The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 46, November 16, 2008, Article 22


Dennis Tucker, David Lange and others have been discussing the topic of numismatic book publishing. E-Sylum reader Scott Semans addressed the subject a few years ago, and his essay on Advice To Numismatic Authors is available on his web site. Here are some excerpts. -Editor
As a dealer and bookseller in Asian-African series I often critique references in order to advise customers what to buy, and sometimes get requests from authors for advice. Numismatic cataloguing is an age-old and international practice. Methods and goals differ among mass market, academic, trade, and self-published works. But standardization is the inevitable way of things, and discussion among users, authors, and publishers over the details can help preserve the best of the past amidst the opportunities offered by changing technology. What follows is a sort of advice-to-authors compilation. I have tried to identify options, and state my own preferences in balancing user convenience, ease and cost of production, and appropriateness to topic. Hopefully you will be able to identify topics I have missed, yet more options for those discussed, and defend choices which I have shortchanged.

My comments are directed mainly at authors of specialized catalogs, rather than works in economic or numismatic history, or omnibus catalogs such as the SCWC, though the latter will be invoked as example due to familiarity and to the spotlight cast by Krause's recent global change in certain format elements.

Three general observations: 1) Authors generally write with other specialists in mind, not realizing that generalists or complete outsiders account for 90% of the sales of their works. Simpler is better. 2) A good numbering system is important to the acceptance of a new catalog. It is not an afterthought; it can make or break a work. Simpler is better. 3) Seek detailed advice from collectors, dealers, and publishers during the production of your work.

Users of numismatic references generally want these elements: Historical (brief) and numismatic (more) background information; a catalog that is comprehensive by type and more detailed by variety than earlier works, well-illustrated, with a numbering system and valuations. A finding list if the material requires it.

A good layout makes it easy for the user to pluck information from a reference and move on, which is what the vast majority of users want to do. My own preference is for works which make full use of font variations such as separate fonts, bolding, and sizing, and positional elements such as indentation and centering - to whatever extent the complexity of the subject mandates. Columns or even a gridded table will ease the eye's burden for listings which include a large number of specs. It is also important to repeat category headings with each double page spread.

As collector and institutional websites themselves evolve toward catalogs and authors make choices based on translation from print to web or vice versa, bear in mind that desktop publishing programs are much more versatile than the crude and still evolving HTML language in creating eye-friendly layouts. An online catalog's advantages include low cost and ease of update, while a printed catalog's include more universal access, ease of use, ease of comparison (object to image), and permanence. Not considered here, but a useful topic, would be the ease of translation to online format of various print formats, and conversely, ways of designing online catalogs to facilitate compact printouts with satisfactory graphics.

There is rarely any profit in publishing a specialized numismatic work. Finding a publisher, or a printer, are essay-length topics themselves. I could mention one or two firms to avoid because they do not work well with dealers or get good distribution. I am impressed by a print-on-demand service with outlets in Europe and North America, such as Trafford Publishing.

People DO judge a book by its cover; don't economize here. Use a bold, color graphic and preferably a color background, even if it means color photocopying on card stock.

Scott has some great advice and observations here. The sections on Layout & Display formats and Numbering are particularly useful. -Editor

To read the complete article, see: ADVICE TO NUMISMATIC AUTHORS (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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