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Collecting Paper Money - A Beginner's Guide

Collecting Paper Money - A Beginner's Guide
Author | Colin Narbeth and Simon Narbeth

Collecting paper money is something I think we'd all like to be more successful at, even if it seems to leave our wallets as fast as it lands there. But this well written and hugely interesting little book is not about collecting money that you spend; it's about collecting money that you keep.

The authors are a father and son. Colin Narbeth - the father - has worked professionally with paper money since 1970. He authored the first guide to collecting it in 1968, seven years after he founded the International Bank Note Society. He and Simon live and work in London, running a family business specialising in paper money. They come with the highest credentials, but possibly even more important is their ability to present the subject in a chatty yet informative style that encourages you to read through every chapter.

Essentially, as the title suggests, this is a guide for the beginner collector, but it also contains lots of historical snippets and many very interesting facts. The book is divided into fifteen chapters, beginning with the development of paper money in China and leading into suggestions on forming a collection. Advice is given on understanding the condition, grading and specimens of paper money, before the book leads into the history of the Bank of England and its notes. Also covered are treasury notes, provincial banks, early US paper money, banknotes at war, inflation and strange stories of banknotes. A careful eye is always kept on retaining the interest of the new collector, and this includes some surprising information on values. For example, you can pick up an inflation note from the French Revolution for a few dollars, or perhaps one of the huge notes issued during the Russian Revolution, and depicting Peter the Great, for under $20. In fact, write the authors, you can buy notes of some countries with denominations of millions for not much more than a dollar or three. But this book is not only about values; the Narbeths are able to make their subject come alive with the stories they weave around the various notes. For example, in the introduction we learn of the issue of hide money in 119BC. 'Specially reared white deer were slaughtered for the purpose,' write the Narbeths, 'and their hides were cut into squares of one foot, ornamented with floral designs, and marked for various high denominations. They did not circulate as money, however, but were required to be purchased by visiting warlords and subservient rulers making their annual trip to the palace to pay tribute. Having bought them, the visitor was expected to present the hide note to the Emperor as part of his tribute - failure to purchase the hide money was liable to result in beheading.'

Then there's the story of Hungary's roaring inflation, in which the government decreed that all notes of 1000 Pengo or more were prohibited from further circulation unless special tax stamps were affixed to them - this in an attempt by the government to increase their revenue following the collapse of the tax system. It meant, however, that the holder of a 1000 Pengo note had to pay 3000 Pengo to the state in order to be able to use his note. In 1946, after Hungary introduced the tax-pengo and announced the changing rate of the paper pengo via a daily radio announcement, notes escalated to values of trillions, quadrillions and quintillions. 'Photographs exist of street cleaners sweeping up banknotes in the gutters,' the book tells us. I found this to be a fascinating read, as much for its historical tales as for its collecting information.

Collecting Paper Money: A Beginner's Guide by Colin Narbeth and Simon Narbeth. Published by Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, UK, December 2010. 155mm x 235mm, 203pp, black and white illustrated, soft cover. ISBN 978-0-7188-9223-4. RRP$31.50. www.lutterworth.com

Australia’s Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Accessorize! 250 Objects of Fashion & Desire

Accessorisze! 250 Objects of Fashion & Desire
Author | Bianca du Mortier and Ninke Bloemberg

Stylish is the only way to describe this book. It's not big - somewhere between A5 and A4 - but it packs a design punch. It's basically an illustration of the exceptional collection of fashion accessories to be found at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, but what sets it apart is the fantastic photography, and the way the items have been grouped together. Instead of putting, for example, all the shoes in one chapter, the pieces have been arranged according to colour, and the result is a visual feast. Each object has been placed on a gleaming black background, which not only highlights its opulence and glamour but also allows the viewer a more three-dimensional experience as the reflection reveals the underside or inside of the item. And some of those items are simply glorious.

Many of the accessories in the collection were originally received as gifts or souvenirs. Thus we see a pair of gloves embroidered with symbols of marriage and the couple's initials; an embroidered cap from a wife to a husband to mark the birth of a child; or a fan given to a loyal daughter by her parents. There's very little actual information about each item pictured; just the basics of date, country of origin and materials used. But this isn't a book to be read, it's a book to be absorbed.

In the brief introduction, fashion journalist Milou van Rossum writes of the approach that it does more than emphasise the beauty of each individual piece: 'It makes it possible to see the accessories out of their historical context. And then we find that many of the objects are far less outdated than one would think,' she says. 'The paisley scarves so beloved of career women are nothing more than simplified versions of the cashmere shawls of the early 19th century...Lace-up boots, launched in the early 19th century as the first practical footwear for women, are classics...the embroidered silk mules of the 17th and 18th centuries may look a little primitive to our eyes, but the shape of the heel and the pointed toe come back time and time again in modern designs.' And if you get yourself a copy of Accessorize, it's practically guaranteed that you'll be dipping back into its pages time and time again...

Accessorize! 250 Objects of Fashion & Desire by Bianca du Mortier and Ninke Bloemberg. Published by Rijksmuseum & Nieuw Amsterdam, The Netherlands, November 2010. 170mm x 235mm, 272pp, full colour throughout, soft cover. ISBN 978-90-868-9045-3. RRP$36.95. www.inbooks.com.au

Australia’s Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
100 Dresses - The Costume Institute - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

100 Dresses - The Costume Institute - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Curator | Harold Koda

How does an institution with a collection of thousands of costumes narrow the choice down to just 100 for publication? Says curator Harold Koda: 'Despite the curator's ability to apply objective criteria and recognised methodologies to identify the historical significance, rarity or technical virtuosity of one gown when compared with another, in the end, it must be confessed, the 100 dresses in this book are often simply the special favourites of one or another of The Costume Institute staff.' Which simply illustrates the remarkable taste of the people who work with one of the pre-eminent museum collections of dress in the world today - certainly the largest, with more than 35,000 costumes and accessories spanning five decades and as many continents.

Each dress is presented in full colour as a full-page illustration, with explanatory information on the opposite page and a cameo shot that illustrates either a fine detail, or the dress or its designer in a contemporary painting or photo. Although nearly all of the dresses are shown on mannequins, there are quite a few examples of designers or models wearing some spectacular creations and the inclusion of the human element definitely adds to the interest.

The 100 dresses range from the buttoned-up gowns of the late 17th century to the cutting-edge designs of the early 21st century, providing a vivid picture of the way in which styles have changed over the years. Each one tells a story about its period, from the beautifully embroidered wool and silver gilt dress of 1695 to the at-home gown of 1876-78, which none of us could possibly imagine ever wearing at home; to the Chanel evening dress of 1939 - stylish enough to star at the 2011 Oscars - and Alexander McQueen's Oyster dress of 2003, which looks as though it has recently emerged from a particularly turbulent ocean. Even the last dress in the book - Galliano's 'Creation', designed to look like a garment in the process of becoming, but actually appears - to a self-confessed non-fashionista - as though someone forgot to finish it off, and instead stuck on it a few random pieces, including a padded bra cup on the waist - is fascinating for its individuality.

I can't sew, and I'm not a dedicated follower of fashion, but I still found 100 Dresses absorbing and fun.

100 Dresses - The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Harold Koda (curator). Published by Yale University Press, Connecticut, USA, September 2010. 180mm x 260mm, 232pp, full colour throughout, soft cover with flap. ISBN 978-0-300-16652-2. RRP$36.95 www.inbooks.com.au

Australia’s Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine