Dictionary of English Numismatics

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by Ursula Kampmann
translated by honeycutshome

November 27, 2014 – One of the most underrated tasks is writing dictionaries. Even in Germany, where there is much talk of the Duden, hardly anybody knows that Konrad Duden, its author, was one of the protagonists of public instruction who tried to make it easier for all people to write by using his collection of accurately written words. Konrad Duden worked in a period of time when there was a fierce discussion going on about whether or not a word’s language history should be reflected in its orthography. He preferred a phonetic spelling but in the end every word was something of a compromise with Duden, in place of future generations of Germans, contemplating the right kind of orthography individually.

H. E. Manville, Dictionary of English Numismatic Terms. Spink London 2014. 301 pages. 21 x 30 cm. Hardback with dust jacket. ISBN 978-1-907427-36-7. £45,00.

Why this lengthy preface? Well, it is quite simple, it would be much too little to just introduce the Dictionary of English Numismatic Terms as mere “Dictionary”, and it would not remotely get to the heart of the matter. It is much more. It is the attempt to organize the entire knowledge on British and Irish numismatics in one volume with almost exactly 300 pages.

Responsible for this compilation is H. E. Manville, renowned expert on British and Irish numismatics, who was also awarded the book prize of the International Association of Professional Numismatists for his monograph “Tokens of the Industrial Revolution”. He did not only write the “Dictionary of English Numismatic Terms”. Rather, it is the fifth and final volume of the impressive “Encyclopaedia of British and Irish Numismatics”. In three volumes a vast collection of material was assembled, each consisting of an annotated catalog of auction sale catalogs, archaeological and numismatic journals and printed books. The fourth volume is a biographical lexicon. The encyclopedia’s last volume is now devoted to numismatic technical terms.

That already sets the scene. Anyone who expects to find absolutely all numismatic terms here might be disappointed. When it comes to English numismatics, though, it is hard to find anything more comprehensive than this hoard of knowledge.

For example, you know the phenomenon that two persons are depicted on the same coin with one bust depicted behind the other one. What is the correct English term for this kind of artistic convention? Catalogs often refer to it as “jugate busts” and this is certainly an option. As a matter of fact, this phenomenon could be described in three different ways. “Jugate” still harks back to the Latin word “iugum”, i.e. the yoke under which two draft animals are bound, on an equal footing. Another, neutral term would be “conjoined”. But when you look up the heraldic term “accolated” you will find this information about the use of the word in question: “Two persons of unequal status presented facing the same way and overlapping, with the one of higher status in front.” Thus, the word “accolated” not only describes the way in which the persons are depicted but also indicates a special hierarchy. Anybody preferring “accolated” to “jugate” or “conjoined” in the future will do so deliberately, with the intention of hinting at this hierarchy.

The art of writing a dictionary requires a fine command of language and a profound insight into the different aspects of a subject. The author is well-aware of the snares of his work and has thus invited renowned guest authors to contribute as well, on such comprehensive terms as “Anglo-Saxon Coinage”, “Irish Coinage” or “Numismatic Literature”.

In conclusion, the Dictionary of English Numismatic Terms is a highly useful book which can be consulted for every single key word not only in cases of doubt. Like all good dictionaries, this one, too, constantly tempts the reader, upon opening, to jump from one word to the next and, in the process of reading, acquire much knowledge on the subject described.

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