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Need a guide or do you fly blind?

As someone who started collecting as a kid in the 1960s, I was armed with Whitman albums by the age of 8 and then at the age of 11 I bought my first trusty copy of the Red Book.

Knowing what coins were struck, how many were minted, where they were minted and retail prices gave me a pretty good working knowledge of the numismatic hobby. I knew what I had found in my change and the mintage figures and prices told me why there were certain holes in the album that I had difficulty filling.

With this as my background I sometimes shake my head at questions that come my way. An e-mail over the weekend was one such head shaker.

The writer noted that a recent feature he had read stated that the first San Francisco silver dollar was minted in 1859.

How could that be? He has an 1848-S.

My response was that the San Francisco Mint began operations in 1854 and the coin he had was likely a fake.

What puzzled me was not so much that a person cannot know something, but that with all of the coin albums and price guides out there the writer’s first impulse was to question a statement of fact in a feature story.

Standard advice is to go buy a book. Alternatively, you can check a website. The Krause NumisMaster website will let you check a coin by date and mintmark for free, but you won’t get prices without paying for the service.

The free basic access will allow anyone at least to figure out whether a certain coin has been minted in the first place.

If you are reading this on the Numismatic News website, go to and see for yourself. Other readers are already there.