John Stewart Davenport, East Baltic Regional Coinage. A.D. 1425-1581. Dallas, Texas: Numismatics International, 1996. Paper. 96 pp.$20. [$2 shipping. Numismatics International, P.O. Box 670013, Dallas, Texas 75367-0013]
To numismatists Davenport's name is familiar and trusted. After retiring from teaching in 1972 he began publishing studies based on his personal collection of German talers (later sold at auction): European Crowns: 1484-1600; German Secular Talers, 1600-1700; German Talers, 1500-1600; Standard Price Guide to World Crowns and Talers (1983); Talers of the Austria Noble Houses (rpt. 1988); and The Daalders of the Dutch Feudal States.
In extending his range to Livonia and Prussia, Davenport has done a great service to the English-speaking world, which formerly had to made its way through the 1974-1976 articles in Münzen-Revue by Dr. Walter Diebolt which, though excellent, were not designed as a book. Nineteenth century publications had the strengths and weakness of the era, and the forthcoming study by Franziskus Pärn ("Das Münzwesen des Deutschen Ordens, in Der Deutsche Orden in Livland, scheduled for 1999) will enhance his excellent publication with Michail Nemirowtsch-Dantschenko, "Seetlinge und Scherfe. Ein Beitrag zur Münzgeschichte Livlands," in Norddeutsches Jahrbuch für Münzkunde und verwande Gebiete, 2 (1980), 61-96. All these works are, of course, in German.
For the English-speaking world, there is only the scholarly publications by Thomas Noonan (for example, "Dirham Hoards from Medieval Lithuania, JBS, 23/4 (Winter 1992), 395-414) and my "Medieval Livonian Numismatics," JBS, 24/1 (Spring 1993), 37-52.
Davenport would have benefitted somewhat from acquaintance with these works, and with Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusade: the Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1980). His introductions to the states minting coins are too sparse, with the exception of the Dukes of Courland, or inaccurate, as regarding the Livonian Order. There is nothing to connect the excellent opening chapter displaying the types of coins minted over the centuries to the political or economic history of the region. On the other hand, Davenport goes far beyond those works to provide a complete listing of every coins minted in this era, usually with a good photo or line drawing of the coin. It is immensely helpful that he made these reproductions close to the size of the coins (though he warns that the actual coins may be smaller).
The concluding chapter on Prussia illustrates the differing priorities of the two branches of the Teutonic Order. The grandmasters in Prussia were almost anonymous in their almost identical coins. The differences are there, of course. In Vossberg's Geschichte der Preußischen Münzen und Siegel (1843) the coins are described so minutely that the individual minters can be identified (by style, not by name). In Livonia, in contrast, the masters, archbishops and bishops did not hesitate to put their own coats-of-arms or stylized portraits on the coins.
These coins have not been popular with collectors. They are usually undistinguished in appearance, are from a part of the world that few collectors know exists, and for Balts they are a reminder of the long German overlordship. But a lack of popularity has its benefits, especially in price: Baltic coins are affordable, especially sixteenth century coins issued jointly by Riga and the Lithuanian-Polish rulers; and the talers, though rare, are very attractive. More importantly, whoever issued the coins, the common people used them. Thus, these modest silver coins are an important physical connection of the present to the historic past. Davenport's book is a guide to the coins which would have circulated in the various regions of Livonia--Estonia, the bishoprics of Dorpat, Oesel-Wiek and Courland, the archbishop's lands, and those of the Livonian Order. There is a map to assist in understanding the regional jurisdictions of these bodies which together formed the Livonian Confederation that legislated currency regulations.
This is a handsome small book on good paper, at a price that anyone can afford. The occasional error (two Johann III's in Dorpat) and unusual spelling hardly distracts from what everyone with an interest in Baltic coins will consider the most authoritative publication available. Alas, the publisher warns that only a few copies remain available.