The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 6, February 10, 2013, Article 4


Steve Bishop submitted this review of Whitman's new book, Almanac of United States Coins . Thanks. -Editor

Almanac-US-Coins_cover I bought a copy of the newly released Almanac of United States Coins expecting it to be a somewhat more informative version of the yearly Guidebook of United States Coins (The Red Book) from the same publisher. Looking back at the announcement in the last issue of The E-Sylum, I realize now that that expectation was unwarranted, and I should have paid more attention to that description.

This is a book that is a good introduction to the hobby for beginners, but I don’t really see that established numismatists can gain anything by buying it, and I would recommend the Red Book over it even for beginners. For only a couple dollars more, the Red Book gives far more information in far greater detail. The introductory essays in the Red Book give a comprehensive overview of coinage in the United States starting in colonial times, and of course, the date and price listings of the individual coins series is unparalleled. In short, skip the “Red Book Lite.” Buy the real thing.

I haven't seen a copy of the book yet, so I'll base my comments on what I've read about it. Steve's right that Whitman states the Almanac "is designed as an illustrated catalog of useful and entertaining information for newcomers to the hobby as well as longtime coin collectors." But I do think the title can be misleading. Beginner books are a fine genre, but "Almanac" implies something with much more heft. The classic COIN World Almanac truly is an Almanac, a dense compendium of useful hobby information - a real reference book. I don't know what I would have named this book were I in charge, but I don't think I would have called it an Almanac.

I asked Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing for a response, and his discussion of the book is below. Thanks! -Editor

Thanks for the opportunity to respond regarding the Almanac of United States Coins.

Mr. Bishop is right about the Red Book being the hobby’s “go-to” book for date-and-price listings --- it covers 7,000-plus coins, tokens, coppers, Proof sets, and similar numismatic collectibles. The Almanac of United States Coins doesn’t try to match that level of coin-by-coin detail. It does provide pricing charts for U.S. type coins (i.e., pricing across eight grade levels for the most common date within each series), along with narrative discussion of pricing you’ll see in the marketplace, descriptions of key and semi-key dates as well as popular die varieties, and details of significant auction results. This depth of narrative isn’t possible in the Red Book. Even at a hefty 448 pages, the Red Book is bursting at the seams --- it includes more than 32,000 prices! --- and doesn’t have as much room as the Almanac for stories about famous coins, diagnostic explanations of individual die varieties, and other historical context.

Here are a few examples.

• The Red Book tells you how much a coin dealer would charge you, retail, for a single 1958 Wheat cent that he stapled into a 2x2 holder and set in his shop display case for sale. The Almanac tells you

“Common-date Wheat cents can be bought in large quantities. In bulk the coins can retail for $0.03 to $0.05 apiece (between $150 and $250 for a 5,000-coin bag, although shipping costs can be an additional factor), with typical grades being VG or Fine up to lower-end Mint State. Most rolls and bags of the coins have been searched by dealers or collectors over the years, with older and scarcer dates and varieties picked out --- although sometimes treasures can still be found. Here are some coins to look for. . . .”

That kind of real-life advice and insight is invaluable for new collectors. It makes the Almanac an ideal companion to the Red Book, not a substitute for it, not a competitor, and not a “lite” version.

• The Red Book tells you the value of 1875 Indian Head cents in nine different grades, including Proof. The Almanac tells you the story behind the 1875 “Dot Reverse” variety --- a story involving a dishonest Philadelphia Mint employee and the remarkable trick his bosses played to catch him in an act of theft.

• The Red Book tells you the values of your Eisenhower dollars, coin by coin. The Almanac tells you about the Big Sky Hoard of more than 220,000 Ikes found in a Montana family’s bank vault in 2011, and how they came to be there.

• The Red Book gives you the value of every date and mintmark of U.S. dollar minted from 1794 to date, in multiple grades. The Almanac explains how speculators in the late 1700s took American silver dollars down to the Caribbean islands, exchanged them for heavier Spanish milled dollars, and then returned with the latter to Philadelphia to make a profit at the Mint’s expense --- and the “butterfly effect” this activity has had on the rare-coin marketplace 200 years later.

The Almanac of United States Coins does provide an impressive amount of numismatic knowledge in its 192 pages, and I do believe intermediate to advanced collectors will find it a “good read” just as newcomers find it instructive and educational. The biggest long-term benefit the Almanac will have for the hobby is to introduce casual collectors (State quarter enthusiasts curious to go deeper, folks who have found Grandpa’s cigar box full of old U.S. coins, and other “passersby”) to the wonderful world of coin collecting --- and, we hope, get them happily hooked.

The book will be distributed through mass-market big-box stores, bringing the hobby to tens of thousands of potential new collectors. The Almanac will help them identify what their coins are, and give them ballpark values, while entertaining them with interesting sidebars. If the coin bug bites --- if they’re fascinated by the stories, colorful images, and anecdotes --- then they can move on to the Red Book, the Professional Edition Red Book, and the Cherrypickers’ Guide, join the American Numismatic Association and a local coin club, visit their local coin shop, start attending shows and conventions, and make numismatics a lifelong hobby.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: NEW BOOK: ALMANAC OF UNITED STATES COINS (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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