The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 18, May 3, 2009, Article 10


Breen Encyclopedia In a blog post this week on Stella Coin News, Mike Ellis writes:
My work has me searching the internet quite frequently. While I am at it, I keep my eyes out for websites I believe will be of particular use to collectors nation wide. Tuesday I found a value packed one and can hardly wait to get this posting done so you can rush right to it.

I remember when this book, Walter Breenís Complete Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, came out it was to me and many other variety specialists the greatest book ever written on U. S. Coins. Of course we no longer feel that way about it but it is still a great reference, especially if a collector wants a lot of varieties all inclusive in one book.

With all the specialized collectors and references that have been published since this book was published, collectors tend to use the more focused references. Though I am not quite sure who posted the book, I sure do thank them! It is listed in our online references and you may always find the link there.

To read the complete blog post, see: Walter Breenís Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins Available Online (

To view Breen's Encyclopedia online, see:

Susan Headley, editor of the Guide to Coins wrote an extensive post about the book, with a follow-up answering the obvious question of copyrights to this relatively recent book. Excerpts follow:
The only real problem with the Breen book is that is has long been out of print. Even if you could find a copy, it would cost you upwards of $250 to own it. But now, thanks to Tom Pilitowski of U.S. Rare Coin Investments, everyone can have access to this incredible book free of charge on the Web!

Update (Thursday, April 30, 2009): Ever since posting this Web site, I have received a flurry of emails, some of them from important Webmasters, asking why I had published the URL of this Breen book online site. There seems to be a common misapprehension among most of the numismatic community that the owner of the Web site, Tom Pilitowski, has posted this beloved reference without the permission of the copyright owners.

I looked into this matter, because of all the things I have covered over the years, this has turned out to be one of the biggest "can of worms" types of stories I have ever seen in numismatics. It's little wonder I didn't know the site was there; it turns out that more than is one leading coin collecting discussion forum has prevented its members from posting the URL, due to the widespread belief that the Breen book had been "stolen." When people posted in other forums, they were either warned by the Moderators or the members jumped all over them for sharing the link. This reaction is understandable, given the high esteem in which this seminal book is held, despite having the occasional error or unconfirmed anecdote within its pages.

However, I have checked into the matter regarding ownership of the Breen copyright and Pilitowski's authority to publish the content to the Web. The book was originally published by Doubleday, who subsequently sold the rights to Escala Group, Inc., the parent company of Bowers and Merena. Steve Deeds, the president of Bowers and Merena, has confirmed to me that he has given Tom Pilitowski permission to make the book available to the coin collecting community via the Web. Walter Breen died in 1993, and the book has never been reprinted. By publishing the book to the Web, free to all, Pilitowski and Bowers and Merena hope to make this valuable and beloved reference freely available to all, not just the folks who can afford $250 for a copy - assuming they can find one!

Many thanks to Susan for publicizing the online book and investigating the copyright issue. I'm glad to know everything is copacetic. -Editor

To read Susan's complete post, see: The Breen Book - Online and Free! (

I contacted Tom Pilitowski to ask why he created the site. He writes:
Why? Because it's one of the greatest, if not THE greatest all-in-one books on U.S. numismatics ever written. I'd say that the vast majority of collectors do not have access to the Breen Encyclopedia and that as I get on in years I'd like to look back and think that I did something extra for so many coin collectors and others who need access to this book. I have lots of plans on where to go from here and I'm definitely open to suggestions from the numismatic community, both from coin collectors, coin investors (who really really really need more information on coins) and others, as to what they would like to see in addition to it - perhaps add to it in such a way to make a Wiki type information base on the web.

A number of people have called and emailed me already and have offered words of thanks and some have made suggestions.

Tom's a longtime coin dealer from Florida. He also deals in coin books and supplies. His web sites include:

Kolbe 2009 May 03

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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