From the November 2004 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:
Book Review: The Ultimate Guide To U. S. Three Cent Nickels by Allan Gifford
It's book review time again, and this time we are looking at a new book on a series of coins about which very little reference material exists. In fact, all that has come out in the last few years (well, ok, decades) is The Authoritative Reference On Three Cent Nickels by Kevin Flynn and Edward Fletcher, published in 1999. Walter Breen also devotes a whopping four pages to this series in his 750 page 1989 work Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins. Other than that, it has been slim pickings, though a few articles have surfaced over the years in the numismatic press. However, it is hard to get a comprehensive view of the series by clipping articles!
This book is structured much like most other variety guide style books in that it starts off with a bit of background information on the series, then goes into the standard 'how to use this book' type of information, then it dives into a date by date analysis of the series.
I found the background information to be good, but minimal. Maybe we have all become spoiled by the Q. David Bowers style of giving 50 pages of background analysis in excruciating detail! The present book only devotes six pages to the historical aspects of this series, and there is certainly room for embellishment, as the politics and the personalities involved in the creation of this series are quite complex. It is important to go into detail about Joseph Wharton, the king of the nickel mine owners, and his ties to Washington DC and the US Mint. There is also a need to discuss James B. Longacre and his development of the design, which was used on this series, along with showing some of the patterns created for this denomination by him and others at the mint. I realize that all of this information is readily available elsewhere, but it would have been nice to have it all available together in this one volume without having to go searching through several other books to find it.
The 'how to use this book' section is very good overall, and the reader is guided through the proper use of the information provided in the variety analysis section. The author has constructed a new rarity scale, which we need about as much as we need another new grading service, but actually his scale is very easy to use and does not require you to flip back to the beginning of the book all the time to see what a particular rarity rating means in terms of the estimated number of surviving coins.
One bit of information that is sadly missing in this book is a deeper discussion about the author's number of estimated surviving coins for each date in both circulation strike and Proof versions. Some years show a fairly high survival rate and other years show a lower survival rate. I suspect that the author has done quite a bit of research in determining the number of surviving specimens, and I would love to see a chapter devoted to this very subject. Detailed information could be provided about the known meltings of three cent nickels that occurred at the mint, including details about coins that were minted but never even got released due to a lack of demand and ended up going straight to the melting pot. This applies to Proofs as well, as we know that unsold coins were often destroyed (melted) early the following year, and sometimes the exact number melted is known from Mint records.
The date by date analysis takes up the vast majority of this book's 500 pages, and this is where the book really shines bright. Each variety is described in minute detail to help the reader identify specific varieties. Not only does the author list the known varieties, he also will list the same variety several times in some cases, showing the progression of early to late die states, again done with a very high level of detail to assist the reader in making a positive identification. Kudos to the author for providing this level of detail, as I believe that you can not be supplied with too much information.
Now it is time for the one big negative in this book, and that is the images. A large number of images are provided, actually in excess of 2,000 of them, which is very impressive and shows a great deal of effort. The problem is that all of the images were created digitlally, which is fine, except that very low resolution was used which leads to poor image quality. I do not know if the author used a digital camera or a flat bed scanner to make his images, but either way, the resolution has got to be set at a much higher level. The images are severely pixelated and do not show fine details well if at all. I have over 5,000 coin images on my website, so I am extremely familiar with just how time consuming it is to create images, and I know that it does take a bit longer to make better quality images, but I think the end result would have been worth it, in terms of creating a really fantastic reference book.
So, in the final analysis, I give this book an A to A+ for it's thoroughness and detail in terms of listing and describing the multitude of varieties that are out there; I give it a B to B- grade for historical background and limited amounts thereof; and an unimpressive D grade for the overall poor image quality. If you are really into variety collecting, or you really enjoy the three cent nickel series, this book is a must have. If you have only passing interest in this series and it's many varieties, the book is probably a pass at it's high price level.
This may be a difficult book to get a hold of, as only 250 were made. Obviously the author realizes that this is not a particularly popular coin series! The other stumbling block is the price - a whopping $175 plus shipping.
Now, anybody want to write a book about three cent silver pieces???
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