everything relating to, for example, postcards, collecting in the Golden Age, the intricacies of printing and distribution, Post Office procedures, and more.
As technology has advanced, so has the Bowers research machine. Historical images that he earlier had to clip, photograph, or photocopy can now be scanned and saved digitally in high resolution. Instead of having to travel to faraway museums and archives, email and the Internet put him in a hundred places at once, with instant communications.
This touches on another important factor in how Dave Bowers works: collaboration. “To have a friend, you must be a friend,” as the saying goes. Over a career that has spanned decades, he has built a reputation as a researcher who generously shares information instead of jealously guarding it. In return, other scholars share their own specialized insight—and Dave absorbs and synthesizes it as only he can, to then give to his readers.
Another element of the Bowers method is a constant and never-resting spirit of inquiry that spans genres, disciplines, and fields. Dave is as curious a student of current events as he is of the past. His book subjects run up and down the Dewey Decimal System. The hobby community is fortunate that postcards captured his imagination early on, and have never let go.
For the Guide Book of Collectible Postcards, the foundation of the manuscript was the knowledge Dave Bowers has been gathering over many decades as an active collector and historian. His partner in building on that foundation needs no introduction to postcard collectors. Mary Martin is the owner and operator of the biggest postcard dealerships and shows in the United States (quite possibly the world?), and an accomplished researcher in the field. She has authored, co-authored, or edited some fifty books on the subject of postcards. When I visited her Maryland shop in 2018, her inventory numbered in the millions of cards, dating back to the art form’s Golden Age (the 1890s through World War One).
Mary collaborated on the outline of the Guide Book, reviewed Dave’s research, and provided hundreds of high-quality scanned images. She marshaled her extensive knowledge of the market to provide valuations for the 1,300-plus cards illustrated, and values for hundreds of card types, varieties, and topics.
As famous collector Leonard Lauder observed in his foreword to the 2016 Bowers/Martin book The Postcards of Alphonse Mucha, “Postcard collectors value the hunt.” Every hunter benefits from a good guide, and the new Guide Book of Collectible Postcards leads the way.
Not simply a useful reference, the new volume will appeal to multiple and diverse audiences. Students of art, history, advertising, and related fields find the Guide Book interesting and informative. Fans of Art Nouveau, American comics, and vintage photography enjoy a gallery of outstanding works. Active hobbyists benefit from the valuation charts, detailed catalogs, and check lists. These resources give a blueprint to follow while building your collection, as well as a guide to valuing and analyzing cards you already possess. The bibliography, glossary, appendices, and indexes add to the book’s already impressive utility.
These diverse and well-crafted facets—educational and artistic, collector-oriented, market-savvy, and historical—combine to make Guide Book of Collectible Postcards a delightful and valuable addition to every bookshelf. I’m proud to have worked on it, and I hope you enjoy it.
Historical postcards from Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker’s hometown of Phoenix, New York, dating from the early 1900s. Bowers and Martin write: “Collecting postcards became a nationwide fad—some called it a craze—starting in the early years of the twentieth century, far out-rivaling the collecting of stamps and coins.” (Images courtesy of Gail Gleason and Pamela Ruetsch English, as noted.)
“Christmas postcards, especially those with colorful depictions of Santa Claus, are front-row-center with collectors,” write Bowers and Martin. Collectors of old paper money see the same appeal: obsolete currency notes that depict Saint Nick are popular and valuable.
“Among postcards, Alphonse Mucha subjects have been the crème de la crème for a long time in America, Europe, and elsewhere,” Bowers and Martin observe. Individual Mucha cards can be worth $10,000 or more to savvy collectors.
The Guide Book of Collectible Postcards describes and prices the works of hundreds of popular artists.
Bowers and Martin shine light on hundreds of postcard categories, including sports and recreation themes from baseball to swordsmanship.
# # #
Dennis Tucker is the publisher of Whitman Publishing; and numismatic specialist in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a longtime collector of postcards and has written articles for Postcard World magazine.