If I ever want to prove how far numismatics has advanced in the last half century, one way to do would be to set two Red Books side by the side.
The first would be the 1965 edition that I first read cover to cover as a kid.
For the second volume, I would use its descendant, the fifth edition of The Official Red Book A Guide Book of United States Coins, Professional Edition, which arrived on my desk this week.
The first thing that would be noticed is the Professional Edition is 8.5 by 11 inches and spiral bound as compared to the 5.25 by 7.75 inches of the old hard bound edition.
We are admonished not to judge a book by its cover and I would add heft to that statement, but people do it all the time anyway.
Paging through the Professional Edition’s nearly 400 pages reveals an amazing array of photos that identifies many of the varieties of U.S. coins that numismatics has been systematically identifying and cataloging over many years.
Early copper collectors are used to this, but average collectors less so. The Professional Edition of the Red Book will help average collectors get acquainted with the most widely recognized minting varieties. The cent section includes images even of the Seven-fingered Lincoln on the 2009 Formative Years bicentennial cent design.
If users of this book want to continue on in greater depth with minting varieties and errors, they can then seek out the website of the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America.
The book, of course, has prices as well as summaries of population reports from the Professional Coin Grading Service and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.
Grading when I first learned it involved buying a copy of what became my trusty Brown and Dunn. I am sure the idea of professional services doing grading for me would have struck me as odd. I wanted to learn how to do it myself.
For collectors who still possess that do-it-yourself spirit, the Professional Edition of the Red Book is one important volume to add to their numismatic libraries.
To many collectors, books are a needless expense. Nothing could be further from the truth. Money spent on books repays cost many times.
I could make a case that the $1.75 I spent on the 1965 Red Book was the foundation of my 35-year professional career in numismatic journalism.
With that kind of return on investment, collectors shouldn’t think twice about spending $29.95 on the fifth Professional Edition of the Red Book. One smart purchase guided by the knowledge gained from this book will more than repay the expense.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."