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From the January 2007 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:

 

Two Golden Encyclopedias

By Mike Nourse

 

    Do you like gold coins? I know, that is probably a silly question! Who doesn't like gold coins?? Now that it has been established that we all like gold coins, it can probably be concluded that none of us can afford to own nearly as many of them as we would like to, particularly the earlier versions. Since most of us are unable to own huge accumulations of gold coins, we must be content to read about them and admire pictures of choice specimens.

    Two books have recently been released that will help out in that regard, with both having an abundance of written material to go along with the hundreds of high quality photographs. These two golden encyclopedias were published in 2006 by Whitman Publishing, who we all know as the publisher of the Redbook.

    Let's look at these two books one by one.

Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795 - 1933
Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues
by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth
Leather bound edition #113 of 500

 

    The first book we will take a look at covers all United States gold coin issues including commemoratives and patterns. Each and every date and mintmark from all six gold denominations is examined, and Proof issues are kept separate from their Mint State relatives. For each coin, you are given the mintage, a paragraph detailing the characteristics of that date with other important information, retail values, auction appearance information, and a certified population report summary. There is also a picture of a coin from that issue, usually a specimen from the collection in the Smithsonian Institution, along with a listing of the grade of the finest specimen contained in that collection. Listed in this manner, there are three issues on each page. The photographs, though small at about the size of a half dollar, are very high quality. While larger photos would have been great, that would have had the effect of making an already large volume too big to be easily handled, so this very reasonable size compromise was reached.

    The paragraph of information provided for each issue will come in very handy for the individual who is either seeking or contemplating the purchase of a particular issue. Rarity is usually discussed along with striking characteristics and other interesting notes about that date. Minor varieties will be noted here as well, though major varieties, such as those that are listed in the Redbook, will receive separate listings.

    At the beginning of the book, there is some introductory reading material, but it is quite limited. This is not a book about the history of gold coins, but more of a buyer's guide. All gold coins are expensive, so knowing what to look for in a given issue can save you lots of money, particularly if you are looking for one of the scarcer items out there.

    This book is 636 pages long and comes in either leather bound (limited to 500 copies) or standard hardbound. I think the leather edition has been sold out but you should have little trouble finding the standard hardbound. The price is quite cheap at $70 or so considering the amount of information contained within and the obviously huge research effort obviously expended by the authors. A must buy for any collector with an interest in U.S. gold coins.

    The next book in our tour of the new golden encyclopedias is a more specialized volume which concentrates on early United States gold coins.

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

 

    As you can tell from the title of this book, the focus here is exclusively on the scarce gold coins produced by the Philadelphia Mint through 1834. Mintages of these coins were low, but a weight reduction in mid 1834 rendered these coins more valuable for their bullion content than for their face value leading to extensive melting. Many were melted here and many were melted overseas. The overall survival rate for early gold coins is generally less than one percent of the original small mintage, meaning that the prices for these gold pieces start in the low four figures for low grade and imperfect specimens and go up from there. Be prepared to spend a lot of money if you want to own any of the coins listed in this book.

    As noted above, the next best thing to owning a group of these expensive beauties is to read about them and have high quality pictures to admire. The pictures used in this book are notably larger than those used in the volume above, at about twice the diameter of a silver dollar. The authors of this volume have the luxury of more space due to simply having many less coins to discuss since they are only looking at 40 years of production and one mint rather than 140 years and seven mints.

    Each listing occupies two pages. On the left page is the high quality picture of the date and variety being discussed along with mintage information, estimated survival, and auction appearance information. On the right side is identification information, a listing of known die states, the usually brief comments from the notebook of Harry Bass, and a more lengthy discussion by John Dannreuther.

    Again, like the previous volume, there is not a great deal of historical information included. That is fine because there are other excellent books out there that cover that subject in depth, my favorite being United States Gold Coins An Illustrated History by Q. David Bowers in 1982. This serves again as a great buyer's guide but also an interesting book to just flip pages and look at the pictures and read some of the information given about some of these scarce coins. If you can't own them, at least you can enjoy looking at the pictures!

    This book is 576 pages long and bargain priced at about $50. You might be able to find the leather bound editions of either of these books for around $100 but there are only 500 produced of each book so they may be hard to locate.

    Happy reading!

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