Expanded Second Edition of Harlan Berk’s 100 Greatest Ancient Coins

100 Greatest Ancient Coins book cover

Whitman Publishing announces the release of the second edition of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, by noted historian of the ancient world and professional coin dealer Harlan J. Berk. The 144-page hardcover coffee-table book will debut March 12, 2019, two weeks before the American Numismatic Association’s National Money Show. It will be available from booksellers and hobby shops nationwide, and online (including at www.Whitman.com), for $29.95.

In this richly illustrated volume, Berk—one of the world’s best-known ancient-coin dealers—takes the reader on a personal guided tour of the numismatic antiquities of Greece, Rome, the Eastern Roman (so-called Byzantine) empire, and other parts of the ancient world.

The first edition of 100 Greatest Ancient Coins was the fifth entry in Whitman Publishing’s “100 Greatest” library (which now includes nearly a dozen volumes) and the first title in that collection to focus on non-American collectibles. It earned the Numismatic Literary Guild’s prestigious award for Best Specialized Book on World Coins.

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The new second edition includes a foreword by British numismatist and author Italo Vecchi, who calls the book “a remarkable catalog of 100 exceptional coins” and “invaluable for all serious ancient-numismatic academics, historians, dealers, and amateurs alike.” In addition to coin-by-coin essays updated with the latest research, the second edition features many upgraded photographs, and new content. The latter includes a narrative on “How to Collect Ancient Coins, and What to Avoid,” written in Berk’s engaging, often humorously direct style, with real-world advice from his 55-plus years of experience. This includes insight on how to get started, where to find ancient coins, how to specialize, wise long-term decision-making, and storage and insurance. Berk discusses how to authenticate, grade, and assign value to ancient coins. His newly expanded introduction also includes a three-page image gallery of denominations of ancient coins, showing 55 Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins—gold, silver, bronze, and copper—ranging in size from the tiny 4.5 mm obol to the hefty 47 mm silver dodecadrachm. Berk offers an illustrated guide to grading ancient coins from the perfection of Fleur de Coin (FDC), a term the author considers over-used (“As a dealer, out of several thousand coins I grade each year, only one or two can truly be called FDC”), to worn Good condition. He describes the importance of artistic quality in ancient coinage, and how it changed over time. His market-oriented advice covers determining the value of ancient coins, being aware of counterfeits, and buying online. Berk offers market values for each of the individual specimens pictured in the book. And “The Education of a Numismatist” gives the reader resources on major numismatic associations, the importance of building a personal library for research, and extensive suggested readings, both general and specialized.

The process for determining the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins was complex. Berk submitted to Whitman Publishing a roster of about one hundred well-known scholars, active coin collectors, and professional dealers from around the world. Each was asked to list and prioritize, from 1 to 100, their choices for the most significant ancient coins. Their feedback was compiled and analyzed, resulting in the ranking of the 100 greatest. These include unique and high-valued pieces that most collectors can only dream about, but also more widely available and popular ancient coins.

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“Some of the 100 Greatest ancient coins are famous from passages in the Bible or other texts,” said Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker. “Some are so beautiful and iconic that every collector wants one. Others have dramatic or poignant stories, or are connected to legendary figures. Each coin is steeped in history and has a unique tale to tell.”

Berk has pointed out that a good number of the 100 Greatest are readily collectible for $100 or less. Others are valued in the thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars.

A two-page spread is devoted to each of coins No. 1 through No. 10, with Nos. 11 through 100 enjoying a full page. In the banner at the top of each page is the coin’s rank; a descriptive title; the city, state, or region from which it hails; and its date of striking (or an approximation). Beneath is an enlarged illustration of the coin; a notation of its actual size in millimeters; and, ghosted in the background, the numerals of its 1–100 rank. This is followed by an essay that sets the coin in its historical foundation and describes the virtues of its numismatic greatness. At the bottom of the page, a timeline charts the coin’s position in history, with the birth of Christ marked for context.

The book is rounded out by a gallery of relative sizes, showing each coin in its actual diameter, and a selected bibliography of research sources.

100 Greatest Ancient Coins is not just a price guide or a fancy picture book,” said Tucker. “This is a fascinating introduction to collecting and studying these important coins. Many hobbyists have been inspired and energized to start or expand their collections after reading Harlan Berk’s work.”

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