By Mike Thorne, Ph.D.
To say that the book I’m going to review in this column is gargantuan is an understatement. According to my postal scales, it rings in at a whopping 6 pounds 10.5 ounces. That would be a good weight for a newborn infant rather than a paperback book. If I don’t want to do my weights at the gym, I can always work out with Mega Red.
Seriously, this is the 4th edition of a giant of a book, A Guide Book of United States Coins Mega Red. As you can tell from the title, it’s related to the venerable A Guide Book of United States Coins, aka the Red Book. In fact, you can think of it as the Red Book on steroids.
In each of the first three editions of Mega Red, there was a section that focused on a particular group of coins. In the first edition, the spotlight was on half cents and large cents. Flying Eagle, Indian Head, and Lincoln cents drew the limelight in the second edition. In the third edition, the focus was on nickel 5c pieces, and in this edition, dimes receive stellar treatment.
To give you a picture of the difference in dime coverage between Mega Red and the Red Book, I measured and counted the pages. In the 2018 Red Book, dimes are treated on 16, 5.25- x 7.75-inch pages. In Mega Red, dimes are covered on 294, 6.5- x 10-inch pages. In other words, when you buy the latest Mega Red, it includes a complete book on U.S. dimes!
I hasten to add that of the Mega Red’s 25 appendices, 15 are about dimes in one way or another. These are not included in the page count I just gave you.
“. . . more pricing in more grades . . . plus certified population data, more die varieties, and more auction records . . . It has everything you need to know about U.S. coins.”
Continuing with the back cover, Mega Red prices more than 8,000 items, supplying 48,000 individual values in up to 13 grades. There are literally thousands of full-color images and more than 15,000 auction records.
It begins with a section on how to use the book. This is followed by a brief section on collecting U.S. coins that opens with a discussion of investing in rare coins. Some of the topics are using common sense, learning about grading, and learning about what you’re buying.
This reminds me of people I’ve known over the years who had money to invest in coins but who obviously never read this introductory material. One now-deceased friend of mine began his foray into coins by purchasing a 1,000-coin bag of silver dollars. I don’t remember what he paid for them, but it was obviously too much, as the coins he showed me were what I would call “dogs.” To a one, they were harshly cleaned, damaged, stained, worn slick, or had some combination of these defects. In addition, they were all exceedingly common dates.
The introductory material in A Guide Book of United States Coins Mega Red includes a fascinating essay by the late Dr. Richard Doty, who was senior curator of numismatics at the Smithsonian Institution. Titled “The Story of American Money,” it begins with “money” of the Native Americans, who tended to use items in their immediate environment. These included shells, animal pelts, and beads cut from the shells of clams and conchs.
Doty’s essay takes the reader through the influence of Spanish money, Colonial coins, and on into the first truly American money. In later sections, he writes about California gold, the end of private gold coinage, and a renaissance in American money (think of such coins as the Lincoln cent, the Buffalo nickel, and Saint-Gaudens’ eagle and double eagle). Doty’s section ends with a new renaissance in American money, which includes the State quarters program and modern commemoratives. Although most purchasers of coin guide books don’t buy them for the introductory readings, the section by Doty and the one by Q. David Bowers about treasures and hoards should be read by anyone who intends to call himself or herself a numismatist.
In fact, most buyers of coin guide books are interested in the listings of coins and their values. Obviously, Mega Red has considerably more coverage of dimes than the standard Red Book, but what about other series?
Looking at Peace dollars, for example, the Red Book devotes one and a half pages to their coverage. There’s a brief background of the design, an even more abbreviated look at grades and defining characteristics from VF20 to MS65, a picture of the obverse and reverse of the dollar, and then the listing of dates and prices for eight grades.
By contrast, Mega Red devotes a whole page to background. This is followed by a grading guide that includes pictures illustrating a particular grade. The listing of date/mintmark combinations includes, in addition to the same grades as in the Red Book with an extra grade (MS66), a listing of some auction results for each date. In addition, the number of coins certified by NGC occupies a block for each date. More helpful would be a number combining NGC certifications with those of PCGS.
Several photographic enlargements at the top of each page illustrate major varieties for several dates. In all, six pages are used for the Peace dollar series.
The latest edition of Mega Red is a major accomplishment from Whitman Publishing and its numismatic director, Q. David Bowers. Bowers is the senior editor of the book and penned several of the specialized appendices at the end.
Note that this is not a book for neophytes in the world of coins. They would be overwhelmed by all the information and are likely to complain, “This is not what I need.” For a beginner, the Red Book is a better choice.
However, if you’ve been a collector for a while, this is a book you’ll really appreciate. With a list price of $49.95, Mega Red is available from the publisher and from online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.
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