Ten Books To Get Started

Posted on 6/5/2014

Even though we live in the Internet age with virtually everything at our fingertips, books are still an important part of any numismatic education.

Dave Bowers once famously stated, “buy the book before the coin.” This advice is extremely valuable to anyone considering even a modest investment in their numismatic collection. The best protection from fraud, overpricing, or even counterfeits, is to establish your own knowledge about rare coins. Numismatics is a large and sometimes daunting field. Knowing how to get started can be difficult. I thought it would be a good idea to list the top ten books anyone seriously interested in United States coinage should purchase. This list should be just a start to your numismatic library. I, personally, own hundreds of numismatic books and consider them to be an invaluable resource. Quite a few numismatic enthusiasts actually collect rare coin books and auction catalogues of the past. Several dealers specialize in this field, and some hold regular auctions. Two of the best libraries in the United States for numismatic books reside at the American Numismatic Association and the American Numismatic Society. Both have lending programs for members, which is worth the price of membership alone!

A few are for very basic knowledge and others for those that have decided on a collecting specialty. There are dozens of numismatic books with detailed information for a variety of series. We will explore those in another article.

Top 10 Books To Get Started

  1. A Guide Book of United States Coins (Redbook), Whitman Publishing. The Redbook is considered the “bible” of numismatics. The book has been published annually since 1947 and has sold over 25 million copies. This makes it one of the most successful non-fiction books ever published. The Redbook contains great introductory information about collecting and the history of American numismatics. It is considered the go-to source for Colonial coinage and Territorial gold coin pricing and information. As Valuation Editor, I obviously believe the prices to be a very accurate reflection of retail prices for all United States coins. The Redbook is also the primary source for anyone looking for mintage information, including every new issue. Each Redbook also features interesting chapters about a different numismatic subject. Many coin collectors also collect the Redbook. A complete set from 1947 on is quite an achievement, and a great source of historical pricing information.
  2. The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins., American Numismatic Association. As everyone knows, grading is one of the most important aspects of coin collecting. Getting a basic understanding of coin grading is vital to anyone getting started. The ANA grading guide has great photographs of coins in different states of preservation. Coin grading can take a lifetime to master, but this book will be an excellent place to begin the journey.
  3. 100 Greatest United States Coins, by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. This book has been very popular with beginners and advanced collectors. The idea for the book came to me when I was constantly asked by non-collectors what the most expensive coin is. When told the auction record is over $10 million dollars, most ask why a coin could be worth so much. The short answer is that they have a great story attached to them. This book tells those stories and gives readers an understanding why the coins are so desirable. Most of the coins in this book are too expensive for the average collector, but most enjoy reading about them. Whitman Publishing has expanded the titles for the 100 Greatest series to include books about paper money, medals and ancient coins among others.
  4. American Coin Hoards and Treasures, by David Bowers. In recent years, there has been a tremendous interest in coin hoards, sunken treasure, and new finds. Dave Bowers’ book does an excellent job telling the stories of these interesting and exciting discoveries. Again, the stories are the common thread that makes coins from these finds so desirable. This book is great reading but probably in need of an update with everything that has shown up in recent years.
  5. United States Coinage—A Study by Type, by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. This book gives an excellent overview of United States coinage by the various Types issued. For many beginners the book can help to identify an area of interest for future collecting. The book is also visually exciting with great color photographs of “finest known” examples of most types. There is an actual size “virtual type set” illustrated in the back that is quite interesting. The book is a great coffee table gift for advanced or beginners.
  6. History of the United States Mint & Its Coinage, by David W. Lange. Many people collect rare coins with little thought about the Mints that produced them. David’s book tells the wonderful story of the US Mint and its early history. Collectors will have a better understanding of the mint process and many of the interesting characters who worked there. The book is beautifully illustrated and is highly recommend for collectors of all levels.
  7. Cherrypickers' Guide, by Bill Fivas and J.T. Stanton. There are several editions of this interesting book. The various books cover different denominations and all are required reading for anyone looking to pick off that scarce variety that no one knows about! We keep this book handy when buying coins across the counter and the books have paid for themselves many times over. Everyone loves to discover something, and these books are the tools you need to accomplish that.
  8. Million Dollar Nickels, by Mark Borckardt, Paul Montgomery and Ray Night. The 1913 Liberty Nickel is a legend in numismatics. This book explains in great detail why collectors pay millions for this coin. The Million Dollar Nickels follows the story of the 1913 Liberty Nickel from the day they were made and the subsequent hundred years of twists and turns. Many prominent early collectors and dealers are profiled. The chapters about the numismatic industry during the 1940s and 1950s are particularly interesting. The book primarily tells the story of the Walton 1913 Liberty Nickel. I have a fondness for that coin!!
  9. America’s Money, America’s Story, by Richard Doty. This book gives an excellent overview of money in America, from early Colonial times until present. The book uses many of the great objects for the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian to tell its story. The book is also one of the last accomplishments of Dick Doty, a great friend who passed away about one year ago. Whitman did a heroic job producing the book before his death.
  10. The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, by Dave Bowers. Although this book was published decades ago, it is a wonderful and interesting study of early coin collecting in the United States. The Garrett family, (no relation, unfortunately,) assembled one of the greatest coin collections ever. The collection was purchased by John Work Garrett and his family over decades starting in the mid-19th century. Many of the finest coins in existence were once part of this collection. The book is also an early example of the masterpieces of numismatic literature produced by Dave Bowers over the last few decades. It’s a beautiful book and well worth purchasing if you can find one.

Hopefully, this list will get you started on your numismatic journey, or enhance your knowledge, even if you have been collecting for years. I promise, they will be the best numismatic investment you make!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

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