The following is re-posted from the “Red Book Recollections” column on Coin Update.
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 70th 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 second narrative comes from Richard Schwary, Red Book contributor, former president of the Professional Numismatists Guild, and president of California Numismatic Investments.
Everyone who has considered coins most probably used the Red Book at one time or another. It has been part of my “carry-around” library for so long that I can’t remember when I did not have a copy. It was, of course, Richard Yeoman’s magnum opus, and it provides order and reason to a numismatic world in which general information and pricing were needed to educate the public and conduct business.
Over the years, the name “Red Book” became so comfortable that even today, I pause a moment to recall the actual title of A Guide Book of United States Coins when recommending it to the public. Like today, it was an absolute necessity when I was in grade school. But in those early years, pricing was rather flat, so a new copy each year was considered a luxury. I taped and numbered my most popular sections, those being silver dollars and Lincoln cents, for easy access. And when constant use broke down the binder, I repaired it with more tape and reinforcements. There were, of course, other good sources of information, but these insights were simply noted in the margins of my current Red Book, and the back cover was used to note questions or other things of interest.
Years later, it was these fond memories that made being a price contributor to this fine book a particular honor. But the really fortunate part of this numismatic fun happened at the 1987 ANA convention. Concurrently, each year, the Professional Numismatists Guild held its annual banquet. After a round of drinks and the usual conversation, we all settled down to a table for dinner and the usual festivities. The seat next to me was vacant, and soon, a dignified older fellow sat down and began a polite conversation. His dress was a conservative suit and tie, and we talked quietly about the banquet and the number of people attending. After a few minutes, it dawned on me that this was Richard S. Yeoman. I excused myself and said, “You must be Richard Yeoman, of Red Book fame.” I had never met him in person, so I introduced myself.
He shook my hand and quietly said, “Why, yes, I am. It is nice to meet you.” That was it. There was not an ounce of pretense in this man who helped form the complete structure of my early coin career. At any ANA convention, the amount of bravado most dealers are exposed to amounts to something like going to the Super Bowl. But here, by complete chance, I talked with an icon whose book will always be quoted. Yet he was so unassuming that it caught me quite off guard. Our entire conversation had nothing to do with his accomplishments but focused on the coin industry. To say that such a touch is rare today has to be an understatement.
As the night drew to a close, we all prepared to leave, and I could not help but wonder: how many people recognized this conservatively dressed gentleman? This banquet room was filled with noted dealers, numismatic scholars, the coin press, fascinating writers, and interesting coin people of every stripe. Yet how many of these notables could claim to have touched everyone in the room? Surely, such a list would be short, but R.S. Yeoman and A Guide Book of United States Coins would be a contender for first place.
Richard Schwary’s recollection first appeared in A Guide Book of the Official Red Book of United States Coins by Frank J. Colletti.