REVIEW: 2017 Canadian Circulating Coins, Tokens & Paper Money

Stanley 2017 Canadian Coins, Tokens & Paper Money CoverIf you are a collector of Canadian coins and looking for a standard reference, there is nothing better than The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins. Available in two volumes, the Charlton catalogs would be the Canadian equivalent of the Red Book Professional Edition. Charlton Press also publishes books for the Canadian currency and token collectors. All of the Charlton books are very comprehensive on their respective topic and a must for the Canadian collector.

Like the Professional Edition of the Red Book, the Charlton Catalog is not a quick or portable reference. When I am searching through coins at shows or if I am just trying to identify something I had just acquired, I want a quicker reference with some basic prices that does not require me to hunt around the other information I am not interested in at the moment. I think I found the perfect reference for Canadian numismatics.

While searching one of my favorite online coin supply retailers, I came across the 2017 by W.J. (Bill) Stanley. It is published by Canadian Wholesale Supply of Paris, Ontario. Within the book, it does not carry a copyright date and it does not have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). It can be found at a number of online numismatic stores but not on stores like Amazon that require an ISBN.

But if you are collecting Canadian Coins, Breton Tokens, or Canadian Paper money you should have a copy of this book sitting next to your Charlton Standard Catalog. While the Charlton books are very complete with a lot of information, the pictures are in black and white. All of the coin images in the Stanley book are in color. Although you can guess what the colors are, seeing the color images on varieties and being able to compare them with coins is of great help.

Canadian Coin Section sample pages

Another advantage of the Stanley book is that it consists only of circulating coinage. Although the Royal Canadian Mint has expanded its catalog of non-circulating legal tender coins over the last decade, if you are just collecting circulating issues, then the other stuff is clutter. It is just the basics of what was circulated in Canada.

This book is divided into three section. The first are circulating Canadian coins, the second for Canadian currency, and final are the tokens. The coin and currency section has a single introduction, guide to reading the tables, and an index to find the particular type you might try to find. The coin section has their pages numbered beginning with page 1 with the introductory parts numbered with Roman numerals. But the currency section begins on page B-1 following page 54 of the coins.

Canadian Currency Section sample pages

The tokens section appears as if it was a separate book bound with the coin and currency section to make one book. It has a title page followed by a similar introduction, guide to reading the information, and an index. The introductory pages are not numbered but the token listings begin on page T-1.

Breton Tokens Section sample pages

If the book was bigger, these page numbering anomalies would be confusing. I only noticed this when I tried to figure out how many pages are in the book. Considering that not every page is numbered and there are some blank pages in the middle, I think there are 132 pages in total. Not very thick and spiral bound for easier handling.

Prices in the book are given for the basic grades and includes prices for significant auctions and prices gathered for rare and significant coins. As most of us are aware, most printed price books are obsolete by the time they are published. What Stanley does is use information he gathers from auctions and coin shows around Canada to determine the prices. In his introduction, Stanley admits he uses his judgment to exclude what appears to be bogus data based on bidding wars or data from untrustworthy sources. He also admits that there may be errors.

Without reaching out to Stanley, it appears he is the sole responsible person for the prices and content of this guide. Maybe that is a good thing considering the inaccuracy of similar guides from other publishers. However, after go through his guide and a number of other sources including the prices from a few Canadian dealers, this book may be more accurate than his caveat suggests.

After that, it is pages of coin listings similar to any price guide you may find. The number of coins minted is included on each line. There are images of coins, images of varieties with an arrow point to subtle differences, and prices in the most relevant grades of circulating coins.

I cannot speak about the Charlton Standard Catalog of Canadian Currency since I do not own that book, but similar to the coins’ section, the Canadian currency section is nothing but the basics. Color images are reproduced from the Bank of Canada and have “SPECIMEN” superimposed on each note. Descriptions note signature, portrait, and serial number differences (i.e., prefix types) for the notes and the prices in the most relevant grades.

Tokens are a very important part of the history of Canadian money. When coins or currency was not available, Canadian towns and provinces created tokens to act in the place of money. The history of Canadian tokens is fascinating and worth another report. It is important to note that the cataloging of tokens is based on the work Pierre Napoleon Breton in his book Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Related to Canada originally published in 1894, since republished and updated. As part of his cataloging of tokens, he assigned them a number that is now known as Breton Numbers. Stanley lists Canadian tokens by Breton Numbers.

Although I am not a collector of Breton Tokens, I am fascinated by other areas of numismatics especially if they are different. What thrills me about this section is that the tokens are imaged side-by-side with their basic information and prices. It is not a tome on their history but if I was a collector, it would help me identify these tokens and what I might expect to pay for them. I found myself flipping through the pages looking at the tokens, what they say, and thinking about their possible history. I want to go back through my back issues of The CN Journal (publication of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association) and find some of those stories about tokens I never read.

Flipping the pages of such as basic reference, I never thought I would learn so much. I think it is because all of the other information has been omitted, I can see the coins, images of the varieties, and the prices without distraction. Now that I have learned a number of things, I can pick up other references to learn more.

My only minor nit about this book is the page numbering scheme and the lack of coherent index or table of contents. I give it a grade of MS-68 for being a simple reference of circulating Canadian numismatics and a book that I recommend.

Information in the images is copyright of Bill Stanley and used on Fair Use.
Page images are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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.

Heritage Publishes A Great Auction Catalog

Front Cover of the Heritage Platinum Night Sports Auction

Front Cover of the Heritage Platinum Night Sports Auction

Whomever said “Don’t judge a book by its cover” did not see the recent auction catalog from Heritage Auction Galleries for their Platinum Night Sports Auction that will be held in New York on February 23-24. The catalog is a work of art worthy of the fantastic sports collectibles that are described in its pages.

Opening the Priority Mail envelope delivered in February 4 was a beautiful holographic image of iconic image of the 1980 United States Men’s Olympic Hockey Team celebrating their victory over the Soviet Red Army team. The eye-popping three-dimensional image is far more impressive than the image that appeared on the front cover of Sports Illustrated because of the visual texture it delivers.

The “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team may have been a bunch of guys trying to play hockey, but to the rest of us, they were a proxy in the Cold War. With the games being played in Lake Placid, New York, the nation gathered around television sets across the nation to hope and watch our boys beat the Soviets—just because they were the Soviets, long suspected of cheating by twisting the rules to pay players at a time when the Olympics were an all-amateur competition. I remember a group of us transplanted New Yorkers watching hockey in the dorms at the University of Georgia trying to teach the southerners about hockey was almost as entertaining as the games.

After staring at the cover you tilt it and the image of Mike Eruzione’s jersey can be seen. Eruzione’s “Miracle on Ice”, game worn gold medal game jersey, and other memorabilia from the 1980 gold medal winning hockey team is what Heritage picked as the highlight of the auction. Current bid for “The Miracle on Ice” jersey is $325,000.

Turn the cover over and there is a three-dimensional holographic image of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth sitting on a bench, hats in hand holding a baseball bat. The image is from the 1927 Murders Row team. Tilt the cover to see the 1927-1928 game worn Gehrig uniform jersey that is part of the auction.

Inside the catalog are some of the most phenomenal sports collectibles that could ever be imagined from nearly every sport. One of the more unusual items if “The Bloody Sock” worn by Curt Schilling during the second game of the 2004 World Series. Schilling’s performance on bad tendons have been compared with the fictional Roy Hobbs in the 1984 movie The Natural. It also represents the end of the 84-year Curse of the Bambino. Starting bid is $25,000.

Heritage also has a ticket stub from the 1962 Philadelphia Warriors Wilt Chamberlain 100 Point Game on March 2, 1962 at the Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Officially, the attendance was 4,124 (or 10 million as the legend grew!). This PSA authenticated ticket is currently at $3,000.

For those looking for a numismatic tie to this auction, you might want to consider:

Since this is not specifically a numismatic item, I am grading it as a specimen release. I am grading this SP69 deducting a point for the typos that should have been caught in the editing process—one being in an item title that could not be ignored. It is a fantastic item and should be on the shelf of anyone who has an interest in sports and sports collectibles.

Happy bidding!

Catalog image is from the author whose catalog is not for sale!

NatGeo’s America’s Money Vault

Prior to the very entertaining Vice Presidential Debate, the National Geographic Channel aired a show titled “America’s Money Vault” that was part of their “Behind the Scenes” week. The show was hosted by Jake Ward, editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine.

The show is centered around the Federal Reserve and primarily the operations of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. After opening the show at Times Square, we are transported downtown to the New York Fed where they are accepting a deposit of over 1 ton of gold. Following an explanation that the New York Fed is the most trusted handler of gold in the world and has 25-percent of the world’s gold on deposit, we watch the transfer process.

As part of the transfer process, the cameras are brought into the vault and the viewers are show “walls” of gold bars. Unlike the images in the 1995 movie Die Hard: With a Vengeance, it appears that the vault that is more solid than the jail-like bars shown in the movie.

Ward visited with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to talk about the Fed’s roll in the markets. While in Washington Ward visits the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to show some of the process in currency printing. There was also a discussion with the United States Secret Service about anti-counterfeiting.

One of the more interesting visuals was when Ward visited the East Rutherford Operations Center (EROC), one of the New York Fed’s currency operations. Viewers were shown rows of currency and coins being stored on shelves throughout the building. And in a scene to warm my technical heart, the robotic inventory system was profiled.

According to NatGeo TV, the next time America’s Money Vault will air is on Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 4:00 PM Eastern Time. If you will be away at that time, it is worth setting the DVR (or VCR for those still going old school) to record this show.

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: Heritage Mobile Catalog for the iPad

Heritage Mobile Catalog Opening Screen

Late last month, Heritage Auctions announced the free Heritage Mobile Catalog for iPad. The app allows those interested in Heritage auctions to view auction lots, see high resolution images of the items, bid, and follow auction, “in real-time,” according to Heritage. As a customer of Heritage, I downloaded the app hoping it would be something special.

This review is for the Heritage Mobile Catalog for the iPad only. Heritage has a separate app that works for the iPhone and iPad that is a wrapper around their mobile website. Do not confuse the two. The Heritage Mobile Catalog app is an application and different from the website. The Heritage app provides nothing more than what you can experience if you opened Safari on your iDevice and went to HA.com. For Android users, you are not missing anything by not having the Heritage App. I deleted the Heritage app from my iPhone and iPad.

The Heritage Mobile Catalog app is works in portrait and landscape mode on the iPad, but I found that using it in landscape mode looks better. When you open the app, you are presented with a number of virtual “catalogs” of Heritage’s various auctions. Even though this blog is interested in numismatics, I like to look at some of Heritage’s other auctions—which is why I now own some older political memorabilia. For this review, I selected the catalog for the August 3 Currency Signature Auction in Philadelphia.

The first issue that users will experience is this is not a “real-time” application. Before being able to browse an auction, you have to download the catalog. This can take some time depending on your connection. Even a more recent test using my home WiFi connection at full strength and no other activity I lost track of the time it was taking to download a catalog that was reported to be over 164 megabytes. All I remember was that during the wait I was able to make a bio-break and pour a beverage. If I was not trying to refresh my review, I would have given up and opened Safari to go to their website.

The Update dialog for the Heritage Mobile Catalog app.

Once the catalog is downloaded, the other “real-time” mistake this app makes is that it asks you if you want to update the bids in the catalog. If you do not press the “Update” button, then the prices it will show you while browsing the catalog will not be current. This is not the definition of “real-time” and represents a bad user experience.

You can avoid the dialog box if you press the “Update Bids” button. This will do the same as the dialog box, but you have to remember to press it first before pressing the “View” button to see the catalog. In either case, this is not a straight forward interface for the ordinary user. In fact, as a note to the project manager at Heritage, this type of interface reminds me of the book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. The first half of this book makes it worth reading.

Gallery View in the Heritage Mobile Catalog app is similar to Apple’s cover flow.

Once the catalog is open, the app is wonderful. The Gallery View is reminiscent of the cover-flow view used in iTunes on your computer or the Music app if you turn the iDevice to landscape mode. Browsing in Gallery View is very smooth with very good images of the auction lots. If you want to bid, just tap on the image and a bidding dialog pops up.

List View really lets you get down to the business of browsing and bidding on the auction. While Gallery View is nice, you will probably use List View more. Both views allows you to sort the list by several criteria and the Refine button will let you search for specific items and let you narrow the display by relevant terms. While the images here are screen shots from a currency auction, the Refine Search adapts to the type of auction you are viewing.

Where the annoyance returns is the “My Heritage” button that does not offer a service but connects you to the Heritage website and uses the output from the website as the display. In order for an iOS application to open a web page, it has to bring up a separate window that overlays over the app. There’s a “clunky” feeling to this type of interface that I find annoying.

When you tap on an auction to bid on it, users of the eBay for iPad app will find familiar. There is nothing wrong with this interface because I think the Heritage version is a cleaner and a little more intuitive than the way eBay crammed everything into their version.

Bid screen in the Heritage Mobile Catalog app.

Bidding was not a problem. I was able to bid on a few lots, including the one imaged. I did not win the lots I bid on because I forgot to return to the app to check on the bids. At the last minute I went to the website since I was not at home and it was taking a long time to update using the public WiFi where I was logged in.

While I can speculate on why the Heritage Mobile Catalog app does this type of pre-loading, the bottom line is that it takes too long and does not update prices in “real-time” as their announcement claims. While other apps find ways to integrate their backend processing directly into the app, the Heritage Mobile Catalog has a “bolted-on” feeling. With the exception of the Gallery View, why should someone use this app over opening the browser and directly accessing the auction on the website?

I wanted to love this app but the interface annoyances has me using the website more than this app. It is like a mint state coin that is not well struck which is why I am grading this app MS60. Whomever is responsible for this app at Heritage should look at similar apps (eBay) and consider attending the next Apple World Wide Developers Conference to attend the course on what makes a good iOS interface.


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REVIEW: NGC Coin Details

Just before the World’s Fair of Money, Numismatic Guarantee Corporation announced a new app, NGC Coin Details for both the iPhone and Android devices. The free app, which can be downloaded from the AppStore for the iPhone and Google Play for Android, provides verification of the certification of any NGC graded coin either by scanning the barcode or entering the serial number.

In addition to the verification service, the app provides coin details, images if they are available, pricing information, description and analysis, and upcoming auction information if it exists. The app is consistent with the look and feel of NGC’s website and provides most of the information they claim.

This review is based on the app for the iPhone but was told that the Android version is similar in look and feel. If someone wants to contribute a review of the Android version of the app including screenshots, please contact me to make the arrangements.

Testing of this app was performed at the World’s Fair of Money but only one set of images were taken while scanning “cheap slabs.” Some dealers became upset with my taking out the phone and pointing it at the coin. I then began to ask dealers if I could try out the app without a lot of success. One dealer accused me of attempting to create a diversion to steal his coins even after I asked for permission, offered my business card, and showed him the NGC app. Although I did not ask, these images were taken at the table for Wayne Herndon Rare Coins with Wayne sitting nearby. I did not want to disturb Wayne since it looked like he was making a nice sale—he deserves my hearty THANKS!

The app opens with a quickly disappearing splash screen and then a page that asks to click on the plus butting to verify a new coin. I do not know why it does not go directly into the verification process, but it does let the user know that if they want to verify a new coin where to go. It then brings up a screen that allows the entering of a certification number from the label or allows the scanning of a barcode.

Barcode scanning is a very nice feature when it works. However, with this app, I found that whether it works depends on the age of the label. New or newer labels that I believe were created since around 2007 can be read by the app. While these may be the most prevalent labels found, it is fortunate that NGC serial numbers are short and they bring up a digital keypad for data entry. Using a keypad-only interface is very helpful in those circumstances.

Several coins I tried had complete information including most Morgan and Peace Dollars, Buffalo Nickels, and current series pre- and post-1964 striking. It was very easy to use, especially for coins whose barcodes were scannable by the app. Where the app was not as good were for coins in older slabs whose barcodes could not be scanned. For those coins, there were missing detail information including some variety information that was found when scanning a similar coin in a newer slab. This was interesting to see the difference in how the app reacted when scanning similar Morgan Dollars of the same year and mintmark.

Pricing information was missing from many coins that were manually entered. This is one example.[/caption]It is understandable that some coins may not have images in the NGC database, but when a relatively common coin does not have a price details, one begins to wonder. In the example that was captured, the 1985-S proof Roosevelt Dime should have come up with price guide information. In fact, many modern proofs did not show pricing information even if they were scanned.

Another missing feature is the description and analysis of many coins that are not considered “classic.” Very few modern coins that were tried had description and analysis information while I found that series that ended before the coinage that was in place in 1964 (e.g., Mercury Dimes, Buffalo Nickels, Standing Liberty Quarters, etc.) had description and analysis information. Some of the Variety Plus information was available, but I was only able to try the app on a few coins where the information would show up.

While the app worked without issue, the problem is the data that NGC is using to feed the app. There was missing information and no prices. There was a difference between the data received from a scanned barcode versus on entered manual. And one would expect that the Variety Plus information for a Washington Dollar include missing edge lettering or doubled edge lettering issues that they have found while grading these coins. Also, how difficult would it be to enter a generic series-based description for some of the coins like the Presidential Dollars. This might be something NGC could consider on the backend if the description and analysis field is empty.

In grading the graders the review had to take everything into consideration and came up with a grade of MS65*. It deserves the star for the great eye appeal and the better than an MS64 because when it scanned the barcode it was wonderful. But points were lost for a lot of missing descriptions, missing pricing on some coins, and failing to scan older labels. While NGC could fix the first two on their servers, the scanning issue could be an issue with the application. I look forward to seeing if they can fix it in their next update.

Screen Shots


 

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.

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