New collectors often ask me to recommend books to add to their numismatic libraries. I find myself recommending a core group of fifteen or so over and over again. This made me realize that it would be very helpful to write a short article that listed the ten essential United States coin books. My parameters for these books are simple: they are well-written and useful. I have built and sold at least three different numismatic libraries but I have always kept copies of the following books. Simply put, they are too useful--and too good--to ever sell.
These books are not listed in any specific order. None are terribly hard to locate and all are essential.
A Guide Book of United States Coins, Richard Yeoman. The Early Coins of America, Sylvester S. Crosby. The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Don Taxay. Fractional Money, Neil Carothers. Numismatic Art in America, Cornelius Vermeule. Early American Cents/Penny Whimsy, Dr. William H. Sheldon. Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Coins. The History of United States Coinage, Q. David Bowers. Early United States Dimes, 1796-1837, Davis, Logan, et. al. United States Gold Coins, Significant Auction Records 1990-1999, John Dannreuther and Jeff Garrett.
1. A Guide Book of United States Coins, Richard Yeoman.
Better known as the "Redbook," this reference was first published in 1947. Today, it is among the best selling non-fiction books of all time. More than just a catalog of prices, the Redbook is a wonderful one-volume reference that is full of important information. I have been proud to be a contributor since 1983! This work is easily located at any bookstore or it can be bought online through such website as Amazon.com.
2. The Early Coins of America, Sylvester S. Crosby.
This incredible one volume reference was first published in 1875 and it has been reprinted a number of times since. Perhaps the most impressive fact about this book is the fact that over 125 years after it was written, it is still the standard reference on Colonial coinage. Just as impressive is the fact that virtually none of its historical and numismatic information has been improved upon. Originals are rare and expensive; the Quarterman Publications reprint, available for under $100, is fairly easy to find and it is the best produced of the various reprints.
3. The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Don Taxay.
Published in 1966, this is a well-researched and extensively illustrated book. It contains information on the history of the United States mint(s) and many of its most interesting issues. Of particular interest are the sections on the issues of 1792-1793. While long out-of-print, originals are not hard to find and generally sell in the $40-60 range. After a brilliant career as a researcher in the 1960's and 1970's, Taxay disappeared from the numismatic scene and has not been heard from in over twenty years.
4. Fractional Money, Neil Carothers.
This somewhat obscure work was actually Carothers' doctoral thesis, written in 1930 while he was at Princeton. It is a fascinating analysis of economic conditions and their impact on coinage. Rather than focusing on the larger denomination silver coins (and gold), this work is most closely concerned with minor coinage. It is not always the easiest book to read, but it is extremely interesting and comprehensive. Originals are scarce and cost in the area of $100; a reprint was produced by Bowers and Merena a few years ago and this is an excellent value in the $20-30 range.
5. Numismatic Art in America, Cornelius Vermeule.
Written in 1971 by an Art professor and, as such, a unique look at the aesthetics of United States coinage designs. The book contains many interesting photographs, including design sketches of coins that can be found nowhere else. This is a very underrated work but one that I have read and enjoyed a number of times. It is reasonably scarce but can be found with some patience. A nice, slightly used copy fetches $45-65 and is well worth it.
6. Early American Cents/Penny Whimsy, Dr. William H. Sheldon.
Early American Cents was published in 1949 while Penny Whimsy, written with the assistance of Walter Breen and Dorothy Paschal, was published in 1958. The former is the book that introduced the 70 point grading scale to American numismatics; the latter has better plates and revised information. Penny Whimsy has been reprinted but originals are often offered for sale in the $40-60 range. Both are expertly written, interesting to read even if you do not care about Large Cents and enduring classics.
7. Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Coins.
This is quite possibly the most ambitious book ever written about United States coins. It is over 1,000 pages in length and it contains information on essentially every major issue struck in the United States from the 17th century to the present. It is marred by Breen's personal biases and politically motivated theories but it is the single best one volume work on American coins and a mandatory work in any library. It is readily available in the $100 range and should be carefully read by all coin collectors.
8. The History of United States Coinage, Q. David Bowers.
This book was written in conjunction with Bowers' four auctions containing the Garrett collection, sold from 1979 to 1981. Bowers is the most prolific numismatic author of the modern era and all of his books are worthwhile additions to a library. This is probably my favorite of his works as it is a superb overview that appeals to both the novice and the advanced collector. It is well illustrated and attractively produced as well.
9. Early United States Dimes, 1796-1837, Davis, Logan, et. al.
This 1984 book is a classic one volume reference on a previously undercollected and misunderstood area of American numismatics. It is a collaborative effort of five well-known collectors and it is a nearly perfect work; easy to use, well-illustrated and with enough information to satisfy the beginning or advanced collector. The 1980's and the 1990's saw a considerable number of important references on silver and gold coins and this was, in my opinion, one of the very best.
10. United States Gold Coins, Significant Auction Records 1990-1999, John Dannreuther and Jeff Garrett.
Let's face facts. Most collectors would rather know what a coin is worth than the history behind it. The value of this new book is that, in one convenient place, a tremendous amount of pricing information can be found. I find this book extremely useful when buying and selling gold coins, especially for rare, esoteric items that I do not handle on a regular basis. Currently available from PCGS for $129 and worth every penny.
It would have been easy to add a number of other books to the list. And, of course, I am totally ignoring other areas of American numismatics such as medals, tokens and paper money.
I would strongly that suggest that you invest your next $500 - $1,000 numismatic purchase on books as these will more than pay for themselves over the course of time. I would be happy to provide any additional information on coin books and welcome your email.