Coin Update continues its series dedicated to reflecting on the long history of Whitman Publishing’s Guide Book of United States Coins, also known as the Red Book, now in its 72nd edition. “Red Book Recollections” features personal reflections written by Red Book contributors, collectors, and others with the aim of providing different perspectives on the long-lived reference work.
Our next narrative comes from Robert Rhue:
I started collecting coins at the age of 10 in the mid-1950s. Anticipating the new edition of the Red Book each year became a highlight of my collecting.
Why? Because a good deal of the satisfaction that I got from collecting was seeing how much the value of my collection was increasing each year. Since the Red Book was basically the only pricing guide available at that time, each new edition, with its increased prices, brought an added measure of joy and satisfaction.
When I started collecting, one could find many valuable coins in circulation to fill the various holes in the much-used blue Whitman boards. And even when I had to buy coins from a dealer, they were relatively affordable (Dan Brown and Al Overton were my mentors and the only major dealers in Colorado).
For instance, almost any Indian Head cent after 1880 could be had for a nickel. And most type coins from large cents through Liberty Seated half dollars could be had for $15 to $20 in Choice to Gem Uncirculated.
The years of steady increases in the prices listed in the Red Book made it seem as though the upward trend would never end. But it did, with the crash of the roll market in 1964, and the consequent leveling off of most other coins, for a period of perhaps six to eight years. That was a disappointing time for a collector like myself because a good deal of my joy in collecting was derived from seeing the continually increasing value of my collection.
It’s interesting to see the growth of the hobby and of technology from then until now. Back then, prices basically went up “once a year” with the release of the latest edition of the Red Book. Today, via the Internet and various electronic trading networks, they change weekly, daily, and sometimes hourly.
Even today I still enjoy perusing the Red Book for a ballpark indication of the value of most of the non-federal issues—that is, all those issues in the front and the back of the Red Book.