The Red Book: The Numismatist's Bible

Red Book
"A Guide Book of United States Coins," better known as the "Red Book," comes in a durable hardbound version and a spiral-bound version that can be laid flat. (Photo: Leon Worden/The Signal)

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, October 22, 2005

efore World War II there was no annual guide to pricing United States coins — except a few retailers who issued fairly comprehensive price lists such as B. Max Mehl of Ft. Worth, Ben's Stamp and Coin Co. of Chicago, and Wayte Raymond, who published a "Standard Guide to United States Coins," which was really a retail price list of the publisher. The "Numismatic Scrapbook" was a coin collectors' magazine at the time and included price lists from various dealers.
    Whitman Publishing Co. selected a young numismatist, Richard S. Yeoman, to compile "A Guide Book of United States Coins" around 1941. However, the project was put on hold during the war and the first edition did not come out until 1946 (with a 1947 date). It was so successful at $1.50 retail that there were two printings of the 1947 edition. The cover was red, and from then on it was known to collectors as simply, the "Red Book."
    Now in its 59th edition (2006), the book has been edited for several years by Kenneth Bressett, both before and after Yeoman's death. The book consists of many sections, and each year another section is usually added. The introductory chapter covers the grading of coins (a one-page sketch) and a brief investment picture of United States coins (also one page). The history of coinage in the United States takes us briefly into the colonial period, the beginning of federal coinage.
    The pricing section starts with colonial coinage, with the earliest pieces, the Sommers Island coinage (Bermuda) struck around 1616. The next, more familiar coinage listed is the New England ("NE") coinage of Massachusetts from 1652, followed by the Willow Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree issues. The next 42 pages cover the various colonial and private coinage of the pre-federal coinage era.
    Six pages are devoted to proof and mint sets from 1936 to date, with issue prices and current values.
    The bulk of the book then deals with the regular United States coinage starting in 1793 with the half cent, and goes right up through the gold coins, followed by the commemorative coinage, the private gold coinage, a page on Civil War tokens, a page on the Confederate States of America (CSA) half dollar and Confederate cent, a page on Hawaiian coins and tokens, a page on Alaska's tokens of 1935, 10 pages on Philippine coins under United States rule, four pages on error coinage, six pages on pattern coinage, and 10 pages on bullion silver, gold and platinum issues., The final pages are devoted to the "Red Book" itself as a collectible, with all issues listed by issue price and current market values.
    Collectors are cautioned that without good knowledge of coin grading, the prices listed in the "Red Book" can be misinterpreted as the prices a collector can get for his coins. In many cases, the "Red Book" price is higher than the retail price and for scarce and older coins. At the same time, the "Red Book" often undervalues prices as the resale market sets record levels with every major auction or private sale, especially for rare coins and coins graded Mint State-65 or Proof-65 or higher.
    The hardback edition lists for $16.95 ($14.95 for a spiral-bound edition) and is available at most coin shops and bookstores.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.