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Two New Books Help Guide Collectors
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
September 25, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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This month I have two new publications to review: One is a book to read before you call a coin dealer about some old coins you’ve found/inherited. The other is a book to take with you to a coin shop/show. Both are published by Whitman Publishing.

The Almanac of United States Coins is clearly aimed at the person who is relatively new to coins. According to the book’s back cover, you can use it to “…identify your coins, learn how rare they are, and find out what they’re worth.”

The Almanac is a slender paperback divided into 24 chapters. Beginning chapters introduce the novice to topics such as the rare coin market, coin grading, third-party authentication and grading, and what proof coins are. Subsequent chapters tell the stories of various coin series, denomination by denomination. Appendices examine famous coin hoards and give the bullion values of gold and silver coins.

In the chapter on grading, there’s a great deal of useful information, as you would expect. A chart on p. 15, however, could be quite misleading for the novice. The chart presents the current Sheldon numbering scale, along with the standard abbreviations, such as Very Fine and About Uncirculated.

The problem lies in a column of grade numbers, in which it appears that the numerical scale is continuous for grades other than mint state. For example, for AU the numbers are given as 50-59, which suggests that you could have grades such as AU-51, AU-52, and so on, all the way to AU-59. Fortunately, this misrepresentation is corrected on pps. 18 and 19, which give capsule descriptions for circulated coins in grades such as AU-58, -55, -53, and -50.

In each of the chapters devoted to a particular denomination, the Almanac has pictures of the different major design types and also a mini-pictorial grading guide.

Each chapter also has a table of typical values for the types in the chapter. For example, in the chapter on nickels, the table provides values for common examples of Shield nickels (with and without rays), Liberty Head nickels (with and without “CENTS”), Variety 1 and Variety 2 Buffalo nickels, and Jefferson war nickels. Values are given for several different grades. Although this is useful, it won’t give the reader any information about which dates are scarce and which are common.

Key dates are identified in the text, however. As far as I could tell, the only series for which values are given for all date/mintmark combinations is Morgan dollars.

Without proofreading the text, I did spot one error of fact on p. 69. In the discussion of Buffalo nickels, there’s the following: “…for example, only 970,000 of the 1921-S were struck (and the coin is worth $8,750 in MS-63 as a result of that scarcity).…” The date should be 1926-S.

* * *

From my experience, coin collectors start collecting coins without any thought of the ultimate consequences of their actions. They buy coins that appeal to them, often store them haphazardly, and have no records that would enable them to reconstruct their purchases, such as when the coin was bought, how much it cost, from whom it was purchased, and what it’s currently worth. Into this vacuum of information comes Check List and Record Book of United States and Canadian Coins.

According to an early page, you should “Use this book as a one-stop resource for keeping track of your United States or Canadian coin collection.” In other words, this book is designed to help you develop and maintain an inventory of your collection.

Each major series of U.S. coins is represented by a picture of each design type followed by a listing of each date/mintmark combination (if relevant). The mintage for each date is given, with the number of proofs struck in parentheses. Next, “A series of columns in each chart represents the grades in which coins of that type and date range are commonly found.”

If only that were true. Unfortunately, in many cases the grade ranges do not match my collection. The grade range for Indian Head cents, for example, contains the following grades: VG-8, F-12, VF-20, EF-40, MS-60, PF-63. Where would I put my MS-64 1864-L cent? Or, how about my AU-58 1908-S?

Like Indian Head cents, Lincoln cents begin with VG-8. I would be willing to wager that more Lincoln cent collections have the 1914-D in G-4 than in any other grade, and this is probably true for several other dates as well.

Although I think the purpose of this book is commendable, I feel the execution leaves something to be desired. Perhaps a future edition could include more circulated and uncirculated grades by omitting the column for one proof grade and decreasing the space for notes. Another desirable change, in my opinion, would be to publish the book in a spiral-bound edition. This is particularly useful for books meant to be opened frequently, as this one is.

* * *

Bottom line: Both of these new “Official Red Books” have the potential to be useful, and they’re inexpensively list priced at only $9.95 apiece. Both have problems, however, as I have indicated. As long as you’re aware of the problems, you should find them worthwhile.

More Coin Collecting Resources:

• August special – only 25 available! Order your 2013 Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake Coin Set today!

• IT’S HERE! Order the 2014 North American Coins & Prices.

• Get the 2012 Coin of the Year – limited quantities remain!

• See what guides and supplies our editors recommend for keeping up with your collection.

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