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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 30, July 23, 2006, Article 6

BOOK REVIEW: GARRETT/GUTH ENCYCLOPEDIA OF U.S. GOLD COINS 1795-1933

This week I had the opportunity to spend some time with my copy
of the new book by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, "Encyclopedia of U.S.
Gold Coins: 1795 - 1933, Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and
Pattern Issues."  Maybe you can't (or shouldn't) judge a book by
its cover, but I'll give high marks to the photographer and graphic
designer responsible for the gorgeous full-color cover featuring the
National Numismatic Collection's example of the 1849 pattern double
eagle.  The lush illustrated cover and dust jacket provide a taste
of the numismatic eye-candy to be found within - glorious full-color
photos of virtually every U.S. gold coin struck within the period.

A collaborative production of the Smithsonian Institution and
Whitman Publishing, the book is based on an in-depth study of the
holdings of the National Numismatic Collection, together with the
authors' studies of the rare coin market, auction records and
population reports.  The Smithsonian's Senior Curator of Numismatics,
Richard G. Doty, assisted with the project and wrote the book's
foreword, where he succinctly summarizes the need for a new book
on the topic:

"The only publication remotely comparable ... is a six-volume
compilation by David W. Akers, which appeared between 1975 and 1982.
 Published by Paramount, Akers' works are valuable resources,
especially for their magisterial coverage of auction appearances
and grades.  But they had the misfortune of appearing just prior
to the beginning of a dramatic rise in the rescuing of early
shipwrecks and their precious cargoes - American gold coins,
especially those from Western mints. Inevitably, we have gathered
much information from these finds which was simply unavailable to
earlier scholars including David Akers. Moreover, the photographs
that appeared in Akers' six volumes, while excellent, were also
limited.... Tom Mulvaney's splendid photographs make a unique
contribution of their own.  From personal experience, I know that
gold is extremely difficult to capture.  Tom is perhaps the best
numismatic photographer we have."

Doty's foreword is followed by an appreciation by Akers himself,
who discusses Walter Breen's pioneering 1960s monographs on U.S.
gold and his own series of books.  Akers writes, "Fortunately for
those of us who prize numismatic references, we are now living in
the 'golden age' of such books... it is not an exaggeration to say
that it is destined to be the numismatic reference work I will
reach for more often than just about any other, and I think it
should be a part of every numismatic library."

The credits and acknowledgements attest to the authors' efforts
in compiling and organizing this volume - over seventy individuals,
companies and institutions were consulted.  The bibliography lists
thirty references - all books but one (Ron Guth's CoinFacts.com).
As a bibliophile I would have liked to see even more, especially
periodical references.  I would have been ecstatic to see multiple
references to manuscripts, archival material and other less
accessible resources.  Perhaps these were consulted as well but
left out for space reasons.

However, the references cited indicate what this book is and what
it is not.  The appendices list thousands of auctions and
certification service reports.  The entries, while far from uniform
in content, are limited to just one paragraph each, an obvious
problem for issues such as the 1933 double eagle - two complete
books have already been written about this issue alone. The entries
often cite specific examples from collections or auction sales.
Each entry also includes summary tables of retail values, auction
appearances and population data.

What the book is however, is a great one-stop shop for all the
pertinent commercial data on any given coin.  What the book is not,
is an in-depth study of the economic and legislative background of
the coinage, or the artists and engravers who created them.  If that's
what you're looking for, this book is not for you - that kind of
information is found only in the book's 12-page overview of U.S.
gold coinage and the introductory pages at the beginning of each
denomination section discussing designers, specifications,
historical background, etc.

Although not a book for everyone, I'll side with Akers and make
room for this beautiful volume in my library.  Many thanks to the
authors and publishers for creating this monumental work.  The list
price is $69.95, but as of this writing it retails for $44.07 on
Amazon.com.  For bibliophiles, a limited leather edition (500 copies)
is available from Whitman for $99.95. Each is individually numbered
and signed by the authors.  Those prices are a bargain for this
beautiful publication.

Hardcover: 636 pages
Publisher: Whitman Publishing (June 15, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN: 0794817653
Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 8.8 x 11.0 inches
Shipping Weight: 4.68 pounds

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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