Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins

(Note: This review refers to the 2010 edition of the guide.)

Should you buy the guide?


I really wanted to like the Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins, but I just couldn’t ignore my list of “What I Don’t Like.”

In the past, most reviewers of the guide appear to have done nothing more than look at the table of contents, flip through a few pages (maybe), and then parrot the publisher’s description of the guide.

That’s not me. When I was asked to review the guide, I actually opened the guide and started reading.

What I Don’t Like
  • No Presidential dollars or First Spouse coins – Although the guide lists Sacagawea dollars – and other coinage – through 2008, I couldn’t find any reference to or listings for the Presidential dollars which started in 2007. I could find nothing on the First Spouse coins either. With many new collectors starting with Presidential dollars, and many state quarter collectors expanding into Presidential dollars, this is a pretty significant oversight.
  • No Historical Narrative for Washington quarters – While there is historical narrative at the beginning of each coin type, there is no such narrative for the Washington quarters, including the state quarters. Considering the millions of new collectors that were drawn to the hobby with these quarters, it seems only logical to include some historical perspective for these coins.
  • No Private or Territorial Gold – As a collector of gold coins, including Kellogg and Moffat gold struck during the height of the California Gold Rush, I was disappointed to find no references to this coinage.
  • No Hard Times Tokens – There are no references to Hard Times tokens in this guide. Hard Times tokens play an important historical role in U.S. numismatics. There should be some mention of them in the guide. Civil War tokens, on the other hand, have an entire chapter in the guide.
  • Lack of Mintage Totals – For some reason, many mintage figures are just missing in the listings. For circulating coinage, proof mintages are missing after 2002. For Kennedy half dollars and Sacagawea dollars, even the circulation coins lack mintage totals after 2005, not to mention the Presidential dollars being missing from the listings altogether. For commemorative coins, mintage figures are missing after 1989. For bullion coins, gold stops after 1995 and silver after 1992. Proof sets stop after 2003.
  • Black & White Photos – There are photos of the obverse and reverse at the beginning of the section for each coin type. These photos are helpful for quick type identification, but do not help in the identification of major varieties. Also do not expect photos for each of the many new coins released in recent years such as the state quarters or Westward Journey nickels.
  • No Tips on Proper Handling or Storage – I am always surprised that most price guides have nothing to help new collectors learn how to properly handle and store their collection, and this guide is no exception. The 2010 Blackbook Price Guide to U.S. Postage Stamps has a chapter called “Equipment” that covers these things for stamp collectors. I would like to see a similar chapter in the coins guide.
My Overall Impression
Despite articles written for the guide by well regarded numismatists such as Q. David Bowers and Mike Ellis, I felt that I was reading a guide that was put together by someone who doesn’t collect coins. There seemed to be a lack of attention to detail. After all, how do you miss putting Presidential dollars and First Spouse coins in the guide altogether?

Plus, there were inconsistencies with headings and sometimes with the coins listed as well. Having found similar problems when I reviewed the 2010 Blackbook Price Guide for U.S. Postage Stamps, I came away feeling that I couldn’t trust the information in the guide.

The Guide Book I Recommend

For just a couple of dollars more than the Blackbook guide, you can buy Whitman’s Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. The Red Book guide includes most of what I felt was missing and has color photos on nice quality paper.

Do yourself a favor. Skip the Blackbook and get yourself a copy of Whitman’s Red Book instead. You won’t regret it.

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