First Read, a continuing series of essays about classic and contemporary works of numismatic literature….
Review by Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….
First Read: A Guide Book of United States Coins: Deluxe Edition by R.S. Yeoman and Kenneth Bressett
You can’t blame Whitman for trying to shake things up with its venerable Red Book franchise. Despite being the company’s best-selling book and a rite of passage for coin collectors for more than 70 years, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Guide Book is more of a first reference in the field and less and less a living, breathing document of the coin market in the digital age.
Understanding this, Whitman has tried to broaden the scope of the Red Book over the years, starting with a “Professional Edition”–an expanded version with additional pricing columns for several series and rudimentary auction data for most entries.
Amazingly, the publisher never saw the Professional Edition as a replacement for the basic version, stating in the introduction that the Pro Edition was not meant to serve as a “substitute for the regular-edition”.
Strange thing to say about a book that dwarfs the original in price and in size.
Still, the Professional Edition was Whitman’s first real attempt to produce a mass market price guide for coins that took into account that the coin market had changed dramatically since the days of Dick Yeoman.
With the studied and respected Ken Bressett at the helm, the Red Book has become a much better resource than it was 20 or even 10 years ago, but as a price guide… in many areas, it’s utterly hopeless. The Professional Edition may have been a slight improvement over the original, but it lacked the gravitas to be taken as seriously as a book with the moniker “Professional Edition” might suggest.
Now Whitman is trying something new, publishing an even bigger expanded version of the Red Book. The new Great Work, referred to as “Mega Red” by the Whitman editing staff, weighs in at six pounds and measures 7” x 10”. It’s hard to imagine that collectors might ever bring this “unabridged” version to a coin show, although some did try to use it at the most recent Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo, where the book debuted.
Having never seen the contents of the book before its release, we didn’t know what to expect from the new edition. Given its gargantuan size (over 1500 pages) we certainly expected more. More coin backstory, more in-depth pricing analysis, more photographs, more varieties, etc.
That we got more of some of that cannot be denied. But what also can’t be denied is that what we really got was a repackaging of a great deal of information already available through Whitman’s multi-volume type coin series (colloquially called the Bowers series, but there are a number of other named authors included as well).
The volume’s 360 pages devoted to early American coppers is a highlight, as are the outstanding 5,750 full-color images. What’s disappointing, other than the feeling of déjà vu that swept over us after reading many of the book’s other sections, was a lack of understanding of the modern series. Some are grossly overpriced, while the prices of others are missing in the grades that collectors actually collect.
Also, it makes no sense whatsoever to provide meaningless statistics, such as how 100% of George Washington Death Bicentennial Gold $5 coins certified by the major grading services are in Mint State (when was the last time you got a modern commemorative gold coin in change?).
Such things might seem like trivial complaints, but they speak to a greater, fundamental issue. Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look far to find more examples.
The Sacagawea dollar series, routinely collected in MS-67 and -68, is capped at MS-66 in the book. Proofs are capped at 69. 70s are abundantly available in the market. Same goes for the Susan B. Anthony dollar, except for this series Proofs are capped at 68.
Again, 70s are widely collected and abundant in number.
The Ike dollar, collected in MS-67 for clads: capped at MS-66. Collected in grades up to MS-69 in silver-clad: capped at MS-66. More than 90% of all Proofs from the series have graded PR69DCAM or PF69UCAM by the services. But like the SBA, Proof Ikes are capped at 68.
And another puzzling decision, the editors grade-capped the Morgan dollar at MS-65. For many dates, the coin is plentiful in MS-66 (and for some of the better San Francisco issues, even higher).
These omissions aren’t simply pet peeves (though they are), but fundamental lapses in coverage for the book’s target demographic.
While our opinion might seem overly harsh, there is enough meat on the bone to recommend a “sight unseen” purchase.
For serious numismatists, considering the cost of small-print-run specialty literature, the book’s $49.95 manufacturer’s suggested retail price isn’t much of an ask. One wonders whether–for these customers–a hardback option could have been mustered.
For the mass-market consumer or beginning collector, the book offers a tremendous value proposition and should be considered an essential resource for U.S. and related series.
For those who already have a number of the volumes that Whitman draws upon to fill “Mega Red’s” 1500+ pages, you’ll have to weigh whether a double dip is worth having all of this information in one attractive volume.
As for us, we haven’t made up our minds. It’s obvious that a lot of hard work went into the project, we just wish fewer corners had been cut. Maybe they’ll do better next year.
A Guide Book of United States Coins: Deluxe Edition
by R.S. Yeoman. Senior Editor Kenneth Bressett.
1504 Pages. Whitman Publishing, LLC. $49.95
You can purchase this book directly from our sponsor Wizard Coin Supply.
 Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins: Professional Edition, 4th Edition. Ed. Kenneth Bressett, Jeff Garrett, & Q. David Bowers. Atlanta, Georgia: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2012. Print. 12.