Building a Numismatic Library

Posted on 5/4/2017

Assembling the correct numismatic library for your level of engagement in the hobby is very important.

One of the most sage pieces of advice ever given in numismatics is “buy the book before the coin”. The legendary numismatist Q. David Bowers is credited with coining the phrase. The logic seems simple—the more you know about something, the better your buying decision. There is actually more to it than that. By exploring the series you have become interested in, your enjoyment of the hobby will be greatly enhanced. Facts and numbers pale in comparison to the rich history that accompanies many rare coins. As an example, I have always loved 1792 Half Dismes. The coins are one of the first coins ever struck for the United States and are very rare. Recently, new research for a yet-to-be-published book has surfaced that proves Thomas Jefferson purchased the first 1,500 coins and spent them on his way home to Monticello. Now I really love these little jewels!

Many young collectors who have been raised in a digital world find most of what they need on their personal electronic devices. I envy these whiz kids who can research the latest pop information, auction records and catalog prices on their phones in a flash. They might be able to figure out if a coin is good deal, but they have missed much of the romance numismatics has to offer. Rare coins are extremely fascinating, but in my opinion, you need books to really explore their background. Today’s collectors are extremely lucky as there have been hundreds of books published in recent years about rare coins. There is a specialty book on almost every facet of numismatics. Whitman has published hundreds of titles in the last several years and they have many more on the docket.

Over the last 40 years I have built a numismatic library that comprises hundreds if not thousands of titles. It has been my policy to buy an example of about every numismatic book published. As a professional numismatist, I would never want to miss an opportunity because I did not have the correct information. One book can save or make you thousands of dollars if used correctly. Of course, most collectors or dealers cannot buy every book about every subject that has been published. The cost would be substantial and the average person would never need most of them. Assembling the best numismatic library for your level of engagement in the hobby is very important. If you only collect Morgan silver dollars your library will look much different from the one of someone who collects ancient coins.

How To Begin

The first book most collectors purchase is A Guide Book of United States Coins (the "Red Book"). This classic book has been nicknamed the “numismatic bible” for very good reasons. The book contains an amazing amount of numismatic information for beginners and experts alike. It is considered the standard reference for mintage figures (which Whitman takes very seriously). The book is usually within arm’s reach of every serious collector or dealer in the United States. The book has been published since 1947 and is one of the bestselling reference books of all time. For the last several years I have been the pricing editor and our team is very proud of the accuracy of the information offered.

Guide Book of United States Coins MEGA RED 2017

More advanced collectors should consider the MEGA RED edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins. This mammoth book is 1,500 pages of detailed numismatic information on every series. The expanded version of the Red Book has an amazing amount of die variety information on nearly every series. There are also additional mintage numbers not found in the standard edition. If you could only buy one numismatic book, this would be the one!

Another book that I would recommend for beginners or advanced collectors is my 100 Greatest United States Coins. The book gives readers an understanding of why some rare coins are considered great. It has little to do with rarity or condition, but is usually based on the great stories that are attached to them. The purpose of this article is not to encourage you to buy every book written by Jeff Garrett. Below is a list of books I would recommend based on your area of interest. It’s impossible to list every wonderful book written about rare coins, but this list will get you started. These books are the ones that I reach for the most often. Also, as I have mentioned many times, consult with experts in the area of the market you have chosen and ask for advice on other books to purchase.

The hobby of numismatics is always evolving and every collector should be aware of current events. Collectors should subscribe to Coin World and Numismatic News. Also, a membership in the American Numismatic Association will provide you a monthly copy of The Numismatist, the flagship publication of organization. The Numismatist is an amazing publication and has been published for about 125 years. Past copies of The Numismatist are available at for members. The ANA also has the largest lending numismatic library in the world for members.

Finally, be sure to check out the Whitman website for their latest publications.

Colonial Coinage:

Guide Book of United States Coins
R.S. Yeomen and Ken Bresset

The Early Coins of America
Sylvester Crosby

Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins
Walter Breen

Early Copper Coins:

American Half Cents
Roger Cohen

Penny Whimsy
William H. Sheldon

The Cent Book, 1816-1839
John D. Wright

United States Large Cents, 1793-1814
William C. Noyes

United States Large Cents, 1816-1839
William C. Noyes

The Die Varieties of United States Large Cents, 1840-1857
John Grellman

United States Copper Cents of the Years, 1816-1857
Howard R. Newcomb

Small Cents:

Flying Eagle and Indian Cents(plus any new editions)
Richard Snow

The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents
David W. Lange

A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents
Q. David Bowers

The Authoritative Reference on Lincoln Cents
Kevin Flynn and John Wexler

Two Cent and Three Cent:

Getting Your Two Cents Worth and The Authoritative Reference on Three Cent Nickels
Kevin Flynn


The Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels
David W. Lange

Million Dollar Nickels
Paul Montgomery, Mark Borckardt and Ray Knight

A Guide Book of Shield & Liberty Nickels
Q. David Bowers

Bust Coinage:

Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794-1836
Al Overton

The Ultimate Guide to Attributing Bust Half Dollars
Glenn R. Peterson

Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States
Q. David Bowers

The United States Early Dollars 1794 to 1804
Jules Reivers

Liberty Seated Coinage:

The United States Half Dimes
D.W. Valentine

Encyclopedia of United States Liberty Seated Dimes 1837-1891
Kamal Ahwash

The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Dimes
Brian Greer

The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dimes
Al Blythe

The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of United States Liberty Seated Quarters
Larry Briggs

The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars
Randall Wiley and William Bugert

The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars
Bill Bugert and Randy Wiley

Morgan Silver Dollars:

Red Book of Morgan Silver Dollars
Q. David Bowers

The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties
Dr. Michael Fey and Jeff Oxman

Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Silver Dollars
Leroy Van Allen and George A. Mallis

Gold Coins:

Encyclopedia of United States Gold
Jeff Garret and Ron Guth

Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
Douglas Winter

Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint 1838-1861
Douglas Winter

Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint 1839-1909
Douglas Winter

Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties: A Study of Die States 1795-1834
John Dannreuther and Harry W. Bass

Illegal Tender 1933 Double Eagle
David Tripp

Pattern Coins:

United States Patterns Coins
J. Hewitt Judd

United States Gold Patterns
David Akers

Territorial Coinage:

Private Gold Coins and Pattern of the United States
Dr. Donald Kagin


The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards
Kenneth Bressett

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to

Jeff Garrett bio

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