Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing, producer of A Guide Book of United States Coins a.k.a. the Red Book initiated a conversation this week that
E-Sylum Feature Writer and
American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith examines in his article this week. Thanks! I and others were stumped, and try as I might I could not locate a copy of the book Dennis mentioned in what I used to think was my very extensive collection of U.S. numismatic books and ephemera. Pete as usual has given the topic an extensive treatment, and we're very grateful.
Who was R. A. Wilson?
I received an email from Dennis Tucker on Tuesday, May 2, asking about R. A. Wilson. Tucker
inquired about a book with a red cover that has similarities to other books with red covers.
I have so many questions. I wonder if the styling of
R.A. Wilson deliberately apes
Yeoman? Or did Wilson come first? Was he active in the early 1930s, when the American
Standard Book is supposed to have started --- when Yeoman was just beginning his sales career
This is a collection of items I found. If I had known where this was going when I started, I might
have saved it for a feature article in The Asylum.
Rinaldo Alexander Wilson was born at Rochester, New York, on November 23, 1888. His father
was James Wilson and mother was named Balfour. I did not find them in the 1900 Census.
Wilson became interested in coins in 1907 while employed at The Sovereign Bank of Canada.
Rinaldo Wilson was a distance runner and a pedestrian, the popular term for people who walk
long distances. In 1908 it was announced that Wilson planned to walk from the Flatiron building
in New York to Takoma, Washington, a distance of 3400 miles in 90 days, beginning on
February 20. Newspapers reported on his departure but none reported completion.
In 1909 he participated in the Tacoma marathon as one of eight runners. When the third place
winner finished, the remaining runners, including Wilson, withdrew from the race.
In January 1910, Wilson planned to walk from Tacoma to New York, leaving on January 31.
Apparently, he was unable to secure financial backing and abandoned the trip.
Later, in June 1910, he announced that he would run from Butte to New York, a distance of 2500
miles, in 60 days. He planned to run at night. Again, there were no reports of completions.
In 1913, it was announced that Wilson would join Peter Terway and Victor Morman in a race
through every principal town in the United States. This was expected to take two years. Terway
and Morman appeared at other events during that period suggesting that the distance event never
It appears that Wilson was much better at promoting events than he was in getting sponsors and
completing the events.
He was married to Ellie Berthanna Sathen (1891-1977) on March 4, 1916. They had four
children. His marriage license gave his profession as salesman.
He served as a private in the Marines during the First World War. He was stationed at Quantico,
Virginia, and posted overseas in France.
In the 1920 census, his profession was listed as toy manufacturing.
In 1920 it was announced that Wilson would attempt to run from Seattle to New York, beginning
on May 10. On his run he would wear his Marine uniform and promote the Corps. Again. no
follow-up reports. I doubt if he completed any of the events mentioned.
The 1922 birth record for his daughter lists his address at 8129 S. Figueroa and occupation at
In the 1930 Census, his profession was listed as candy salesman.
In a 1962 recollection, Wilson mentioned that he was annoyed with advertising for the 1913
Nickel and felt that a book was needed that had accurate information. He soon began publishing
a series of coin books with various similar titles.
In 1930, the American Catalog was published. His publishing company was American
Numismatic Company, located at Box 11655, Wagner Station, Los Angeles 17, California.
In 1932, American Coin Book was published by American Publishing Company at 3959 West
Sixth Street, Los Angeles 3. California. Some editions show a longer title, American Coin Book
and Standard Retail Premium List of All United States Coins. The twenty-fifth edition was
published in 1957.
In August 1934, The Numismatist announced the membership application of R. A. Wilson with
address as P. O. Box H, Hyde Park, Los Angeles, California. His collecting interests were Half
Cents and Civil War Tokens. In September he was confirmed as member 4546.
In 1934 he released The Federal Catalog of all United States Coins.
A 1935 ad in the May issue of The Numismatist had a picture of a book with the title The
American Catalog and Standard Premium List of All United States Coins. Alongside was the
written description of The American Coin Catalog of all United States Coins. Wilson was not
mentioned in the ad.
In 1936 he reported that he was teaching a class on coin collecting.
In 1938, Wilson sponsored Joseph Oberwise for membership in the ANA. Oberwise ran ads in
Wilson's American Catalog. Wilson. In turn, placed ads on the back of Oberwise coin boards.
David Lange devoted page 178 of Coin Collecting Boards of the 1930s & 1940s to a discussion
Lange discussed the proliferation of premium books like those published by Wilson.
distributed to persons who knew nothing of actual rarities and values, these books were
considered a blight by most reputable dealers and collectors.
The 1938 edition of American Catalog of All United States Coins had an illustration of the
1918-S 8 over 7 quarter before this was generally published elsewhere. Wilson kept up with changes.
In the 1940 Census, his profession was listed as catalogue publisher.
At the 1940 ANA convention, R. A, Wilson was recognized for sponsoring the most new
members as a lay member, (not an officer) He was unable to attend, having suffered an
In 1946, Roland C. Atwood issued National Check and Premium List of All U. S. Transportation
Tokens. This was published by the American Numismatic Company of Los Angeles.
In 1951, R. A. Wilson, Sr. donated a copy of American Catalog to the A.N.A. It was described as
a 104-page book that is well illustrated and with several special features.
In 1957, The Numismatist described one of the books:
Silver anniversary edition of The American Coin Book, compiled by R. A. Wilson, Sr., a pioneer
in the reporting of coinage statistics. The prices quoted are the result of checking dealers'
advertised prices and over 210 coin auctions of five months. Freak and die-marked coins are
listed and reports of coins melted or destroyed are given. Lists up to nine different coin
conditions, fair to proof. Printed on coated paper, 112 pages, paper bound, $1.25. Available from
your coin dealer or the publisher, the American Numismatic Co., Box 11655, Wagner Sta., Los
Angeles 17, Calif.
The title page of some books stated that Wilson was the president of the Collectors' Exchange
Bank in Los Angeles. They issued wooden nickels dated 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 and possibly
Wilson was an active member of the A.N.A. and in California organizations. He made
presentations to clubs and conducted radio interviews. In his time he was consulted on questions
In 1962, Rinaldo retired and passed the business on to a new generation. Publication was taken
over by James S. Wilson and the American Publishing Company at 3959 West Sixth Street, Los
Angles. James was the second son of Rinaldo.
In 1962, Coin World stated,
This feature has been a trade R. A. Wilson mark [sic] of the catalog for
previous editions. This year is no different up to nine conditions are priced. Published under
different names in its thirty year history The American Catalog, The Federal catalog. The
American Standard United States Coin Book and American Standard Book of All U. S. Coins the
publication is most widely known as the American Catalog.
American Standard Book of all United States Coins was issued with a cover date of 1964. It was
edited by R. A. Wilson and J. S. Wilson. James Sethen Wilson (1918-1964) was the son who
served in WWII and Korea, rising to the rank of major. His death in 1964 may have brought the
end to the business.
Rinaldo Wilson died in Los Angeles on October 23, 1978. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times
was very brief and mentioned three surviving children, 14 grandchildren and 9 great-grand-
children. He is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
List of Wilson titles mentioned somewhere:
American Catalog – Short form of title #2.
American Catalog and Standard Premium List of all United States Coins – Cover Title.
American Coin Book – Short form of title #4.
American Coin Book and Standard Premium list of All United States Coins.- Cover Title.
American Coin Book and Standard Retail Premium list of All United States Coins – Title page
American Standard Book of all U. S. Coins – Cover Title.
American Standard Book of all United States Coins – Title page of #8.
American Standard Coin Book – Cover Title.
Catalog of American Rare Coins – Cover Title. (1937).
The American Catalog – Short form of title #11.
The American Catalog and Standard Premium List of all United States Coins - Cover Title
The American Catalog of all United States Coins – Title page of #11.
The American Coin Book – Short form of title #14.
The American Coin Book Standard Premium List of all U.S. Coins – Cover Title
The American Coin Catalog of All United States Coins – Advertised, not seen.
The American Standard Catalog of all United States Coins – Title page of #2.
The American Standard United States Coin Book – Title page of #4.
The Federal Catalogue of all United States Coins (1934) – Not seen.
Wilson's American Rare Coin Catalog – Title page of #20 (1935)
Wilson's Catalog of American Rare Coins – Cover Title.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Raymond and Yeoman may have done it better, but
Wilson did it first. I believe Wilson's contributions over thirty years are under-appreciated by
This article was compiled over a period of three days without access to any of the books. I
suspect a longer study with the books would clarify sources and what material was included and
repackaged across the various titles and editions.
Given Pete's evidence, I concur that Wilson is under-appreciated by
today's numismatists and numismatic bibliophiles. Can anyone add more to this story?
I wonder if the "R.A. Wilson" styling was an attempt to sound less ethnic, although his full name was used in the non-numismatic newspaper articles Pete found. In college I worked with a young man whose first name was Rolando. He later legally changed it to Ryan, and at the time I could only wonder why - I thought "Rolando" was way cooler than "Ryan", and maybe today it would be.
The Wilson publication has its "quirks", and while it may have preceded the Whitman publication, the latter out-improved its content, and that's a big reason why today when collectors refer to the Red Book, they mean A Guide Book of United States Coins from Whitman.
Here are some of the idiosyncrasies Dennis notes in the 1960 American Standard Book of All U.S. Coins. A note on p127 states that their publication began in 1931.
"Of the 1694
God Preserve London Elephant token Wilson opines,
Some claim these as half-pennies but I fully believe they were really half-dollars in copper.
"His coverage of Alaska, prominently advertised on the front cover, has no illustrations and just two lines of narrative:
Beads, furs and clothing were used for money. Blue Hudson Bay trade beads were in great demand. An influx of beads reduced them to 25¢.
"The Philippines gets a full page of photos (but no pricing and very little numismatic information, some of it incorrect).
"Error coins are lavished with three pages of coverage, apparently underwritten by Michael Kolman Jr. and affording nearly a full page to illustrate the
Mint Error Kolit Position Gauge, which error collectors still use today.
"In the silver dollars section Wilson invokes a grand old name of numismatics that most hobbyists today have never heard:
Mr. Norman Shultz of Salt Lake City is the out-standing authority on United States silver dollars. In the interest of true reporting he has generously given his time in compiling the premium values of silver dollars in this book. Mr. Shultz was a Red Book contributor at the time, as well.
"In the commemoratives section, Wilson's advice sounds like it was written by Betty Crocker:
Collectors should . . . put all dis-colored coins or Uncirculated coins that have lost their mint bloom, in a solution of half a teaspoon of cream of tartar and half a cup of water, for twenty seconds. Rinse in cold running water, dry and dip in alcohol for a few seconds. This will return the original brilliance to coins.
"Mintages are separated in the back of the book, which was still the style of the Red Book at the time. (The modern Red Book format of including mintages within the coin listings would come in 1962.) For his mintages, Wilson gets lazy/hazy on the specifics, writing,
No coinage figures are shown for gold coins because, on account of huge meltings of no record, they mean nothing."
Wayne Homren, Editor
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