What e-publishing means for the hobby

Since learning to program computers in 1976, I have been a proponent of technology and its positive effects on the progresses we have made in many areas of our lives. This technology has progressed things we can see like the automated teller machine, quicker checkouts at the grocery stores, smartphones, tablets, and even all the gizmos in your car. If I look at the iPhone in my pocket and compared it to the Poly 88 that I first programmed or the IBM 360 that I submitted punch cards to, it would be like trying to compare a Roman Denarius to an American Silver Eagle.

For those not olde enough to remember, this is a computer punch card!

For those not olde enough to remember, this is a computer punch card!

A lot has happened in the world of technology. In the more than 35 years I have been doing this professionally, I have kept up, adapted, and even embraced new technologies looking for ways to enhance whatever I am doing. Not only have I worked to make technology accessible but in the last 25 years I have been working to keep it safe.

I love what technology has done to enhance many aspects of our lives. And you do not have to be a user of technology to have it affect the way you live. Computers help with inventory control to ensure store shelves are stocked; manage traffic control both in the air and on the ground; and generally make the behind-the-scenes management of a lot of things easier including maintenance on this blog.

Since my response to Dennis Tucker, Publisher of Whitman Publishing LLC, I have received a mix of private email notes about one phrase: calling physical books ‘Dead Tree Editions.” In the first two hours after the post appeared, I received more than two-dozen email notes running slightly in favor of physical books. As of Wednesday afternoon, the score was 17-15 in favor of real paper.

I do not know the demographics of those who did not volunteer the information, but based on the comments like, “I have been collecting for umpteen years…” or “I was a teenager when clad coins were just beginning…” it does not take much to get a general idea of demographics.

Of the 17 who responded that they prefer paper books over e-book, I am guessing that 12 are like me, members of the AARP demographic (50 and over).

However, contrary to what some have written, I am not a techno-snob!

Scott's 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster.

Scott’s 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster. No computers in this baby!!
For more images of this car, click here.

I really understand that people have their preferences and that technology does not belong in certain areas. These people have a preference for the “old ways.” Whether they have a preference for books over e-books, classic rock over today’s pop, or a drive classic car whose closest computer is in the driver’s pocket, I have no problems with people opting for paper books over electronic edition.

My complaint is not with the preference but the availability of e-books that will allow me and everyone else to choose. I understand the need for choice because neither Whitman nor I will convince everyone to only read e-books.

However, if you look at the demographics of the ANA and its future, the next generation that are its future members, the so-called Generation X people, is the first generation of significant technology adapters and e-book readers. Gen X’ers are the first big wave of technology adapters who know of a connected world and have a vague memory of a world before Al Gore invented the Internet.

Right behind Generation X are the Millennials who grew up with the explosion of the Internet and probably have never read a newspaper cover-to-cover. While hobby publishers may have some time adjusting with Generation X, they will lose completely to the Millennials if they do not adapt.

Whitman is not the only publisher that needs to better examine its use of technology. Krause Publications is not much better. Where Whitman lacks in vision, Krasue lacks in execution. Rather than embrace electronic publishing that is friendly to e-readers, Krause and F+W Media, its parent, is holding onto the old-style by offering its products using Portable Document Format (PDF) rather than using formats that are friendlier to e-readers.

Standard Catalog of World Coins CD set covering 1601-1900

Standard Catalog of World Coins CD set covering 1601-1900

I have purchased the Krause Standard Catalogues and the various antique guides from F+W on CD or DVD because that is what is available. I use them as part of my hobby and my new professional life in the collectibles business, but I wish I had real e-reader formats so that I can use the tools to bookmark and make annotations.

Even the venerable Numismatic News has stuck its publishing toe in the e-publishing waters by making one edition electronic. However, instead of embracing the newsstand formats that would be friendly to an iPad or Kindle e-reader, they are mailing PDF layouts of this publication. I hope you have plenty of space in your Inbox.

In the meantime, the American Numismatic Association is producing an e-reader friendly version of The Numismatist that is far easier to read than the PDF edition of Numismatic News emailed monthly. Since The Numismatist reader app works well, I stopped receiving the paper edition of The Numismatist opting for a Basic membership and to read the journal electronically. I do not miss the “Dead Tree Edition.”

ereadersIt is not a demographic issue as it is a commitment to the hobby’s future. I am sure the people at Hemming’s Motor News have a similar problem with demographics as those faced by Whitman and F+W. If you read their publications, you will notice that their demographic skews to an older population. Yet, they have quietly embraced the technologies that some of their readers want while still publishing physical magazines. I recently subscribed to the digital version of Hemming’s Classic Car on my iPad and love it!

How could Hemming’s do this for the auto enthusiasts market but Whitman and F+W cannot do the same for numismatics?

Whitman and F+W have shown that they cannot be relied upon to be the leaders in producing the numismatic information in a way the future of the hobby will embrace. Since other markets have proven that it is possible to embrace technology to enhance the physical world, I can only emphasis my commitment to help the ANA build a better technology infrastructure because if we leave it to the market, they will fail the hobby.

The ANA gets it but does Whitman?

In letter to the editor that will appear in the February 10, 2014 edition of Coin World (now available online), Dennis Tucker writes that the target of the American Numismatic Association website rebuild and acknowledging “’Young Numismatists are the future of the hobby’ are slogans to murmur approvingly, without logical reasoning.” He goes on to give his view of the market to target without recognizing facts of market forces.

For the record, Dennis Tucker is the publisher of Whitman Publishing, LLC whose books are widely read in the hobby. Whitman Expo, a division of Whitman Publishing, runs probably the three largest commercial numismatics shows in the country out of Baltimore.

Tucker, whose business is selling physical books, or what I would call “dead tree editions,” opines that it would be wiser and more productive to target those in the 50 and 60 year old demographic than 10 and 20 year olds. It is obvious that Tucker is looking at the issue from the spectrum of the business he is responsible for rather than the real future.

One problem with Tucker’s argument is similar to those in many other hobbies that rely on the collecting of physical objects: if the hobby cannot be translated to the younger demographic then the future of the hobby will be lost. As the final wave of the baby boomer generation celebrates their 50th birthday this year, empty chairs are becoming more prominent at meetings with fewer standing there to fill those chairs. There seems to be a smaller pool of people ready to join even though the population in the demographic that Tucker wants to target has grown.

Another problem with his argument is that it does not address how to reach this or any other demographic. Based on his company’s business model and his letter, Tucker is implying that even his target demographic is not using technology and cannot be reached using technology. Unfortunately, that flies in the face of researched facts.

Pew Internet and Lifestyle Study: For the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers

Pew Internet and Lifestyle Study: For the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers

One way to judge the acceptance and usage of technology is to look at the most cutting edge device and see who are its users. In 2013, the device still on the cutting edge is the tablet. Whether it is the iPad, Kindle, Nook, or any number of other manufacturer’s device, the tablet can be considered one of the most disruptive advances because it disrupts markets in so many areas. Tablets have created new markets for services as well as forced others, like traditional newspapers and magazines, to change the way they do business.

Using tablets as a barometer, we can look at the “Tablet Ownership 2013” report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. In their study, Pew reports that through May 2013, tablet ownership has grown from May 2010, one month after the iPad’s introduction, the number of tablet users have increased from 3-percent to 34-percent. That is more than an 1100-percent increase in three years!

Further, Pew’s research found that the demographic with the most significant ownership are the age group of 45-54 with 38-percent ownership and 35-44 with 49-percent. The first is part of the market that Tucker wants to target while the latter is the market that should be next.

US Tablet Owner Demographics as of September 2013 (courtesy of marketcharts.com)

US Tablet Owner Demographics as of September 2013 (courtesy of marketcharts.com)

Pew’s research also looked at tablet ownership by income and found that 56-percent of adults that own tablets earn $75,000 or more per year. If Tucker’s goal is to target those with disposable income, just look at one of the fastest growing area of technology to understand where the markets are going.

Another study recently release by Pew notes that e-book readership has grown as the sales of e-readers have risen. While the study does not say people have not completely replaced their dead tree versions with electronic editions, there is anecdotal evidence that if more titles were available electronically, those with e-readers would take advantage of that.

In a broader look at the emerging online world, Pew Research provides trend data that shows that more people are using the technology in their daily lives. Not only are more than 60-percent of the 50-64 year old demographic using the Internet and associated technologies a large numbers, but e-reader ownership is increasing. It is also increasing in the younger demographics, including those in the 30-49 year old range who would be Tucker’s next generation of customers.

The ANA, like any business, has to adapt to new markets or they lose their relevancy. It is not enough to say to target one group over the other but you have to target the markets where they are moving. Even if the business is concentrated in one market, it has to adapt and diversify within its market or it becomes irrelevant. As a stark example, you can look at the downfall of Blackberry. Once the king of the smartphone, Blackberry, once called the Crackberry because its users were addicted to it like a crack addict was addicted to crack-cocaine, went from the most popular phone to the least popular phone because they ignored the trend set first by Apple then by Google’s Android.

Borders, a one-time success story, did not adapt to the changing market and paid for that failure.

Borders, a one-time success story, did not adapt to the changing market and paid for that failure.

History shows how significant technologies disrupt markets and those that do not adapt go the way of the buggy whip, blacksmith, telegraph, Kodachrome film, and the Motorola DynaTAC phone. If the ANA cannot reinvent itself by adapting technology to what its potential members are doing, the ANA will go the way of Blockbuster, Polaroid, and Borders Books.

Whitman and Tucker could help the ANA by looking at this future and target their books to this growing demographic. While the quality of Whitman’s books have improved, the companies selling tablets and e-readers are reporting increased sales of their products and an increased sales of content for those products.

Amazon is betting a lot on the tablet and e-reader market. They sell the Kindle nearly at their cost in order to lure customers into their dedicated markets. Amazon hopes to sell you a Kindle so that you buy their e-content which they make money by transferring bits. Not only has Amazon built in the infrastructure to transfer bits of information, but they are selling it as a service to others in order to reach the same markets. Amazon is betting that once you are in their market, they can sell you these bits, which are cheaper to store, package, and ship than dead tree edition books.

While the e-book market is growing, Whitman and other hobby publications are dipping their proverbial toes in this market. Although Whitman does offer a number of its books in e-reader format, they do not market that fact nor do they do any outreach in order to build that market. It is as if they publish this content so that when the topic comes up they could say that they do have e-books. They are checking the box, so to speak.

Kodachrome; You give us those nice bright colors; You give us the greens of summers; Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!

With its premier content, Whitman should be out front of the numismatic market for e-publishing. Tucker and his marketing department should be standing on the proverbial street corner marketing their e-book offerings. This will not only help the hobby but his own company by reaching out to the demographic that the ANA is targeting: the connected numismatist.

Growing the ANA is like growing a business; you have to look at what your target market’s demographics are and figure out how to reach them. For hobbies like numismatics, the new target is online where the current generation is moving and where the next few generations will be. Not adapting to those new markets can make both the ANA and Whitman as relevant as the Betamax and go the way of Woolworth’s or Pets.com.

I am glad the ANA is doing something to expand its market.

Trend chart courtesy of the Pew Internet and American Life Project
Data chart of the Pew Research courtesy of marketcharts.com
Image of Borders closing is courtesy of PennLive.com.
Kodachrome box image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Kodachrome lyrics (image caption) by Paul Simon

REVIEW: “The Wishful Penny” should delight your young reader

Rosie was not just a riveter during World War II but she also worked at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia making blanks for coins.

Working in the blanking room at the U.S. Mint was not an easy job. It was hot, loud, and Rosie was confused. Even though she was supposed to feed a sheet of zinc coated steel into the blanking press, Rosie fed a sheet of copper. With the press of a button, 40 copper blanks were made.

Rosie panicked. The president ordered that the U.S. Mint not use the copper for coins so it could be used for the war effort. Not knowing what to do, Rosie let the coins proceed to the next stations where they were washed and “pinched” to create rims keeping her fingers crossed that nobody found out.

The copper blanks were fed into the press along with the zinc-coated steel blanks and thus was born Penny, a 1943 copper cent.

The Wishful Penny is the story of Penny’s adventure from her accidental birth, to an ice cream shop, across the Atlantic, back again, and how one wish made on Penny comes true.

Written for readers in grades 3-5 with a story that can be appreciated by younger students, The Wishful Penny written by J.J. (Jennifer Jo) Young, co-founder of the publisher See the Wish, surrounds the story of a wish made on a penny as it is thrown into a fountain with factual information about the coin and conditions. The story opens with the book’s Rosie, a name obviously chosen, who never worked before but was thrown into working at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia because the men were off at war. It mentions that President Roosevelt order that copper be preserved for the war effort and even approaches the angst of the time with relative off at war and businesses hoping for survival in difficult times.

The use of factual information makes the story more appealing. Forget the fact that I am some-number-of-many-years beyond the target age group for this book, it has the ability to not only teach the students but also the teachers who may have not thought about using coins as a teaching tool. If a teacher wants to use this book for classroom instruction, the authors offer a teacher’s kit that includes books, worksheets, discussion questions, activities, history tie-ins, and script with a CD of music to allow the students to perform the book as a play.

Aside from the history, the book teaches about real world perseverance from the perspective of Penny, whose optimism about carrying her wish is a good lesson for all children. While having optimism is good, the book also teaches how there is a long road to fulfilling goals that comes with the bumpy road of life. As someone who grew up with parents who wanted me to skin my knees because learning not to was as important as losing the game in order to understand life is just not handed to you, the book portrays that as a series of disappointments. With optimism in tact, Penny goes from the fountain where she meets the silver coins, to Ireland where she lives in a safe with other coins, to running away from thieves, and helping catch them before being mailed back to the United States and finding that a coin is different from the stamps that make the journey with her.

If you buy the book individually, it will come with a CD with 12 songs interspersed with acted audio scenes from the book. It is not exactly faithful to the dialog in the book, but your youngster may not mind. Remember, that the music is intended for your children and that an adult may request their child listen with headphones. After growing up with Peter, Paul and Mary, I am not sure I would have ever like the music. Since I am not the target audience I am not going to complain! However, the audio CD could be just the thing to keep your child busy for an hour during a long drive.

You can also buy the book as an audio CD. The audio book is read by January M. Akselrad, the other co-founder of See the Wish. Ms. Akselrad reads the book just like you would expect to a younger audience. However, I found myself re-reading the book along with her thinking that this might be good for a student who may have a difficult time reading to follow along while listening to the book being read for them.

Although I am not a teacher, I can see using the audio CD with the books in order to show visual highlights of story but the history it shows. Since I was not provided the teaching materials, I can only hope the authors provide teachers with this information.

Coins can teach us a lot about history and history can teach us a lot about ourselves. Although the exact reason for the existence of the copper 1943 cents can only be speculated, turning it into a story for children works on so many levels. I even like that the person who found Penny only to realize she was special was a girl learning about collecting coins. Add to that the collector who buys the coin was a woman is also a lesson that this should not be a male-dominated hobby!

I did not know what to expect when I agreed to review this book. But I was surprised how engaging it was even for a “vintage” person like me. Even though Penny ends up at less than an Mint State (MS) grade by the end of the book, I grade this book MS68 with a recommendation that if your young reader does have reading difficulties also purchase the audio CD. In fact, you may want to consider purchasing the teacher’s kit and donate it to your child’s school. Or for the classes looking to put on a play, why not consider the full-length musical with recorded music. It has to be a great idea for teachers needing new material!

POST SCRIPT FOR PARENTS: After your child reads the book and she wants more information about coins and collecting, let them vista the U.S. Mint h.i.p. pocket change website. “H.I.P.” stands for History In your Pocket, which best describes how many of us see coins.

POST SCRIPT FOR TEACHERS: After your class read this book and performs the play, I would recommend teachers visit the U.S. Mint teacher’s website for additional resources to using coins in the classroom. Who knows, maybe we can turn you and your students into numismatists!

Disclaimer
A copy of the book and audio CD was provided by the author in exchange for this review. Even as I type this, the author does not know what I will say. However, I did inform her I will be donating the audio CD to the county library to be placed in an area where the children need the most help.
Apology
I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the author for taking so long to do this review. She was prompt in sending the book and I should have made the time to reward her promptness with a timely review. I appreciate her patience.

The NEW Official Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins for 2014

2014 Official Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins, 52nd EditionLast year I reviewed The Official 2013 Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins I received as an e-book from the publisher. In that review I was surprised as to the quality information that was in the book including articles that were written by numismatists sharing their expertise with the collecting public. Unfortunately, some of the information seemed dated and needed updating. Apparently the editors agreed and worked to update information.

Based on the review, the editors turned to a numismatist whose experience with computers, the Internet, and writing for the collector who could add the information about using technology to enhance the collecting experience.

This is where your favorite blogger enters the picture.

The Official 2014 Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins has an new chapter, “Using Technology to Enhance Your Collecting Experience.” Written in plain language for the collector, the chapter discusses what numismatic-related resources are online.

Blackbook Tech Chapter by Scott BarmanThe chapter opens with a brief history of how computers and the Internet has advanced my collecting experiences. This includes a brief history of the Internet from its birth as ARPAnet through the invention of the birth of the World Wide Web and the services we now take for granted. I wrote it so that when you hear something Internet and web history in the news you have the background to understand why it is important.

Following the introduction are sections that helps you find the information you want online. These sections are titled:

  • Online Price Guides
  • News and Blogs
  • Mobile Computing
  • E-books
  • Social Media
  • Buying and Selling Online
  • Auctions (Established auction houses and their online options)
  • Looking into the Future
  • Your Security Online

If nothing else, the section “Your Security Online” may be worth the price of the book. It is something I have written in many forms, in many places, and have lectured about locally. These are general awareness tips that everyone should follow.

To their credit, the editors Mark Hudgeons, Tom Hudgeons Jr., and Tom Hudgeons Sr. read my review and updated the 52nd Edition of The Blackbook to address many of my concerns outside of my chapter. It is a better reference than in the past and worthy of a place in your numismatic library!

Autographs For Education

After autographing my first copy of the book I decided that rather than give away my autograph I want to use it to help raise money for numismatic education. For every autograph, I am asking for a minimum donation of $25 to the American Numismatic Association Florence Schook School of Numismatics to be used to further all numismatic education.

You can either mail the check yourself to the ANA and show me that you donated or give me the check and I will mail all of them together. Checks given to me should be made payable to the “American Numismatic Association” (NOT ME!) with a note on the memo line saying “For The Florence Schook School of Numismatics.”

For your donation, I will autograph the first page of my article above the title and give you recognition here on the blog. Since the ANA is a not-for-profit organization, your donations are tax deductible to maximum allowed by law.

One way to find out where I will be is to follow me here on the blog since I usually announce when I am going to a show. For planning purposes, I will attend the Virginia Numismatic Association Show on Saturday, September 28; the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists show during October 24-26 (my attendance dates TBD) in Monroeville (a suburb of Pittsburgh); and the Whitman Baltimore Expo on Saturday, November 9. I might attend the Wall Street Coin, Currency and Collectibles Show in October if I can resolve a scheduling conflict.

Of course scheduling conflicts do arise, but let me know you if you will be looking for me at a show.

Post Script

Collectors of paper money, world coins, and stamps will be happy to know that the chapter will be adopted for the Blackbook covering those areas in 2015. I will also update the the current chapter since the online world has changed a little since it was written (e.g., Google shutdown the Reader service).

Book cover image courtesy of Random House.

An almanac that isn’t

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines almanac as “a usually annual publication containing statistical, tabular, and general information.” Almanacs have been around for a while in various forms from the earliest times of writing to today. Early almanacs were simply calendars of coming events and records of past events. They included holidays, phases of the moon, and significant dates that related to the weather for the farming community.

Although there have been many almanacs that bridged into the modern era, none had been as famous as Poor Richard’s Almanack written by Benjamin Franklin writing under the pseudonym Richard Saunders. Franklin published Poor Richard’s Alamanck from 1733-1758. Amongst the surviving almanacs include The Old Farmer’s Almanac that has been published continuously since 1792, the Farmer’s Almanac that has been published continuously since 1818, and The World Almanac and Book of Facts published since 1868. These are the almanacs that all others are judged against.

Whitman Almanac of US Coins 1st EditionHaving grown up with The World Almanac, reading the Central Intelligence Agency’s The World Fact Book, and being a begrudging fan of the Coin World Almanac, I was interested when Whitman Publishing sent out a notice that they just released the First Edition of the Almanac of United States Coins.

Although I read the description, I did not read it carefully because when I opened the package sent to me by Whitman, I found a skinny trade paperback-sized book. I reread the Whitman press release and it said the book was 192 pages. Initially, I felt disappointed in my hopes that there would be a competitor on the market to the Coin World Almanac since competition makes everyone better. So I can get over my initial reaction, I put the book down for a while to overcome my initial reaction to give the book a fair review.

After two weeks, I find I cannot hide my disappointment especially when I place the book next to the Coin World Almanac. Now in its eighth edition, the Coin World Almanac is 688 pages of numismatic reference that is a worthy comparison to any almanac in any industry. The problem with the Coin World Almanac is that it is updated every ten years. Having purchased the last two, the seventh edition seemed stale by 2004. I suspect the eighth edition will begin to feel stale by the end of this year if not by mid-2014. Maybe Coin World should consider shortening their update cycle.

Coin World does not have to worry about competition from Whitman. For as much as Whitman has invested in creating content across their “Official Red Book Series” from the many great authors, their Almanac of United States Coins is so lacking in content that it is many years away from being able to compete.

The only complement I can offer Whitman for this book is that many of the coin images are superb. I do like the images showing the relative grading of the individual series but wish it was expanded to include a few more grades. One example that would help collectors is that the difference between a VF-20 and MS-65 Walking Liberty half dollar is so vast, that having at least two intermediate grades (e.g., EF-40 and AU-50) would be helpful.

Whitman's Almanac v. Coin World's Almanac: In this case, size matters!

Whitman’s Almanac v. Coin World’s Almanac: In this case, size matters!

If had had to compare the Almanac of United States Coins, I would call it a light version of A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. The problem is that the Type Coins guide book, now in its second edition, is a better book even though it is not an almanac.

Whitman is going to have to learn that every numismatic reference book does not have to be a price guide. If they want to include type set-like guides, then do not make it look like a major component of the book. Otherwise, I would recommend people read A Guide Book of United States Type Coins instead. Thus the first improvement I would make is either eliminate the price guide information or find a way to minimize it as a central focus of each section. After all, an almanac is supposed to be about the content and the fact. Price guides are opinions that change with market forces that changes from the end of the editorial cycle until the book is published.

I know Whitman wants to sell books and has to find a way to make this book unique over their other offerings so they do not cannibalize sales, but they have to consider that they may never sell some of these books to certain people anyway. And if Whitman drops the pricing information, that still leaves their other books as an option for the reader. After all, Whitman can include a line at the end of each coin’s section that if they want in-depth information, the read can “consult” Whitman’s other book on the coin.

It is interesting how Whitman included a list of the authors for all of their books as credits but did not print the name of the editor of this book. However, Whitman’s press release named publisher Dennis Tucker as the editor.

Now that Whitman has disappointed me, they need to look at the content they have already invested in with their current books. They can start by taking whatever information is in the Red Book (A Guide Book of United States Coins), the Red Book Professional Edition, and the Blue Book (Handbook of United States Coins) and bring the content together to improve the current almanac. Just doing this would greatly improve this book. Then, it is a matter of an editor either convincing Whitman’s other authors to build on the chapters or distill the information in their other books to something suitable for an almanac.

I really wanted to like this book to the point that I put it aside in order to see if I could get over my first impression. Instead, I started to read another Whitman book that deserves the good review I will write in the near future. But I could not get over the disappointment. The text has no depth, facts that should be in an almanac are missing, and it seems like a glorified coin type price guide. Maybe they should market this as something for the very beginner, even for someone under the age of 12. Therefore I give this book a grade of F-12. The only factor that prevents this book from grading lower are the images. It is not a book I can recommend.

DISCLOSURE: Whitman Publishing provided the copy of the book I reviewed. I will not add this book to the library. It will be donated to my coin club’s annual charity auction in December with the proceeds going to the local Boys and Girls Club.

Cover image courtesy of Whitman Publishing.

ANA members should visit Colorado Springs

I am in Colorado Springs attending meetings at the American Numismatic Association Headquarters about updating the technology that is being used to support the education mission of the ANA. I will talk about my time in Colorado Springs over the weekend, but let me talk about being at the ANA Headquarters.

After walking into the reception area, to the right of the reception desk is the museum store that leads to the Rochette Money Museum. Even with the current exhibition about the history of the Civil War in numismatics, the first floor also has the first steam press used by the U.S. Mint, the McDermott/Bebee specimen 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and an 1804 silver dollar. There is also a balance from the Denver Mint.

On the other side of the main level is the Harry W. Bass, Jr. collection of gold coins and rare patterns. Bass put together the finest and most complete set of gold coins ever assembled. After Bass died, his foundation donated a portion of the collection to the ANA. I posted some of the pictures to Twitter and Pintrest and will post more when I return home, but pictures do this collection justice. You have to come here to see it for yourself.

If you are an ANA member, you should make a trip to Colorado Springs to see the Money Museum. Aside from being a benefit of your membership, the ANA has an impressive collection that is nicely displayed and worth spending the time seeing. Numismatically, there is not a display like this in the United States, especially since the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection was taken off of exhibit. The ANA Money Museum is the only place you can see a real half-union pattern, typesets of every gold coin ever struck by the U.S. Mint, and even the oldest known surviving currency note.

Do you like Hobo Nickels? It’s here. Assortment of Confederate currency? They’re here, too. Examples of world currency? That’s in the lower level gallery. It is near examples of colonial currency including two Maryland notes I have in my collection.

But wait, there’s more. Do you want to learn more about what you’re looking at? On the other side of the lobby is the Dwight Manley Library. In the Manley Library you can find nearly every book ever printed on numismatics including government reports, price guides, specialty books, and books on nearly every topic of numismatics.

The library also has the oldest known illustrated coin book, dating back to the 16th century. It uses images of ancient coins to talk about the various rulers of the time. This book and the oldest book about numismatics, which does not have images, written in Latin.

Before you leave the library, stop at the old card catalog case and see the printing press that ANA founder, Dr. George F. Heath, used to print the first six editions of The Numismatist.

Yes, you can check out books from the library and have them mailed to you. Yes, you can see the traveling exhibits at various shows around the nations. But to get the full impact of what the ANA has to offer, you have to come to Colorado Springs and see for yourself.

Aside from figuring out when I can schedule a return trip, I want to know why I received three, new 2013 White Mountain quarters struck in Philadelphia when I am 70 miles away from the Denver mint.

Review: Electronic Standard Catalogs

There are few numismatic references as the Krause Publication’s Standard Catalog series. The multiple volume phonebook-sized references is invaluable to collectors of world coins and paper money. When it came time to update my set, I opted to buy the volumes on compact disk rather than “dead tree editions.”

Long time readers of this blog knows that I am a proponent of electronic books. E-books are the future and will dominate the publishing landscape in the next 10 years. I do not think paper will ever disappear. I believe that yearly references, such as the Standard Catalogs, will find a new, more successful home in electronic form.

I have read reviews where the Standard Catalog series has its problems with missing or inaccurate data, but it is one of the most complete references that exist. There are studies of various series that has more in depth information and a better reference for Canadian numismatics, but to have one reference for the world, there is nothing to match the Standard Catalogs. However, it would be a good idea for the staff at Krause to address the missing or erroneous information that has been communicated to them.

But this review is not necessarily on the content but the format. When you buy the CDs of the various Standard Catalogs you receive a disk with the PDF of the entire book with installation and reading instructions along with the occasional “bonus feature.” I have ignored everything on the CD except the PDF of the Standard Catalog.

Installation is easy. Insert the CD in your computer and copy the files to the hard disk. Since the files are big, the copy will take some time, but it is worth copying them to your hard drive rather than trying to use them from the slower CD. If your computer has a solid-state drive (SSD)—sometimes called a RAM or Memory Drives—I would recommend using that for storage since it is much faster than mechanical disks.

The real advantage is being able to load the file onto your mobile device and taking it with you. While you can use the files on a smartphone, the size of the file and the page formatting is best for tablets. Since I own an iPad, I was able to drag-and-drop the files into iTunes and sync the files to my iPad.

On the iPad, the Standard Catalog files were accessible using iBooks, which made navigation and searching easy. For my test in toting and using the iPad, I also sent the PDF of the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money to be opened using the Amazon Kindle app for the iPad, which requires send the file via email to a special address Amazon sets up for you once you register your Kindle app on their site. After you mail the file, then it can be downloaded to your Kindle or the app. I am not happy with the two-part process, but it does work.

There is little difference between using iBooks and the Kindle app for being able to read and search the Standard Catalog files. Searching was as easy as tapping on the screen to see the search dialog and entering what I am looking for, such as the name of a country.

While attending the World’s Fair of Money a few weeks ago, I was able to reach into my backpack to consult these references on my iPad. This was a lot easier than toting around phonebook-sized references.

The problem with using the PDF files is that the format is fixed and do not reflow to reflect the variations of the ebook formats. However, this is not Krause’s fault. Current ebook technologies, primarily the EPUB standard, does not support in-text images or the formatting of tables which is critical for the Standard Catalog references. The standards organization that is working on the next version of the EPUB specification is supposed to be addressing these issues. Until then, PDF versions are the best option.

PDF documents should be the first step on the road to ebook references. What would be better is an app that would run natively on the tablet. The app would be easier to navigate than a book possibly use imaging and pattern matching technologies to help collectors identify coins. A low cost app that may have a subset of the data with paid updates that might be available quarterly would be an option. In other words, if the costs are affordable (less than what it costs today for physical media), then it would make a worthwhile reference for all collectors.

For now, the PDF files make using the Standard Catalogs easier to use and even saves trees. I am all for saving trees especially when it is easy to use!

Review: The Official 2013 Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins

Regular readers know that I am an advocate of the electronic world, especially when it comes to references that should be available in a more portable manner than paper. While dead tree editions will continue to be produced, certain references deserve to be provided in electronic form for portability.

In the collecting world, price guides are great to have in electronic form. You can carry them on your smart phones or tablets when you go to shows to have some idea what your potential purchase is worth. Understand that printed price guides are not the best source for prices. Prices can change daily, even hourly depending on market conditions including the costs of metals. At least the price guides will provide a general idea of the item’s value.

Price guides have more value than the prices. Some have very good and even excellent numismatic information. We know about the usual suspects in this area, but a reference to look at is The Official 2013 Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins. The Official Blackbook is now in its 51st Edition.

I was provided an electronic review copy by the publisher with the only condition that I write this review.

Starting with the format, I cannot argue with that it is available as an e-book and complies with the full EPUB standard where the contents work, is searchable, allows bookmarks, and works well even on the iPad’s pedantic e-reader. Because e-book readers do not handle tables well, they have to be embedded as images (EPUB 3, which is still in development, should change this). However, The Official Blackbook does it in a way that makes it easy to resize them on smaller devices like the iPhone.

E-book usability issues should not be taken lightly. It is easier for publishers to publish e-books as PDF files or using other tricks that does not take advantage of the electronic formats. House of Collectibles, an imprint of Random House Reference, should be commended for doing this right.

One nice feature added by the publisher is the “Fast-Find Coin Reference Index.” This is a list of coin types, like Colonial Coins, and the name of the coin (e.g., Brasher Doubloons) that are clickable links back to the text. My only complaint is that this is the last entry in the Table of Contents and could be missed by the reader. Even though it is toward the end, I would move the entry near the top because it is that useful.

As a price guide, it is as good as any on the market with multiple price points, showing the differences between types, and mintages for each year. The tables do carry over the check box from the print edition that could be used to mark coins owned, but that is of limited usefulness in the electronic version.

After the price guides are very useful chapters about the contents of U.S. coinage. The chapters, “Primary Metals,” the silver and gold coin value charts, and the weights and measures are very good references. While other books have them interspersed within their pages, I like having this information in their own chapters.

Each section starts with a 2-3 page description on each coin type noting history, major varieties, and some design information. Where there are interesting subtleties between types, the authors provide images for the reader as a reference. Some references do this inline with the price guide, I like the idea of showing the images first and leaving the price tables as clean as possible.

At some point, the authors need to consider updating some of the numismatic writing and think about how to make it a better reference than just a series of articles. For example, the chapter “Coin Auction Sales” needs to be updated to include how most auction houses now offer Internet bidding, some are exclusively Internet bidding, and that the section’s author, Q. David Bowers, has not worked at Bowers and Merena in quite some time—I believe it was 2003 when he sold is interest in the company which since 2010 has become part of Stack’s Bowers.

The chapter “Expert Tips on Buying and Selling Coins” has some good information but needs to be updated to include buying over the Internet, using online auctions, and to separate the section on grading. In fact, the section about grading could be greatly enhanced as a standalone chapter and provide a better service to readers.

One chapter that either has to be rewritten or deleted from future books is the “Mobile Computing…” chapter. Aside from being seriously out of date with today’s online and mobile world, it is heavily slanted to support the business model of section author’s company. While it would not be bad for the author to include a blurb about their company at the end of the chapter, the entire chapter reads like one of those worthless white papers that I receive from computer vendors on a daily basis.

The two chapters that make the book worth buying is are the chapters “Erros and Varieties” and “Civil War Tokens.” Both chapters are very well written, informative, and if you do not learn something from either chapter, then you are not reading carefully. Although the author is not listed with the chapter, Mike Ellis s listed as a contributor. For those who are unfamiliar with Ellis, he is currently the CONECA Vice President and a leading expert in variety and errors. Having heard him speak in the past, having this chapter written by him is a great addition to the book and worth reading.

I also thought the chapter “Civil War Tokens” by Dale H. Cade was phenomenal. I never really thought about Civil War Tokens and their impact on commerce because of the coin shortages, but it was a fascinating read. In fact, I am re-reading this chapter because I know I missed some things while reading it for this review. I know I will now look at Civil War tokens in a different light.

There are other areas like Civil War tokens that the authors/editors of the book should consider adding as well as other impacts on U.S. coinage.

The bottom line is that after 51 years, it may be time to find a new editor to update this book and make it more reflect modern references. It has some great information, some good information, some information that is just plain useless, and there is information that could be added to enhance the book. But the great really shines while the good needs a little updating to make it great. For these reasons, I give the book a grade of MS62 with hopes that the 52nd edition will be better. I think that a proper refresh could make The Official Blackbook rival its red-colored counterpart.

E-BOOK REVIEW: Wild World

For the second time in a year I read a fiction e-book because its premise is coin-related. This time, I read Wild World by Ginger Rapsus. Rapsus is the author of United States Clad Coinage published in 1992 and is currently a columnist for Numismatic News. Her website says that she began writing fiction “a few years ago.”

Wild World is the story about Stacey Morgan, a nurse’s aide that works in a large Chicago hospital, who inherited an old silver dollar. Not being an expert in coins, Stacey researches the coin on the Internet and begins to realize that she has something special but not sure how special. The coin, an 1873 Seated Liberty Dollar, is something special because none exist except in the world of fiction writers.

After discussing the coin with her friend Peg, a nurse who works on the same hospital ward, Stacey plans to go to a coin show to try to figure out what her coin was worth. The story is woven between Stacey dreaming about a better life away from the grind of being an aide at the hospital and how the grind at the hospital is driving her to find out more about the coin.

Stacey and Peg are young women, both basically starting their respective careers. In some ways, Stacey envies Peg a bit for being a nurse while she was not being treated well as a nurse’s aide. Both women are not only interested with improving their future, hopefully out of that hospital, but finding a life partner.

Not knowing how to approach the coin community at the coin show, Stacey brings Peg for moral support. Both being young women also think about meeting someone interesting at the coin show but Stacey is more interested in finding out the value of her coin. They playfully play their “what if” scenarios as they ride the train to the show.

The women arrive at the coin show and go on their separate ways. Peg is looking for someone to date as Stacey tries to figure out who to talk with about her coin. After roaming the floor for a while, Stacey approaches a dealer who is less than friendly and tries to take advantage of her. While Stacey was being disappointed by this dealer, Jacob Grant, a numismatist with a secret about his real life, steps in and rescues her from this unscrupulous dealer.

Jacob helps Stacey talk with dealer who is an expert on dollars. Ironically, it was a dealer who Stacey discounted talking with because of a mistaken impression she made from the Internet. Stacey showed the dealer the coin and the adventure begins. In a scene that resembles the authentication of the George Walton 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, the unique 1973 Seated Liberty Dollar was considered authentic and became the buzz of the show.

Stacey was overwhelmed with how the coin was received by the people at the show and how she was treated by Jacob. In fact, she began to fall for Jacob. As the story unfolds, Stacey became disturbed by an incident at the coin show involving the first dealer she spoke with which she would learn that misinterpreted. Also, Jacob has a secret life and was worried that his secret was unsavory until she learned he is a professional football player in Chicago.

Wild World is written from the perspective of Stacey Grant, a somewhat naive young woman with no experience in the numismatic world. She has some preconceived notion of the people in that world, but later discovers that while some stereotypes are true, most of the time, the coin world is filled with “normal” people with an interest in coins. For the non-numismatist, this may help change their attitudes on coin people.

As a story, Wild World flows well after the first two pages, which I have described as a “word salad” trying to say too much to set the scene. The story paints a good mental picture that would help both those experienced with coin shows and those who have attended large conferences to imagine how the scene would feel.

After Jacob and Stacey meet, the book handles the relationship building process between these two young people very well. Rapsus does not rush the relationship and keeps the Jacob and Stacey out of bed until the relationship really heats up. When it did come time for the bedroom scene, Rapsus wrote about it in a manner that I think would not be objectionable to most people—basically, not overtly descriptive while giving the reader an idea of the scene. It also helped build on the relationship between Jacob and Stacey that also helped explain how he deals with his secret life.

One lesson that I do not think Rapsus was intending on delivering was that you have to be guarded as to what you learn on the Internet. Stacey’s misinterpretation of what the good dealer had on his website is an example of how researching information online needs to go past single sources. It is also a subtle lesson to dealers that maybe they should consider hiring a non-numismatic editor to understand how those not in the numismatic community sees their public face.

My only real complaint about the book is that Rapsus uses “Clout” as the nickname for the Chicago professional football team while using the real names for other NFL teams that the Clout plays. While the team, stadium, and Chicago landmarks have been fictionalized, not using Bears seemed out of place with the rest of the football-related story.

Wild World is only available in e-book form and available from the popular digital bookstores for $2.99, which is a great price. One of those stores described the book as being 150 pages. While what constitutes a page is different between e-readers, it does come in shorter than many other books I have downloaded making it a comfortable length even for someone who prefers non-fiction, like me. The story is well developed and only part of the ending is predictable. Since this is not a numismatic book but a work of fiction surrounding a numismatic setting, I am giving Wild World a specimen grade of SP67 because the first few pages need to be tightened a bit and the end should have been less predictable. Wild World is underpriced for the quality of the writing and should be on your reading list.

Cover image courtesy of Books by Ginger at booksbyginger.com.

BOOK REVIEW: One of a Kind

Could you build a story around the appearance of a fabled coin and make it an interesting read? We know there are true stories about the 1913 Liberty Head nickels and the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles. But what would happen if the little known 1873-S Seated Liberty Dollar was discovered and put up for auction?

Numismatist know that the Coinage Act of 1873 put the United States on the gold standard and demonetized silver. This law hurt western mining interests who wanted both gold and silver to remain in circulation. It became known as the “Crime of ’73.”

At the U.S. Mint, the branch mint in San Francisco reported that it struck 700 Seated Liberty Coins but none have ever surfaced. What happened if one was found that was a heirloom of a rich family from the west coast? Then what would happen if the patriarch dies, wills the coin to a maid/personal assistant who then consigns it to an auction that attracts worldwide attention. This is the premise of the novel One of a Kind by Barbara Erlichman.

According to her bio, Barbara Erlichman was raised in England and came to the United States intending to work her way across America. Arriving in New York, she met her future husband and they started a rare coin business. Based in New York, they traveled throughout the United States and Europe buying coins and collectibles. When she contacted me about her book, she and her husband retired to Florida and this this is her first book.

One of a Kind weaves together four plot lines surrounding the auction of this one of a kind coin. Adam Sloan is the son of the business man who died and left the coin, a family heirloom, to his maid. Sloan, who is successful running the family business in his own right, wants the coin back because of its family heritage. Claire Waring, the efficient assistant of the head of the company handling the auction, has a personal stake in wanting this auction to go well. Ex-union boss Salvatore Corelli and his daughter Lucia returns to New York from their self-imposed Florida exile where Salvatore was convalescing after having two heart attack, to add this one last coin to his collection. Howie Roth is a vest pocket dealer, working the shows just to make it through his life, comes up with a scheme to try to get the coin before the auction. Finally, Lord Welton, whose passion are unique items, brings his American wife “back home” in his quest for the elusive coin.

Claire, who was tasked with organizing the auction, becomes a central focus as the lot viewing begins four days before the auction. As the organizer, she meets with each of the potential bidders as they view the lot and with Adam Sloan, who was trying to convince the auction house not to auction his family’s prized possessions.

With everyone in New York and vying for this prize, Lucia, whose physical appearance is first described in a less than flattering light, meets Howie and Lord Welton’s personal aide. Lucia falls for both but did not like ones approach over the other. She ends up falling into the arms of one of these men whose life changes from then on.

After arguing with the auction house and being stood up to by Claire, Adam Sloan becomes intrigued with her but finds out that her situation is more complicated than expected. Still, Adam pursues Claire almost losing interest in the coin. Then Lady Welton comes in to make the interaction interesting.

In the mean time, Howie looking for easy money convinces Salvatore Corelli to go along with his scheme until Lord Welton somehow finds out and makes Corelli an offer he cannot refuse.

Intrigued? You will have to read One of a Kind to find out more. Most of the interactions between these story lines in pursuit of the coin are nicely woven. The romance that is struck between some of the parties seem a little shallow. While certain passages make this book adult reading, some of these encounters seem like they move too quickly.

As for the description of the auction, the circumstances around the auction, the life of a dealer, coin shows, and the attitudes of all involved, Erlichman relies on her many years of experience traveling with her husband to coin shows to make the scenes more realistic. Her English heritage and life in New York City also adds to the richness of how the characters interact, especially when dealing with collecting coins. Erlichman’s handing of the setting allows the reader to absorb the story without the background becoming a distraction.

By the way… you have to read the book through the “Epilog” in order to find out what really happened to this one of a kind coin. It is a worthwhile twist!

I do not read fiction that often. Aside from my numismatic interests, my interest in history and politics have been filling the ebook apps on my iPad. After receiving a copy of the book from the author, I decided I would finished reading other books I started to concentrate on this one. Since this is not a numismatic book but a work of fiction surrounding a numismatic setting, I am giving One of a Kind a specimen grade of SP67 (remember, the Sheldon scale is based on 70 points) downgrading it just a little because the relationship development seems a little shallow. Over all, the book is a comfortable read for those interested in numismatics. New Yorkers, or transplanted New Yorkers, should also feel a home with the mental image of the scenery. If you are uncomfortable with the description of sexual encounters, then you could scan past those passages—these sections are not overly graphic but not suitable for younger people. Otherwise, you should enjoy reading One of a Kind.

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