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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 36, September 5, 2010, Article 3

BOOK REVIEW: 100 GREATEST U. S. ERROR COINS

John and Nancy Wilson submitted this review of the latest title in the Whitman Publishing "100 Greatest" series. Thanks! I also have a copy of the book, and I've added my thoughts as well. -Editor

100 Greatest U. S. Error Coins “100 Greatest U. S. Error Coins,” Authored by, Nicholas P. Brown, David J. Camire, and Fred Weinberg, Introduction by Q. David Bowers and Foreword by Douglas Mudd and Richard G. Doty, Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2010

Reviewed by, John and Nancy Wilson, NLG

The release of Whitman’s coffee-table book of 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins, by Nicholas Brow, David Camire, and Fred Weinberg makes this the seventh book in this series of richly illustrated coffee-table references by Whitman Publishing, LLC. The Hardcover reference has 144 pages and more than 500 illustrations. The enlarged and high-resolution color pictures of the greatest errors starts with the 2000-dated Sacagawea dollar/ Washington Quarter “Mule” worth about $250,000.

Each error is listed with an enlarged photograph and information about the coin such as how it was made, how many are known and information about the known history of the piece. Historical values are listed with estimated prices for 1980, 2000 and 2010. Where appropriate, close-up photographs are shown to better identify the piece. In some cases more modern pieces are shown along with the historical pieces.

Number 38 is a 1918-D Buffalo nickel struck on a Mercury dime planchet. A 1959 Jefferson nickel is also shown struck on a silver dime planchet. These are just a few of the great error coins depicted in the reference.

The 14 pages of “Error Coins, Inside and Out,” in Appendix A, are done in an easy to read manner. It explains how coins in general are made along with a listing of most of the types of error coins and how these particular coins came into existence. Damaged, altered and counterfeit coins are also explained. Appendix B has information on the Sacagawea Dollar Errors. Appendix A and B, is worth the price of the reference by themselves.

This book is especially interesting to people like us who only have a casual interest in error coins. The information on the types of error as well as information on the 100 greatest errors tweaks our interest to look deeper into this fascinating series. We can see from our attendance at several coin shows over the past few years that error coins are becoming more popular as time goes by.

The authors, along with the contributors did a masterful job of piecing together a reference that will generate great interest in the numismatic, as well as non-numismatic community. We are certain it will bring many more collectors into the fascinating field of error coins.

The well done reference retails for $29.95 and is available from: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 3103 Clairmont Road, Suite B, Atlanta, GA 30329, (800) 546-2995 or visit their web page at: www.whitmanbooks.com

Here are my own thoughts on the book, and a discussion of how it compares to the other recent book on the topic. -Editor

Like the Wilsons, I have only a casual personal interest in collecting error coins, but I greatly appreciate their importance to numismatics and have deep respect for those who study them. By studying what can go wrong in the minting process one learns everything there is to know about that process, and that's where true numismatic expertise lies.

It was no coincidence that error coin expert and Whitman coauthor Fred Weinberg was called upon to be part of the panel of experts who authenticated the missing Walton 1913 Liberty Nickel in 2003. "Weinberg was arguably the most knowledgeable of the group in mint processes and how they affect the appearance of the coin. He declined to look at the Walton coin until he had inspected all the other four nickels." ("Million-Dollar Nickels" by Montgomery et al, 2005, p285)

Now for my thoughts on the book. Since I know some of you will ask, it failed my back-of-the-book test - there was no bibliography or index, only several pages of ads (not that there's anything wrong with that...). I looked within the text for footnotes or other text indicating the source of some of the coins or their background information, and found some, but was left wanting more.

What collections have some of the great old-time errors resided in? Where was their discovery first documented? There is a huge body of written material in various error publications and fixed price lists of the past 50 years, not to mention within the pages of publications like COIN World or Numismatic News. While the book does have descriptions of the pedigree of many of the pieces it does not reveal where to look for further information, and I found that disappointing.

My back-of-the-book test did reveal some useful information, however. Appendix A explained an important fact about the book:

While this book covers only the 100 greatest striking errors, we feel it necessary to briefly touch upon a few of the most common die-error types (referred to as varieties among coin collectors).

Which explains why you won't find the famed 1955 Doubled Die error in this book. Another fact explained in Appendix A is the amazingly low error rates at the U.S. Mint today, a result of greatly improved processes and equipment:

All the major striking errors that have been found in the past five years could probably fit in a person's two hands. Literally, less than a handful of major striking errors are produced and leave the Mint annually.

Which explains the high rarity (and enormous prices) that many errors, even very recent ones, bring in the marketplace today. I was astounded by the price estimates for many of these coins. (Maybe I wouldn't have been if I'd paid more attention to the articles in the numismatic press). For example, #99 on the list is a 1974 Jefferson Nickel struck on a 1973 Jefferson Nickel. 2010 price estimate? $15,000-$17,500! A 2000-P Sacagawea Dollar mule is estimated at $150,000-$250,000. Yes, those are the right number of zeros. Yikes!

Now for the inevitable comparisons to the other recent book on the topic. First, I should note that it's relatively rare for this situation to occur. The numismatic market is relatively small, and it's unusual for publishers to compete head-to-head, releasing books on the same topic within a short span of time. This happened recently when two books on the subject of National Commemorative Medals appeared. Now Whitman's publication of 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins comes shortly after the Zyrus Press book, World's Greatest Mint Errors by Mike Byers (see my review from April of this year).

Although the Byers title indicates a broader subject area, as I pointed out in my review the vast majority of the error coins discussed and pictured in the book are U.S. coins. So the topic areas very much overlap.

The other difference in the books' titles is that the Whitman book limits itself to what the authors deem the "100 Greatest" errors. I didn't count, but the Byers book pictures and describes more errors. It's also a larger book. Although both are big, coffee-table size tomes, the Byers book has 232 pages to Whitman's 127. The Byers book actually stands a fraction of an inch taller and has a nice glossy dust jacket covering a black cloth cover. As a fussy bibliophile, I'll give the Byers book the edge.

Size is only important as a tie breaker, though - what matters most is the content. In the Byers book, most of the coins are accompanied only by a paragraph or two of text. While many of the coins get a similar treatment in the Whitman book, there are several entries with half a page or more of text.

How good is the text? Since I'm not a collector of errors, there could be many omissions or mistakes in the books and I'd be the last person to figure it out. But both books have a wealth of experience behind them. In fact (and not surprisingly), some of the same error coin experts are credited in both books. Whitman co-author Fred Weinberg is the first listed contributor to the Byers book, and Mike Byers is a contributor to the Whitman book.

So which book to buy? Easy - both! As a bibliophile I've only rarely met a book I didn't find something to love about. The photography is top-notch in both volumes, and there are numerous coins that appear only in one of them. In fact, if one were to perform a detailed comparison, I suspect one might find fewer coins in common to the two books than not.

That's the beauty of the error coin field - its depth and breadth is huge. First, all coins ever minted are fair game, which is of course a huge field in itself. Then on top of that, there are hundreds of different things that can go wrong in the minting process, creating an absolutely immense field of collecting possibilities. Enjoy!

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: BOOK REVIEW: WORLD'S GREATEST ERRORS BY MIKE BYERS (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v12n14a03.html)

THE BOOK BAZARRE

“GOLD: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Sell Today” Kenneth Bressett calls this beautifully illustrated book “an absolute necessity for anyone interested in buying or selling gold.” Coauthors Jeff Garrett and Q. David Bowers present a treasure trove of insider guidance. Handy pullouts include bullion value charts, coinage specifications, weight conversion tables, and more. Hardcover, in a library-quality slipcase. Only $12.95. Call Whitman Publishing at 1-800-546-2995, or order online at www.WhitmanBooks.com .


Wayne Homren, Editor

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