• The Guide Book (Red Book) Part 1.

        Frank J. Colletti
        Throughout the time that I have been writing about coin collecting, and the many varied series of coins that are available for the coin collector, there is one area that I have never touched on: collecting coin books. The history of coin collecting goes back many hundreds, if not thousands, of years. However, coin references, at least the way that we know them today haven’t been around for a very long time. The ones that we will discuss in this and the next column will relate solely to the United States series of coins.

        Initially, in 1942, R.S. Yeoman published a "Handbook of United States Coin" which was a wholesale reference of estimated dealers’ buying prices. The intention was to follow the next year with "A Guide Book of United States Coins" which would be a basic retail pricing guide. However, a little thing, called World War II intervened, and, due to restrictions on most supplies, including paper, the idea had to be put on hold for a while. Finally, in 1947, the 1st edition of "A Guide Book of United States Coins" was published. The initial printing, of 9,000 copies was an immediate sellout, and a 2nd printing was ordered, with one correction to the manuscript. [This was very lucky, otherwise there would be no way to determine the differences in the two printings.] The next year’s edition, 1948, saw a printing of 22,000 and was also a sellout. The printings increased each year until it hit a peak in 1965, with the 18th edition, when 1.2 million copies were produced.

        In subsequent years, the "Red Book" (as it is popularly known) became a best seller, and each year through the 1960's saw an increase in the production. It was listed in the best selling books of all time, along with Margaret Mitchell’s "Gone With The Wind" and Dale Carnegie’s "How to Win Friends & Influence People." At this time, with the 2009 issue, over 21 million copies have been sold! Clearly the ‘Guide Book’ is very popular and influential. If a particular variety is included in an edition it is sure to become popular with collectors (as opposed to merely be listed in speciality books). In fact some coin dealers say: ‘If it is in the Red Book we deal in it.’ There is no debating the influence of the Guide Book/Red Book on today’s collecting population.

        As a result of the influence of the Guide book, it has become very popular to collect the various editions of the ‘Red Book’ and collectors vie for copies that become available at on line auctions, numismatic auctions and used book stores. The popularity of the collection has reached the point where particularly nice editions or special copies are included in regular coin auctions. In the past the 1st edition that was deaccessioned by the Library of Congress was sold as a head-liner in a coin auction and sold for thousands of dollars.

        Today, a set of regular, hard cover editions will range from 1947, the first edition, to 2009, the 62nd edition. As you may find out in your quest, there are many of these that are difficult to obtain in any condition. In poor condition, a 1st edition, 1st printing will easily fetch $100. A nice, near new copy (the first ten editions are rarely encountered in anything approaching new condition) of the 1st edition, 1st printing will easily fetch from $800 to $1,000, and the 1st edition, 2nd printing will not be par behind. Why, if they have the same number printed, will there be a difference in price between the two printings? Apparently coin collectors value anything that is ‘first’ more than whatever will follow, all things being equal. Logical? No, but that is the way that it works.

        Where can you obtain these scarce early editions? They may be found where ever you find books. I have heard stories of nice early editions, from the first to the tenth, being found in a junk book box at garage sales. These can often be purchased for less than a dollar each. If you manage to grab one, consider yourself lucky. Another place that I heard of was at a flea market. In fact, the finder told me that he was luck enough to find the first ten plus editions in the bottom of a box and he purchased them all for less than $10! A very lucky find indeed. You may also check the library discard books, early editions are often not wanted and may be offered for 25 cents each. Where ever there are books for sale you may find old copies of the Guide Book. Let your imagination be your guide.

        As you complete the set, be sure to add the current year’s edition, and you can always know that there is something to add, consider that there are a number of years where Whitman Publishing (the publisher of the Guide Book) issued copies in soft cover and some years with spirals. These books offered a less expensive way for a collector to buy a book to check his (or her) coin values. However, some of these soft and spiral editions can be difficult to find. I know, I have been searching for reasonably priced examples of some for over a year.

        There is even one year, the 1997, 50th edition, where six copies were made in a soft cover and the rest were spiral bound. Today only two copies have been traced, and if anyone finds one of these it is worth a great deal. So, consider, after completing your hard cover set, add the soft and spirals. The regular set of Guide Books has increased a great deal in recent years. As recently as 1998 the 1st edition was valued at $350 in very fine condition. [Note: the grading of books is very different from coins. A Very Fine book is one that is near new.] Today, this same book is listed at $1,500! An increase of over 400% in only ten years. There have been similar increases in other editions, but the first editions have show the greatest increase. For reference, check out the current edition of the Guide Book for values of old editions, the back of the book has a section called "The Red Book As A Collectible". It gives a nice short narrative of the history of the Red Book and some pricing guide lines.

        There are other ways to collect the Guide Books, including, but not limited to: Special Editions, error printings and signed editions. We will discuss some of these others next time. But, until then, why not go out and start your collection today, and check out some of those old editions. Just having them for comparisons of the coin values alone makes the price well worth the investment.
        Surely, with rare coins selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and more, there is plenty of room for the increase in value for these Guide Books.

        #1) Cover of First Edition (1947) in Very Fine condition.
        #2) Cover of Third Edition 1949
        #3) Cover of 5th Edition
        #4) Cover of 9th Edition, about perfect, delicate.

        The scarce 1st edition, in very fine condition:

        The scarce 3rd Edition, also in nearly F condition:

        The very scarce 5th edition, the nicest one that I have ever seen: