US Coins

Guest Commentary: Whitman contributors race to keep up with the 'Red Book'

Every once in a while a collector will ask, “Why should I read the new Guide Book of United States Coins? I have one from 10 years ago.”

As Whitman’s publisher, you can imagine the heartache this causes me! I know firsthand the creativity and hard work that goes into each edition of the “Red Book.”

Every year we create fresh new features to entertain and inform the hobby community. (This is above and beyond regularly scheduled updates such as coin values, auction records, modern mintages, the latest Mint products and ongoing research.)

Senior editor Kenneth Bressett and the other contributors who work on the “Red Book” are enthusiastic coin collectors, and like everyone else we like to see fresh material every year. Here are some of the features you’ve missed if you haven’t picked up a recent edition:

The 2008 edition (published in 2007) included a new section on “The Blue Book as a Collectible,” reflecting the hobby’s growing interest in numismatic literature. This feature has been carried forward into later editions.

In the 2009 edition (published 2008), readers found a new appendix on the Treasury Department’s American Arts Gold Medallions of 1980 to 1984, with historical information, images, mintages and values. This feature would later return in the 2013 edition.

The 2010 edition (published 2009) had a new appendix on “Significant U.S. Mint Errors,” contributed by Nicholas P. Brown, David J. Camire and Fred Weinberg, authors of 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins.

This illustrated essay featured a double-struck Peace dollar, a capped die Indian Head cent, a Lincoln cent struck off center on a Roosevelt dime, and more than a dozen other incredible errors.

The 2011 edition (published 2010) brought additional pricing in more grades, to reflect modern collecting interests. In the “pre-federal” (Colonial and post-Colonial) section, values were expanded into more lower- to middle-range grades. “Good and Very Good are popular collectible grades for these old coppers,” research editor Q. David Bowers noted. “They’re affordable for the beginner.”

In the commemoratives section, pricing was expanded in the opposite direction, to include Mint State 66 for the classic coins of 1892 to 1954. “Many serious collectors seek the classic commems in higher Mint State grades,” valuations editor Jeff Garrett observed at the time. The addition of the higher-grade pricing covered 109 early commemorative coins and sets.

The numismatic bibliography in the 2012 edition (published 2011) was updated. Among its 129 listings were more than a dozen standard references published from 2008 to 2011 — a sign of robust ongoing research within the hobby community.

The 2013 edition (published 2012) included an illustrated six-page review of “Coin Collecting: Yesterday and Today,” comparing the hobby of the dynamic 1950s, the market of the 1960s, the pivotal 1970s, developments in the 1980s, the growth of the 1990s, the 2000s, and today’s marketplace. In the front of the book, the 2013 edition also included expanded coverage of New Jersey coppers and Machin’s Mills coins.

In the 2014 edition (published this year, 2013), we reorganized appendix B, “Collectible Red and Blue Books.” Yes, there are quite a few coin collectors who actually collect “Red Books,” too! Rare editions include the 1947 (two different varieties exist, worth up to $1,700 in New condition); the 1987 edition with a special American Numismatic Association cover (worth $700 in Very Fine); and the 2008 leather-bound Limited Edition with a Numismatic Literary Guild imprint (worth $1,000 in New). The 2014 edition also includes a new illustrated essay on “The Most Valuable U.S. Coin Sold at Auction” (about the 1794 silver dollar that sold for more than $10 million). With hundreds of thousands of “Red Books” sold each year, this should be a great grassroots boost for the hobby.

Personally, I got bit by a Buffalo nickel when I was about 7 years old. A few years would pass before I bought my first “Red Book” with my own money (the 1986 edition, in 1985). Compare a 1986 “Red Book” with a 2014, and you’ll be amazed at the dramatic differences. But even if you compare a 2014 to a 2013, you’ll find plenty of new content to delight, entertain, inform and instruct. We do try to keep it fun. Maybe that’s why so many coin collectors also collect the “Red Book” every year. If you wait every 10 years, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Dennis Tucker is publisher of Whitman Publishing.

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