2006 North American Coins & Prices, Fifteenth Edition
Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff
David C. Harper, ed Iola: kp books, 2005. $17.99
There is a great deal to be found in this compact book. I was going to say “little book,” but at 595 pages that adjective is hardly appropriate. While most of the volume is given over to the prices of the coins of the United States, Canada and Mexico, it is what goes with these statistics which is interesting, because it begins with a series of essays about coins and coin collecting.
The lead-off essay in the series, “History of United States Coinage,” is by Robert R. Van Ryzin. It begins in July of 1792, when the United States mint began production — of half-dismes struck on silver from plate provided by George Washington. Then, in a backward glance, there is a very good overview of the early colonial coinages, namely the issue of 1616 for the Sommer Islands (Bermuda), for the Massachusetts series (1652-1658), and the issues of Lord Baltimore for Maryland (1658).
It continues on into the later colonial issues of the Continental Congress and of the various states which coined coppers – Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. After a nod to the introduction in earnest of Federal coinage in 1793, it traces the development of our money through the influences of the gold rush in the 1850’s, the later silver frenzy and on to the present, concluding with a look at all of our mints over the years.
The second essay, “ Manufacture of Money” by Alan Herbert discusses the nuts and bolts of how coins are actually produced – from preparing blanks, cutting dies, striking (with variety of techniques noted) and the special care that goes into proof coins.
Next is a topic which I am sure is dear to the hearts of us all, “The Thrill of the Hunt” by Al Doyle. It begins with a look at circulation finds, and contains the comment “Most collectors from 1935 into the 1960’s got started in numismatics by sorting through circulating coinage. It was worth it….” It goes on to wax wistfully over the scarcities and rarities that could be and were found in pocket change. It concludes with discussing the venues currently available for the chase – coin shops, coin shows and auctions. In my opinion, more could have been made over the impact of the Internet (particularly a site like eBay) on coin hunting.
A very important topic, “The Grading Factor,” is presented by Arlyn G. Sikes. Good textual descriptions accompany larger than life photographs of most major United States coins. This is a very helpful section. It would be nice if the concept were carried over to the coins of Canada, because the grading specifications of our neighbor to the north are significantly different from those applied to United States coins. And, unfortunately, there are no such guidelines for the coins of Mexico.
David Harper returns with “Get a Map,” in which he discusses the directions that a collection might take, for instance by denomination, or type, or mint of issue. He does note the variety open to collectors of Canadian material – by monarch, or denomination, or by region (Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Quebec, the Maritimes). Mexico was left unconsidered, because, I suppose, of the vast number of foci available in the coins of that nation.
In “Caring for Coins,” Alan Herbert compares the most common options – cardboard holders, plastic “flips,” tubes, hard plastic holders, and coin folders. Each storage method has its strengths and weaknesses and all are fairly treated.
A section on numismatic organizations lists a number of options, and it wouldn’t hurt to mention them here – the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the American Numismatic Society (ANS), the Canadian Numismatic Association (CAN) and the Sociedad Numismatica de Mexico. Contacts and addresses are given. It would be nice if somehow mention could be made of the major regional organizations, like NENA.
But the “meat” of the book is the sections on prices by grade. For the United States the data begins with the colonial period and continues to the present, with nine grade levels ranging from Good-4 to Proof-65. One excellent feature is a selection of certain individual coins and the preparation of a graph plotting year and price. Some of these visuals can be very thought provoking.
Canada is presented with mintage and grades from Fine-12 to Proof (no number). Mexico, with its complex coinage stretching from eighteenth-century cobs to provisional revolutionary issues to the coins of the present, has four grades from Fine to Uncirculated.
In sum, this is a resource which would be valuable to a general collector, and certainly to those of us who have been coming across coins of our neighbors and wondering about them. And, last but not least, this is a great book for someone just getting started in numismatics. If you know a young numismatist or a new numismatist you want to give a gift to, then this book is it!
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