The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 16, April 20, 2008, Article 3


Publisher HarperCollins sent me a review copy of David Ganz'
new book, the "Smithsonian Guide to Coin Collecting."  See
the previous article for details from the press release.
Here are my first impressions.

The book is a quick and easy read, with just ten chapters in
154 pages.  This feels about right for a book intended as an
introduction to the hobby for newcomers.  Most of its glossy
pages hold one or more color photos of coins.  Most of the
photos are of high-grade specimens, and seem well-chosen to
augment the nearby text.  Topics include "The History of Coinage",
"Tools of the Collecting Trade", "Finding Coins for Your
Collection" and "Coins of Distinction," a selection of the
rarest U.S. coins.

Chapter five, "Tools of the Collecting Trade" provides a
short overview of storage methods such as holders and albums,
lighting and magnification tools, scales, etc.  The chapter
also discusses other useful resources such as coin clubs,
coin shows, numismatic libraries and museums.  The chapter
includes a photo of the wonderful Harry W. Bass gallery at
the American Numismatic Association's Edward Rochette
Numismatic Museum.

One error I noticed was the inclusion of Pittsburgh's Carnegie
Museum on a list of "selected museums with extensive numismatic
displays."  While The Carnegie does have a numismatic collection,
to my knowledge very little if any of it is displayed.

Chapter seven, "What's It Worth" discusses supply-side
factors such as mintage, melting and hoards, as well as
demand-side factors including condition and grading.  It
doesn't really address the number of collectors seeking
particular coins, and this feels like a big omission.  This
is where I think another mention of the State Quarter program
would be appropriate, since it's responsible for bringing a
large number of new collectors to the hobby.  One inclusion
I didn't care for was the table of grading services.  Half
of these I've never heard of and wouldn't recommend to a
beginning collector.  The text rightly points out that the
services can and do differ on the very subjective task of
grading coins.

As a reviewer I feel almost obligated to point out shortcomings
in a book.  As a longtime collector (and certified smartypants
as E-Sylum Editor), I could point out many places where more
could be said on a topic, but that is not the purpose of a book
for beginners.  While there is always room for more, Ganz' book
seems to represent a good balance of brevity, breadth and depth.
Any book that mentions Harry Bass, John Pittman and Ed Frossard
is OK by me.

There are some internal inconsistencies perhaps worth mentioning.
For one, coin supplies and storage and inventory programs are
discussed in both chapter five and chapter nine, "Managing Your
Collection."  For another, the 1933 double eagle is described on
page 2 as "America's Rarest Coin" but later on page 130 the Switt
hoard of ten examples of the coin are mentioned.  Eleven examples
outside the Smithsonian certainly makes a rare coin by any measure,
but not the rarest.

I was disappointed in a few of the photographs.  The table of
contents shows five proof state quarters on each page, but parts
of the designs are cut off.  This may have been the designer's
intention, but I found it distracting, particularly the top
coins on each page which have part of the state name obscured.
Finally, the cover photo seems dull and bland, particularly in
comparison to the photos inside.  The cover stock isn't as glossy,
leaving the image looking flat. The assemblage of coins looks
decidedly unreal, and not in a good way - it seems Photoshopped.
It took me a few minutes to realize the strangest aspect of it -
the coin sizes are all out of proportion, with silver dollars,
buffalo nickels and Large Cents all about the same diameter.
Maybe this was intentional too, but it has a jarring effect.

While the book does discuss price appreciation and investing,
I give the author credit for correctly noting that coin prices
don't always go up.  He uses the Hawaiian Quarter as an example,
noting that the coin which sold for as little as $19 in 1969
rose to over $2,000 in 1980 and later fell back to $500 or so.

Many authors have tried their hands at writing beginner
books, and each one has its own flavor.  This is a perennial
genre, though - the hobby continues to grow and change over
time, and even beginner books quickly get outdated, leaving
room for updates.  Ganz' book is a fine starting point for
the beginning collectors of the class of 2008.  Its retail
price is $19.95 and it is available at Barnes & Noble and

Ganz adds: "The Bass exhibit photos that you refer to are,
in my opinion, the finest photos ever taken of a museum
display. The photographer is John Nebel (who is still as of
this writing is being sued by the American Numismatic
Association). It required permission from the Bass Foundation,
the ANA and a cast of characters... but is worth it."

[John Nebel is among the most talented and generous people
I know in this hobby, and E-Sylum readers owe him a great
debt whether they realize it or not.   John graciously allows
the NBS web site and E-Sylum archive to be hosted gratis on
his computer server in Colorado, and volunteered his time
and programming ability to write the software which creates
the web pages for each individual E-Sylum article.  He has
also been working with us to create a new and much improved
NBS web site.

The ANA's lawsuit against Nebel and a group of former ANA
employees is a travesty.  It never should have been filed
in the first place, and once done, should have been quickly
settled or withdrawn.  The former board deserved to be voted
out for allowing it to happen.  It's a time and money sink
for all involved and I hope it finally comes to a resolution

Now back to numismatics - The book's cover and press release
refer to Ganz as "the father of the state quarter program,"
and the hobby owes a great deal to him and others such as
Rep. Michael Castle who made this wildly successful program
a reality.  A newspaper article published this week illustrates
how the program has helped attract many newcomers to the hobby.
Here are some excerpts. -Editor]

Steven was five years old when he discovered a handful of coins
I had left on the kitchen counter when I emptied my pockets at
the end of the day -- a couple of quarters, a dime and a nickel
and half a dozen pennies.

But one of the quarters looked different than the others,
and it caught his eye.

"Dad, what's on the back of this one?" he asked, holding
it up for inspection.

Steven's quest to collect all the state quarters began that
day. And he's getting closer.

There's now a wooden frame in the shape of the United States
hanging on the wall of his bedroom. The frame has a place
for each of the fifty state quarters, and they're all filled
except for the five coins to be released in 2008.

Oklahoma has eluded him so far, but it's not for lack of
trying: Carla's coin purse and the coins I leave in the cup
holder in my car are fair game in the search for the elusive

Steven is already looking ahead to the release of the 50th
coin ... Hawaii ... later this year. He's asked if we can
celebrate once his collection is complete, and I was surprised
that he even KNEW the word "luau". I'm pushing for a pineapple
pizza and a Don Ho album.

But his interest in coins has grown beyond state quarters,
and his collection now includes a couple of Kennedy half dollars,
some bicentennial quarters, the Susan B. Anthony silver dollars
the Tooth Fairy left and an odd collection of foreign coins ...
Deutschmarks, Francs, pesos, pesetas, shillings and a couple
of Canadian pennies.

And I'm pretty sure he's the only kid in his class who brought
a handful of Euros for show-and-tell, then explained to the
other first graders how much they're worth and where they're used.

To read the complete article, see:
Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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