By David W. Lange …..
As a collector of vintage coin boards, folders and albums for nearly 40 years, my dream has been to publish all of what I’ve learned about these items that were so crucial to the development of the coin hobby as we know it today.
This goal is being realized in a series of books titled Coin Collecting Albums: A Complete History & Catalog. Volume Three of this trilogy has just been published, and it reveals the history of Whitman Publishing Company’s Coin Products division from 1940 through 1978, along with a complete catalog of all its folders, albums, and related accessories by editions and varieties.
The notion of collecting coin storage products is a relatively new one, and it can be challenging to make converts.
Numismatists have long valued the antique wooden coin cabinets of past generations as collectibles in themselves, particularly when such items can be traced to a prominent coin collector. In more recent years the collecting of early or rare certified coin “slabs” has become quite popular, and the most highly sought examples are frequently worth considerably more than the coins they hold. The next logical extension of such collecting is the very coin storage devices that have been partially superseded by certified grading: coin boards, folders, and albums.
I’ve been a devotee of this activity for many years, and through my books, I’ve been able to draw others to the hobby. The time to secure these items is while they are still affordable—and still in existence.
Every year hundreds of coin folders are tossed into the trash without regard to their age or rarity because so few persons perceive them as having any value beyond sheer utility. The majority of these items were produced by Whitman, and the vast numbers printed have led to the assumption that all will remain common for generations.
I can say with certainty that some are already extremely rare, with a few items still eluding my own collection after decades of searching. I’d like to share just a few of the most desirable Whitman rarities in the hope that readers will begin to see them in a different light.
Whitman was the king of coin board manufacturers from 1935 through 1942, these being the very large single-panel holders that typically measure 11” wide by 14” tall. When rival publishers Dansco and Oberwise began to produce smaller, folding coin panels in 1939-40, Whitman soon joined the bandwagon with its own, improved version of this successful coin holder. Debuting very late in 1940, the now-familiar Whitman blue folders were an immediate hit with collectors. The company continued to dominate this market for decades to come, and in their current design, the Whitman folders remain a very popular product.
The most prized item in my collection of Whitman folders is the company’s test mock-up from 1940 that was hand-painted in a combination of lettering and border devices that only hint at the finished product’s actual appearance. Absolutely unique, this prototype is thus not really collectible, but I’ve included it here for its historic value. Note that the front cover bears a rejected border design, while the back cover reveals the adopted one.
Whitman’s First Edition of blue folders was produced for just one-and-a-half years before wartime paper shortages forced a transition to cheaper, less attractive materials. Only 22 titles were included in the line during this edition, which is distinguished by glossy, leatherette covers, and jet black backing paper.
Of these 22 folders, those for Silver Three Cents (No. 9023) and Half Dimes (No. 9005) have never been seen, and it may be that none survive. Among those known to me, the very rarest is for Liberty Standing Half Dollars (No. 9021). The only example I’ve seen is in my own collection, and it has just enough openings to go through 1941. When this coin series continued past 1941 the openings were reconfigured to end with 1936, and a second title (No. 9027) was added for the coins dated 1937-47.
Whitman’s Second Edition was a long one, running from mid-1942 into early 1959. There are, however, distinctive features that permitted me to divide this edition into three series within that edition.
In Series 2.1 (1942-46), rarities abound, but most are in minor varieties that are not of general interest. Notable exceptions are the very rare Whitman folders that were distributed for the Racine Numismatic Society’s annual banquets during the war years. The head of Whitman’s Coin Products Division was Richard S. Yeo, better known to the hobby under his pen name of R. S. Yeoman. Since Whitman was then located in Racine, Wisconsin, he became a member of the RNS and provided its banquet attendees with commemorative folders in 1942 and ’43 (perhaps other years, too, but they have not surfaced). These have the banquet program sewn inside the folder, with a tasseled cord extending from the folder’s spine. How many of these survive after nearly 80 years is anyone’s guess, but they are highly collectible.
Another rarity from the Second Edition is Whitman’s first version of the coin folder for United States Type Coins. Most in the hobby are familiar with the two-volume folders of conventional design that break this collection into small denominations and large denominations, respectively, but these appeared sometime later. In 1943 Whitman began with a single, oversize folder that holds the entire collection under one cover. This folder includes a pocket inside that provides for the accompanying Handbook of United States Type Coins. This ensemble sold for one dollar, as opposed to the 25-cent list price of the regular folders, and it was a very poor seller. Examples are rare today, and when found they typically are in poor condition.
Seemingly the greatest rarity from the Second Edition falls within Series 2.3 (1953-59), and it’s a custom printing that was made for The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in 1954. Similar in size and materials to the regular Whitman folders, it is quite distinctive graphically. This folder is intended to hold, of course, “Lincoln Pennies”. There is one opening per date for the years 1909-68, and users are instructed to obtain three of these folders – one for each mint! It’s likely that at least several hundred were distributed at the time, but just try finding one today.
Whitman had the occasion to make custom printings for a number of companies, and one of these was a remarkable operation that was experiencing explosive growth during the mid-1960s.
When silver dollars disappeared from casino tables after 1964, a new venture called The Franklin Mint obtained a contract from several Nevada casinos to produce dollar-size tokens of nickel alloy to take their place. Joseph Segel, the marketing genius behind The Franklin Mint, realized that collectors would desire to collect these tokens, and he contracted with Whitman to print both folders and albums to hold the complete series. The Bookshelf Album for these tokens is rare, yet examples surface online about once every couple of years. Far more elusive is the simple Whitman folder titled Dollar Gaming Tokens. This seems to have been much less popular at the time, and examples are seldom seen today.
The shortest-lived of the eight editions of Whitman folders from 1940 through 1978 was the Seventh, which lasted for just a few months during 1967.
The company had undergone a corporate restructuring in 1966-67, and a new logo was adopted that defines this very short edition. This logo is the same skeletal globe as seen on the Eighth Edition of 1967-78, but the globe is noticeably larger and has the word “Whitman” in silhouette within the silver printing, instead of the silver-printed “Whitman” found on the latter edition. Only 19 titles are known for this edition, and all are relatively scarce. Those seen most often are for Roosevelt Dimes, Washington Quarters, and Franklin Halves. The rarest are the folder for Barber Dimes and those for Canadian Nickels, Dimes, and Halves.
Folders of the long-running (1967-78) Eighth Edition are generally pretty common, with several titles still available online in sealed bundles as delivered by the publisher.
One group of coin folders, however, is uniformly very rare.
These are the eight titles printed in 1970 for the coins of Ireland. They were not a part of the regular Whitman line and were never offered for sale in the USA. In fact, these folders were a custom printing for Whitman’s largest jobber (wholesale distributor), Don Hirschhorn. Mr. Hirschhorn had dominated the distribution of Whitman coin products since the early 1960s, and he had facilities located nationwide, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. The Irish folders, which are readily distinguished by their deep green covers and ivory pages, were actually printed in the UK, since none were intended for the American market.
It was only a couple years before the publication of my book that I finally located the last of the eight titles needed for completion, and it went for a substantial price. Whether I was competing against someone seeking it for the purpose of holding coins or as a collectible in its own right is uncertain, but we clearly both wanted it quite badly.
It remains to be seen how much the publication of a book on Whitman folders and albums will affect the values of the old and/or rare examples, but if the legacy of my 2007 book on the 11” x 14” coin boards is any indication the time to seek folders is right now. The values for all such coin boards are presently multiples of what they were in that book’s value guide, and the supply of very rare titles and varieties has shrunken to the point that they become available only when an existing collector decides to sell. The humble Whitman folders perhaps lack the novelty of the large boards, since we continue to see new ones every year, but I firmly believe that the market for them will evolve, and prices will necessarily rise for the more collectible examples.
* * *
About the Author
David W. Lange is the Research Director for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). In addition, he buys and sells old coin boards, folders, and albums through his website coincollectingboards.com. His publishing imprint, PennyBoard Press, offers a series of books relating the history of coin album publishers and their product lines. He may be reached at [email protected].