I am 71, and the Red Book is older than I am. I was born in 1952, and here is a photo of that edition:
I have purchased Red Books, otherwise known as A Guide Book of United States Coins, since my boyhood as a collector. I have several older editions even now in my basement. At first, like most, I consulted it for the values of coins. But when I decided to become a more serious collector in my teens, I began using it as a “guidebook,” or study guide in the world of numismatics. I still do it today.
This is not a review of the new edition. You can find its description on the Whitman Publishing site:
472 pages, 2,000+ images, with more than 7,600 listings and 32,500+ coin prices. Over 25 million copies sold since the 1st edition! Since 1946, coin collectors have trusted the Guide Book of United States Coins—known everywhere as The Official Red Book®—to help them learn about U.S. coins and build great collections.
Rather, I propose to new and old collectors that they use the book to help them memorize or at least familiarize themselves with the various denominations and varieties. I prefer the hardcover for that as a collectible edition, although you can purchase paperback and spiral editions. I usually keep it by my side when browsing Internet coin auctions.
Here is a video about how I use it:
You will see in the above video all the interesting pages about which I knew little.
I love elephant coins, typically minted by other countries, as in Somalia issues. You can find rare Colonial ones on pages 43-44, beginning with the “Carolina Elephant Tokens” struck probably in England in 1694. They were said to increase interest in Carolina plantations. So essentially, these are early versions of advertising. There is a similar New England Elephant token with only three known to exist. In any case, if you find one, you are looking at a coin worth thousands of dollars.
Elephant coins caught my interest because of the relatively common Conder tokens, typically struck about a century later. They come up frequently in auctions, as in this Stack’s Bowers session held earlier this year:
One never knows when a rarer Colonial issue may be mischaracterized as a token. (Conder tokens, indexed by one James Conder, were privately minted in the 18th and 19th centuries in England, Anglesey and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. They helped commerce because of a shortage of smaller denomination coins.)
You may collect coins with ships on them, such as this 1892 Columbia Exposition half dollar:
You will know, because of the Guide Book, when you spot the rarer Rhode Island Ship medal, which is highlighted on page 47:
These sell for hundreds of dollars in low grades and thousands in higher grades. But again, you’ll likely miss these in estate auctions if you didn’t study the Guide Book.
And the book is there for you, as well, with more common coins having interesting varieties, as in the 1864 small and large motto two-cent coins. I have written about that in Coin Update, but the handbook is easier to access when you already know what you are looking for, because you have studied it earlier. You can find illustrations on page 124.
Needless to say, you can use the Guide Book to study key date coins. One often overlooked is the Type II 1972 Eisenhower dollar, featured on page 241.
I have written about this in detail for Coin Update, inspired by the Guide Book, which reminded me that the Type II 1972 is the desired key date, and one that I should look for in my online buying.
In summary, the Red Book belongs in every numismatic library. You can buy it for many reasons, especially to identify values, but it remains an encyclopedia of U.S. numismatics for the beginner and expert collector.