By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …..
As modern U.S. coins grew in popularity and became an important segment of the coin market over the last several decades, there was no real concomitant emergence of a significant numismatic literature about this burgeoning field.
There are a few key works, like Eric Jordan’s Modern Commemorative Coins (2010), and the short volume he coauthored with John Maben, Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins – as well as books on specific series from Whitman’s Official Red Book series of Guide Books.
But collectors of modern U.S. coins, especially those who focus on the major gold and silver bullion and collector coins issued by the United States Mint in recent decades, have tended to rely almost exclusively on numismatic periodicals and web sites and have not had much in the way of reference books to help make them more educated collectors.
In 2012 that began to change with the publication of John Mercanti and Miles Standish’s American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program, by Whitman Publishing, best known as the company that created the “Red Book”. The third edition of American Silver Eagles was released last week on March 17.
The second volume in Whitman’s bullion coin series is Edmund Moy’s 2014 book, American Gold and Platinum Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Programs, which, like the Mercanti and Standish volume, provides a detailed overview of the subject at hand, with useful background on how the series came about and detailed reference information on each coin.
Dennis Tucker, Whitman’s publisher and an award-winning author, has now completed the trio with the publication of his book, American Gold and Silver: U.S. Mint Collector and Investor Coins and Medals, Bicentennial to Date, which will be launched at the Whitman Exposition in Baltimore, Maryland, held from March 31 to April 3.
Tour de force
Tucker’s book is a tour de force, covering U.S. coins and medals issued since 1976 apart from American Eagles (though a brief chapter summarizing those programs is included). He began working on the book in 2009, as the author explained in personal correspondence to me, though most of the research and writing was done over the two years preceding its release.
The author visited every current U.S. Mint facility in operation plus two that are no longer functioning (New Orleans and Dahlonega), and interviewed numerous experts on modern U.S. coins*. He worked closely with numerous staff from the U.S. Mint, especially its sculptor-engravers and medallic sculptors, for whom the author clearly has a lot of admiration and respect.
After providing the reader with a fascinating overview of the role of gold and silver in human and U.S. history, he moves on to detailed, systematic, and gorgeously illustrated chapters about the most important modern gold and silver coin series, especially the American Buffalo Gold, First Spouse Gold, America the Beautiful Silver, and other special modern coin series – as well as on what he sees as the most important medals issued since the bicentennial.
The chapters on each particular coin or medal series provide, in typical Whitman fashion, essential data on certified coin populations and current values (which change over time), and, for the medals, data on key attributes like weight, composition, mintage, and issue price.
As the author explained to me, he sees his chapter on the American Arts gold program (the U.S. Mint’s answer to South Africa’s gold Krugerrand, coins that Americans could not legally purchase at the time) as the heart of the book.
Unlike conventional wisdom, which sees this program as a failure because it did not capture the attention of the American gold buyer to any significant extent (as reflected in poor sales), he sees the program as an important development. In Tucker’s analysis, the program was part of a critical transition period from the era before 1974 when Americans could not purchase gold coins to the present when, as a result of the American Eagle and other coin programs covered here, they have greater access to precious metals than ever before.
This book, a must-read and a must-have for anyone with an interest in modern U.S. gold and silver coins and medals, has a great number of unique strengths.
These strengths include:
- The remarkable amount of behind-the-scenes information on not just the coins themselves but also the back story of their creation, how their designs came about, their production and distribution, information on the designers of the coins, and other interesting and important information you simply will not find anywhere else;
- The superb collection of photographs that accompany the text, which includes countless sharp color images of the coins discussed, photos from inside various Mint locations, historic photos of the subjects of the coins, etc.;
- His treatment of areas that have been almost completely neglected modern numismatic literature, especially his superb coverage of U.S. mint medals silver and gold medals issued since 1976 including American Revolution Bicentennial medals that began to be issued in 1972 and U.S. Assay Commission medals (which date to the 1860s). These and more are depicted in a gallery of images that will delight anyone who appreciates beautiful medallic art, and others.
The above sections alone are worth the price of the book if you have an interest in medals, or wish to find out what’s out there. As the author told me, “Collectors love to look at old, artistic, historic coin and medal designs, and I felt it was important to share this part of our Mint history. I was honored to have Ken Bressett contribute a recollection to that appendix, from his 1966 service on the Assay Commission.”
I asked the author why he chose to leave most commemoratives out of the book (apart from his discussion in chapter 8 of the 2014 baseball coins and other special coins issued from 2009 to 2016). He said:
“I wanted to limit the book’s scope to bullion and bullion-esque productions. Commemoratives, I felt, are too much of a different animal to include in that menagerie. They’re legislated differently, they involve surcharges for charitable purposes, they’re distributed differently from bullion, etc. They’re also covered in depth in other Whitman Publishing books, so I didn’t feel the need to repeat that coverage here (American Gold and Silver is already 384 pages long!)”
Still, the author’s coverage of each series he talks about goes well beyond what most people will know about these coins, even if you are a serious collector who follows them closely. I found the discussion of each series and of specific coins to be especially compelling and different from previous coverage of these topics.
For example, the previous two books in the Whitman trilogy mostly limit their discussion to issues like sales levels and the precious metals market at the time the coins were released, but Tucker goes into much greater detail and includes coins that have, until now, been discussed only briefly in the numismatic press – such as the light finish varieties of the five-ounce silver America the Beautiful coins.
Whether you are a newcomer looking for an introduction to modern U.S. coins and medals, or a seasoned collector or scholar with a deep interest in these topics, American Gold and Silver deserves a prominent place in your numismatic library.
It will enhance not just what you know about these coins, and help you to be a more-well educated collector, but perhaps most importantly, it will enable you to enjoy these coins and medals even more than you already do and open up new areas which you may wish to collect.
*Full disclosure: The author lists me in his credits and acknowledgements
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