As a kid in the 1950s, this writer waited breathlessly for the annual edition of the “Red Book”. It listed the trading value of American coins. I went to the bank whenever I had enough money and exchanged paper dollars for bags of coins. I sifted through them in hopes of finding something rare. Pennies were an obvious choice where to focus attention. Bags cost a lot less in terms of greenbacks than coins of larger denominations.
Whitman Publishing began offering The Red Book – officially “The Guide Book of United States Coins” – in 1946. Whitman had earlier started the Blue Book (wholesale information as opposed to retail prices in the Red Book). They eventually had publications about stamp collecting and other types of hobbies.
Back in 1932, Richard Yeoman revamped Whitman, then a part of Western Publishing. Whitman Publishing previously focused on greeting cards and puzzles. Yeoman, who was already a coin collector, designed novel coin boards at Whitman. His interactions with other coin collectors revealed their desire to have a reference book of trading values. They also needed updated information. Yeoman, and hence Whitman Publishing, had found a niche.
That Blue Book and later the Red Book catalog American coins by not only price but by their condition. My memory is that Lincoln Pennies graded from poor to fair, good, very good, fine, very fine, extra fine, almost uncirculated, and finally two uncirculated. Each variety of American coinage had different criteria for the amount of wear showing on the coin as well as color and other considerations.
The US government, recognizing the popularity of corn collecting, came up with another class of coin called proof sets as early as the 1850s. Proof sets came in smaller lots at a slower pace in order to preserve quality. The mint specially polished the planchets for preservation and to make the coins shine better. The Philadelphia Mint is the primary producer of proof sets, which now come in plastic and never intended for circulation. So, The Blue and Red Books also track resale value for proof sets.
Still an Art Despite Ubiquitous Information
Since April 2003, Whitman has offered Red Book Online (RBO). For a monthly subscription, Redbook site continuously updates coin values.
However, coin collecting can be an art as well as a science. Evaluating the trends for demand and being able to effectively grade the condition of coins is very important. Before values of coins were so ubiquitously available, this writer would ride around on his bicycle in the 1950s, buying and selling a coin on the same day for a profit.
- Year Started: 1946
- Year Ended: 2099
- Origin Of Name: Descriptive
- Location Sales: United States
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Whitman Publishing
- Owner While In Use: Whitman Publishing
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Red Book Online
- Naics Code: N/A
- Location Headquarters: Florence, Alabama USA