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Collect both old and new references

Numismatics is not just about half dollars, cents, or whatever your favorite coin is. Serious numismatists never stop learning, and may find that collecting coin reference books and other materials can be as challenging as completing a favorite series.

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Numismatics is not just about half dollars, cents, or whatever your favorite coin is. Serious numismatists never stop learning, and may find that collecting coin reference books and other materials can be as challenging as completing a favorite series.


The annual A Guide Book of United States coins, the popular Red Book, has become a collector’s item in its own right. This familiar volume has been issued each year since 1947, with a number of early editions in scarce supply and high demand. Recently, a number of special editions with special covers have been made, adding to the number of books a collector may want.

Early editions of the Red Book, especially the first and fifth editions, are scarce and hard to find in better condition. Many collectors wrote notes in the margins, signed their names, or marked their books in other ways. The shape of the binding is also important. Books with frayed covers, worn spines, or other defects are worth less than books free from these defects.

A serious Red Book collector will not be satisfied with one of each edition. A few special editions can be found with a bit of searching. And don’t just look at your local coin shop, or the next coin convention. Garage sales, library sales, estate sales, used bookstores are places used Red Books can be found. You might be surprised at what you might find.

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I once found a hoard of older Red Books, dating back to the mid 1950s, at a coin shop’s bargain bin of used books, folders and the like. Most of these books sold for all of 50 cents each. The owner commented that I probably got the best deal of that day.

If you attend a major convention, you may find a specially covered copy of the latest Red Book at your place at the banquet. One prime example is the 1987 Red Book distributed at the banquet at the American Numismatic Association show that year in Milwaukee. Only 500 were printed, and they are always in demand. Other special books include Red Books of 1992, 2002 and 2008 with special ANA covers, a FUN show edition of 2005, and a leather bound 2008 Red Book given to those attending the Numismatic Literary Guild awards party. Attendees of the ANA 2000 banquet in Philadelphia received a Red Book with a Liberty Bell embossed on the flyleaf.

The Handbook of United States Coins, known as the Blue Book, began in 1942, a few years before the Red Book. The Blue Book, too, is a popular collectors’ item, although not as popular as the Red Book. Perhaps bargains can be found in this series; scarce early editions can be picked up for a few dollars, if you look hard and don’t give up the search.

But why stop at the annual price guides? Many reference books can be found in whatever your favorite series may be. Silver dollar lovers can find books on Morgan, Peace and earlier dollars. Even though the prices may be severely outdated, much of the information is not, and a wealth of knowledge can be found within these books’ covers. Collecting these historic titles means you are honoring and connecting with the past. It does not mean that you want to pursue your hobby without the benefit of current information. The latest editions of these or other books can be found at and other online websites.

Those who specialize in early coins can find many volumes on half cents and large cents. Large cent collectors never seem to tire of acquiring knowledge, and any large cent specialist undoubtedly has quite a few reference books in his library. Many early editions of these books are collector’s items in their own right.

Many coin magazines, newspapers and other publications have seen print over the years, and sets of these periodicals can be helpful to the serious collector. Check out ads in hobby publications for back issues. It’s fun to read the ads in these older issues and see what your favorite coins sold for years ago. Sometimes it’s frustrating too!

If you do not have the space to store years’ worth of back issues, you could save the issues that contain articles about your favorite series, rare coin, or collecting advice.

Some collectors have made a serious specialty of saving old coin holders and albums. The Library of Coins and Whitman blue folders, and the Classic albums, are collectible and can be picked up for a cheap price. Perhaps your favorite coin dealer has a few of these, or you could find some at a convention. A collector could save albums of his favorite series, or try to find albums to contain more unusual sets, such as type sets of Canada or the Philippines. I once met a large cent collector who wished to own a Whitman Classic album for that series. Some time later, I found one at a hobby shop and mailed it to him.

Looking through old coin holders can bring back memories of your own early days of collecting. Find an old Whitman blue folder and remember how you might have filled this album from circulation, and kept hoping that one day, the space for the 1909-S VDB would be filled too. Some of these early folders have holes already plugged with the word, “rare.” Maybe you now own one or more of these “rare” coins, and you can see how far you have come as a numismatist.

Some specialists in the early commemorative series make an effort to find the original holders and paperwork that came with these coins. I have seen holders for the Lexington-Concord, Norfolk, and Connecticut half dollars for sale. One dealer had a stack of the Lexington-Concord holders at his table at a coin show. Most of these holders were probably discarded long ago, and these could prove to be challenging to find. Perhaps looking for a number of holders could rejuvenate a collector’s interest in these beautiful and historical coins.

A different and relatively uncommon way of getting more out of your collecting interest can be saving coin albums and folders, magazines and newspapers, and other paper items that most other collectors don’t notice or don’t care about. Why not give this type of collecting a try? You may find you can build a new collection, have fun searching and get them cheap.

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