Back in 1965, I published “A Beginner’s Guide to Better Coins,” a device that you could carry in your pocket and go to quickly to find out whether a coin you found in pocket change was a rare date. I sold about two dozen copies (for a long time, I had many copies of this, now just one or two) but when it was done I started writing “Under the Glass” for Gateway Coin’s house organ, The Coin Shopper.
Some 46 years later, I am still writing this column – thousands of articles later, many of them in Numismatic News – but, it turns, out, there have also been a number of books. Some are on coins, some are on legal topics, and as I am fond of saying to friends who ask, the topics run from “Z” to “A”, zoning law to a critical guide to anthologies of African literature.
Books that I have written are sometimes large law review articles, but a number of them are stand-alones. An early such effort was “Toward a revision of the minting & coinage laws of the United States”, appeared in the Cleveland State Law Review in 1977. (That publication is a slim 82 pages (but because of the footnotes, is actually a lot longer – more than 80,000 words including 537 footnotes).
That was unusual because it started out as a law review article at an institution completely unrelated to me (that’s not unusual) and ended up being reprinted in The Numismatist, the monthly journal of the American Numismatic Association., spread out over several months and illustrated to boot. (That is unusual for a law review article).
Another tiny book, 76 pages or so, started out the other way – as an article in The Numismatist, the story of how the U.S. got its Bicentennial coins. It was also chocked with footnotes (more than 440). After it ran, Three Continents Press in Washington, a small publisher that I had known since college, assembled it into book form with documentary exhibits.
Well, there have been a number of other books since, but this last one was probably one where I had the most fun and where, if you read it, you’ll come away learning something that you did not previously know.
Here are some of the surprises in the upcoming The Insider’s Guide to Investing in Precious Metals from an extensive study (more than 40 tables, over 30 graphs):
• Even though gold’s price is above $1,500 an ounce (a world record), silver at $35 an ounce made the better investment in the last five years.
• Great collectors like John Jay Pittman, Louis Eliasberg and Harold Bareford bought any number of their gold coins as semi-numismatic items
• If you look at the mintages of the gold, silver and platinum bullion coins, there are some real rarities you can pick up at bargain prices
• In buying U.S. commemorative gold coins, the best dollar value is the uncirculated – even though collectors prefer proofs.
• When Fort Knox was built, it had an escape tunnel in the vault.
There’s a lot more – and it will be as fun to read as it was to write it. The only real problem was trying to standardize how the charts, tables and references appear in the book because of such a volatile market. I decided the way to do it was to refer to a much earlier time (2009), an intermediate time (2010) and two dates in 2011, ($1,500 gold and $35 silver work for discussion).
My editor on this is Debbie Bradley. I have to confess that she has captured my voice. When reading her edits, it is precisely what I meant to say but missed the mark.
Unlike some other books out there, this one has the right datum; the right price points and a real sense of the market.
Bareford makes an unusual appearance. Back in 1978, his son, William, gave me the cost figures on each coin in his collection. Over the intervening years, I’ve done the “alley oop” story on the major rarities and also shown how a modest investment rose to a collection of over $1 million.
This focused on the pedestrian coins that he bought – the $5 gold pieces that he bought for double face value ($10): an 1836 and a 1905. Or the quarter eagle from 1885 that he bought for $6. The 1836 half eagle realized $340 when the collection sold in 1978, the 1905 went for $270. (The 1885 went for $8,000, a matter of gem condition being recognized by collectors by then).
Here’s the thing: the modest half eagles were a 17 per cent premium over bullion (back then $35 an ounce).
So it turns out (and the stats back it up) that precious metal was a great investment after FDR devalued the dollar. And, it might go that same way if the dollar were devalued again.
Meanwhile, I’m already onto my third book – it’s a book about guardianships and conservatorships (a legal topic), which is due in February 2012. There may be another coin book before then.