US Coins

Editor's Q&A: Numismatic resource Ken Bressett

Ken is the longtime editor of the “Red Book” and has served on the United States Assay Commission and Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee. He was president of the American Numismatic Association from 1995 to 1997 and has received its Farran Zerbe Award.

Ken has really done it all since his introduction to coin collecting in 1937! He’s been president of the ANA (and is in its hall of fame), led ANACS, and has published many books. He’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, happy to share his knowledge with everyone he meets. 

Q: You’ve been associated with A Guide Book of United States Coins since 1956. What do you think about the expansion of the “Red Book” over the years?

A: That was a natural and essential evolution to accommodate the needs of collectors. The book grew to include new information, research data, grading and pricing trends as well as items of special interest to collectors. It is a never-ending process. R.S. Yeoman advised me that collectors make the best editors. Someone will always report the typos, or suggest that something needs to be fixed or added. The book truly belongs to all the readers and they very much influence the content.

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Q: Few people have published on such a diverse area as you! What do you say to those in the hobby who say that collectors need to specialize? Of your many books, does one stand out as a favorite?

A: I have never wavered in telling collectors they should follow their individual goals and interests rather than follow the crowd. Yes, specialization has its own rewards and can be all absorbing. Taking a broader approach gives one a better sense of the whole world of numismatics and an opportunity to explore and appreciate the entire spectrum. I am particularly fond of Milestone Coins: A Pageant of the World’s Most Significant and Popular Money. It tells the story of coins throughout the ages from the earliest to the present, and gives my impression of why each is an important documentation of history or artistry. Researching this project and selecting the coins to include was a very enjoyable quest.

Q: You were director of ANACS before the advent of Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Did you anticipate the explosion in third-party grading in the late 1980s? What do you think about slabbing today?

A: It never occurred to me that slabbing could someday become a popular practice for all sorts of coins. I still have no taste for them and prefer “raw” coins that I can enjoy on my own terms. Everyone should be concerned about the variances in the grades assigned by different services, and learn how to grade on their own using ANA Standards.

Q: How do you stay energized in your hobby after all of these years?

A: Scientists say people who have hobbies are not just filling time; they may also be extending their life span, increasing their energy level and living a more rewarding life. There is no question about this in my mind. Those who actively participate in any absorbing activity nearly all live longer, happier, less stressful lives. I find or do something new with my hobby every day, whether through writing, reading or research. It keeps me in contact with friends all over the world. After being totally involved with numismatics for the past 70 years I have enjoyed it all. Diving with the Fisher group for shipwreck treasure was a blast; and being ANA President was the most challenging. I served on the Assay Commission and I still chuckle at telling the Director of the Mint that it was the duty of the Commission to hang anyone found guilty of issuing substandard coins. Fortunately that never happened!

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