During the unpacking of an estate, I came across a book with the title Coin of the Canonical Realm. It is a short, 58 pages, paperback book that has an intriguing cover. As a coin collector, I started to thumb through the book to get a sense of its purpose. Since it was not apparent, I had to wait until later.
After cleaning off my desk, I found the book and decided to read the Introduction to understand the book’s purpose. According to the introduction, its purpose is to “21st century sense of all the 19th century mentions of money in the Sherlock Holmes stories.”
Sherlock Holmes was a fictional detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle created Holmes as a “consulting detective” so that the character can appear in varying environments. Doyle was one of the first authors to create a crime-fighting character that includes all of the tools that we take advantage of today. Someone suggested that Mission: Impossible is a modern extension of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Most of Doyle’s stories are written from the perspective of John H. Watson, M.D. as Holmes’ biographer. Watson is a friend and part-time roommate who accompanies Holmes on his investigations. Watson can be annoyed with Holmes on some of his actions while being intrigued by his actions.
During his life, Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels about Sherlock Holmes. The short stories are compiled in five books which I have read three of them. All of the Sherlock Holmes stories are highly recommended.
The Sherlock Holmes stories endured long after Doyle’s passing in 1930. Aside from the movies and other new media recreations, there are societies dedicated to studying the intricacies of Holmes, the crimes, and other characters Doyle included. One of those organizations is The John H. Watson Society.
The John H. Watson Society, founded in 2013, is described as an organization that will study Dr. Watson as a unique individual and how his character enhances the Doyle classics. Watson, whose background is revealed throughout the stories, is a renown physician with a heroic war record and trust by a community is leery of the medial arts.
The book, written by Nickolas Utechin whose biography describes himself as having a long history with studying Sherlock Holmes, is the first monograph published by the John H. Watson Society.
Starting from Chapter 1, Utechin copies one or two-line passages from Doyle’s writings that reference money then explains them in the context of the 21st-century. He first describes the old British monetary system where there were 240 pence to a pound including the varying minor coins that were in use at the time. (See this post for a description of the old British monetary system)
Each of the chapters covers the five volumes of compiled short stories and then four chapters for each of the novels. Although you can get the gist of what Utechin writes about, it is best to use this booklet as a companion while reading a Sherlock Holmes story.
Having this explanation while reading one of the short stories adds a different perspective to the story. For those who have not read a Sherlock Holmes story, I would recommend that you first read the story without consulting this booklet. On your second reading have this booklet nearby to help you put the story into perspective.
Some may consider Coin of the Canonical Realm a supplemental study guide to Sherlock Holmes. Whatever you want to call it, fans of the stories may find it adds to their enjoyment.
If you are interested in owning a copy of Coin of the Canonical Realm, you can order it directly from The John H. Watson Society.
While searching for something else, I came across a story that F+W Media, the parent company of Krause Publications, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 10. As part of its bankruptcy filing, the company plans to liquidate its assets to pay its creditors.
According to the bankruptcy filing, F+W owes $105.2 million in outstanding debt to between 1,000 and 5,000 creditors (filing is not specific and I did not want to count the over 500-page filing). The most money is owed to LSC Communications, a company that provides printing and distribution services with over $2.7 million owed.
F+W is also asking the court to approve $8 million in financing to be used as working capital. They claim to have over $10 million in assets.
F+W has been a hobby publisher for many years. The company was founded in 1913 and was named for its two initial publications Farm Quarterly and Writer’s Digest. Farm Quarterly ceased publication in 1955.
Since 2000, F+W has been on a buying spree trying to diversify its portfolio. In 2000, F+W bought UK-based book publisher David & Charles and later renamed it F+W International. In 2002, they bought Krause Publications. In 2012, F+W Media acquired Interweave, an arts and crafts media company, and in 2014 purchased New Track Media.
F+W has had a failed Internet strategy that was not coherent across imprints. While those of us who regularly read Antique Trader find it difficult to understand why Numismatic News does not have a website to match. After scanning the bankruptcy filing, it is apparent that the lack of a cohesive e-commerce strategy led to the failure of the Numismaster website.
The bankruptcy of F+W will be felt across a lot of hobbies. They report that the company averages 600 new titles every year and has over 4,000 titles in print. The company produces 42 magazines, not all are weekly publications like Numismatic News. It lacks a cohesive e-commerce strategy and their idea of selling e-books is producing PDF files of their publications.
From a reader’s perspective, F+W magazines have no integration. Several times I have written to the writers and editors of Antique Trader and Old Cars Weekly magazines when there is a numismatic-related mistake in their publications. The response is almost as if they do not realize the other publications exist.
Krause Publications publishes more than numismatic-related magazines and books. Many of their books are collector and buyers guides for other hobbies. Books like Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles, Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles, Goldmine Price Guide (vinyl records), and Military Trader magazine define these industries.
For the sake of numismatics, I hope that the Krause publications survive. This includes the Standard Catalog books, which are a hobby staple. In fact, because of the Standard Catalogs, Krause should have a significant database of numismatic information that should beat almost anyone. With a lot of imagination, that data could be put to great use for the benefit of numismatics and a way to produce premium content in order to generate the revenue to support its existence.
Just their database could create a treasure trove of possibilities that could be used beyond the numismatic community. All it would take is someone with money (which I don’t have) and imagination (which I have plenty).
Over the last few months, I have been on another book buying binge. Most of the books I have been buying are references. Many of these references help fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. One of those gaps is how to date some foreign coins especially those of the eastern world whose language is not Latin-based.
Although the Standard Catalog of World Coins has a basic reference to help figure out the date of a coin, it is not detailed enough. While there are websites on the Internet to help, there is not a single good resource. I wanted a good resource to help me grade these coins. Then I stumbled across the Illustrated Coin Dating Guide of the Eastern World by Albert Galloway.
Published by Krause Publications, it features the tables and descriptions that are in the Standard Catalogs on steroids plus much more information. The absolute best part of this book are the images with the guides pointing to each element to help identify the date coin.
Some coins are not dated but contain the number of years of the current ruler or dynasty. Coins from Israel use the date on the Hebrew Calendar while many Islamic countries include the date of the Islamic or Hijri Calendar.
And it helps in more ways than figuring out the dates. If you are not familiar with the pictograph-style writing of some East Asian countries, having in the information in front of you can help identify the difference between a Korean coin from a Japanese coin, something that recently helped me.
Also, the book points out how to identify elements like mintmarks, privy marks, coiners marks, and other identifying varieties on these coins. As we know, a mintmark or other distinguishing mark can make a difference in a coin’s value.
The book was first published in 1984 and republished in 2012. Both versions appear to be the same with a color variation of the cover—the 1984 publication has a predominantly red cover.
The only complaint about the book is that it should be spiral bound so that the book could lay flat on the table. I have not had the book long and I have already bent the spine. At this rate, the book may not last long. For that reason, I give the book a grade of MS-69. If you are searching through lots of foreign coins, this book is a must-have for your numismatic library.
Although the 72nd edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins has been out since April, it seems like Whitman is doing a bit of behind the scenes reorganizing for the future. With Ken Bresett taking on the title of Editor Emeritus and Jeff Garrett taking over as Senior Editor, they seem to be a bit behind in some minor, but for some of us, important recognition. 😉 I finally received an Official Contributor’s pin for being a contributor to the Red Book.
First, this is my public THANK YOU to Whitman for the pin and allowing me to participate!
As I did with last year’s edition, I participated in updating modern coin prices. Modern coins are those classified as being struck after 1964 when silver was removed from most U.S. coins. These are the coins that some dealers do not show a lot of love for because they are not perceived as worth the effort to sell. Although some of that has changed since the State Quarters were first introduced in 1999, the hobby should show more respect to these coins especially since we are 54 years into the modern era.
Although many feel that the Red Book’s pricing is obsolete when it comes out, it is still a good guide to understanding the foundation of pricing even if there is are market fluctuations. Thus, it would not hurt to get these prices closer to being correct, especially for new collectors. After all, this is a “guide,” not a price list.
This past year was a little different. Aside from not giving us a lot of time to enter prices (more on that later), my new business venture allows me to see the market from a dealer’s perspective. Even though I deal in general collectables and not just coins, I can now view the market from both sides of the counter.
Because of time constraints, I concentrated more on proofs and special issues than the business strike versions.
One of the reasons why the period for submitting our prices was delayed was that when Jeff Garrett took over as Senior Editor, a source said that he wanted to change a few things about how this was done. No details were provided.
I am speculating that the delay in sending out the contributor pins, which also comes with a copy of the Red Book and a Mega Red, is likely because Whitman is working diligently behind the scenes to make it easier for contributors to continue to help while giving Jeff and others a better platform for which to edit the prices.
Even though the Red Book is a good resource there are always ways to make it better. I am sure that Jeff will do a great job and hope that I can continue to contribute to the effort.
While shipping several packages of Red Books to customers, I was thinking about the number of people who buy these and other guides. With the state of the industry changing from an IRL (in real life) experience to one more online, I wonder how many people are still using printed guides.
As I thought about doing this as a poll, I started gathering some of the resources that could be considered. That is when I realized that on my overflowing bookshelf I have many of these publications! I never thought I had an extensive numismatic library but the numismatic books outnumber my tech books. Now that I am retired from the tech industry, it might be time to let the tech books go, especially the out of date books.
This list serves two purposes. One is to list the general resources for numismatic pricing of mainly coins and currency. The other purpose is to provide a list of resources that others can use to build their own library. It also will serve as the categories I will use for the poll, below.
Here are is a list of pricing references that I either own or found online:
NOTE: The links for all the books (except the Lighthouse Euro Catalog) leads to Abe Books. They are affiliate links. If you buy from Abe Books I make a few cents on the sale. Whatever affiliate money I earn from Abe Books is used to help pay the bills I receive for the blog including hosting and keeping the domain name registered. Of course you can buy your books from any source. However, using the affiliate link would be appreciated.
This week’s silence was not because I had nothing to say—that would be an anomaly! As part of starting my new business and becoming more organized, I realized how far behind I am in my reading.
Over the course of time, I kept buying books I want to read and let them pile up as other things got in the way including the feeling of obligation to read periodicals because of their timeliness.
The online periodicals are easier to deal with. Right now, I only subscribe to one magazine and The Numismatist for electronic reading. Both seem to get priority over printed items.
I decided that I will set aside one hour each evening before bedtime to catch up on my reading. I started with a non-numismatic book because it has been sitting here the longest and the topic is intriguing. For those interested, I am reading Tesla vs. Edison: The Life-Long Feud that Electrified the World by Nigel Cawthorne (ISBN: 9780785833789). Tesla was a better scientist but Edison was a better businessman.
Next, I will delve into a numismatic book. One that has been sitting on my desk that is really calling my name is Counterfeiting and Technology by Bob McCabe (ISBN: 9780794843953).
While starting and studying my collection of Maryland colonial currency, I learned that the leaf print on the reverse of early notes was an attempt to prevent counterfeiting. Benjamin Franklin devised the nature print, an imprint of a leaf or other natural item with its unpredictable patterns, fine lines, and complex details made it more difficult to copy. (Read more about it here)
Examples of Maryland colonial currency using nature prints on their reverses
On first glance, the 480 book looks well researched with a list of a lot of supporting materials. Like most of Whitman’s books, the layout includes a lot of illustrations. What piques my interest is that it does start with colonial currency, the area where my interest in the top began.
After I read about the technology that Tesla pioneered that is still the basis of a lot of what we use today, like the induction engine (used to drive the automobile that bears his name) and the concept of transmitting electricity without wires (see modern-day wireless chargers), then I will dive into the world of counterfeiting.
After note: In memorial…
This post about reading was inspired by the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush was passionate about literacy and would encourage everyone to read, regardless of age and ability. Without fanfare, Mrs. Bush and the foundation she started made sure literacy was a priority in the lives of everyone she touched.
In 1966, Aaron Feldman placed an advertisement in The Numismatist that read, “Buy the book before the coin.” Although Feldman was trying to entice readers to buy books, it is a sentiment that has survived the test of time and continues to thrive.
Later, Feldman was quoted as saying. “I’ve always thought that if a man doesn’t own one coin, but has the knowledge that is in the books, then he’s a real numismatist.” I am sure this is something that the late First Lady would endorse.
The shameless promotion of the coin business and extraordinary search for special rare coins did not begin with the explosion of the Internet. It can be traced to legendary coin dealer B. Max Mehl. From the empire he built in Austin, Texas, Mehl was probably the first coin dealer to market coins to the general public.
Mehl started advertising in The Numismatist in 1903 and in the following year issued his first catalog. In 1906, Mehl paid $12.50 to advertise in Collier’s magazine offering his Star Coin Book for 10-cents. Later, Mehl would expand the book and sell it for $1.
Benjamin Maximillian Mehl was born in Łódź, Russia (now Poland) in 1884. His family immigrated to the United States in 1895 and worked as a shoe salesman before he became a coin dealer. Stories about his relentless promotion report that he was shipping coins to more than 30,000 times a year.
Mehl is famous for his advertising that he “Will pay $50 for a nickel of 1913 with Liberty Head, not Buffalo.” Although he never found one, that did not stop him from advertising and trying.
Then there is the catalog, Star Coin Book. Before the Red Book, Blue Book, and Standard Catalog, there were few books that provided this amount of information and was affordable to the general public. The Star Coin Book was his marketing tool to make and keep people interested and to keep the orders coming in.
Mehl sold so many catalogs that one can be purchased for as little as $5.00 or as high as $50.00 depending on the year and condition. Many are in poor condition since they were not meant to be saved. Mehl wanted people to buy a new catalog every year.
Imagine my surprise when I was going through a box of odd books that I purchased from an estate and found a 1925 edition of The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia and Premium Catalog. I picked up the book, paused as I tried to focus on the well-worn cover, and smiled as I realized what I had found.
The book is not in good condition but it is part of numismatic lore. It is Mehl’s work as a cataloger and seller of coins and some currency. It is page after page of coins and the values that he would pay if you wanted to sell your coins. These values are a range of what he would pay and he notes that is based on the condition of the coin. He does include a description of the differences in condition and most coin types include some type of picture, whether it is a photographic plate or a line drawing.
After the lists there are a few pages of history of coins, “Coins Past and Present” that is followed by coins he has for sale. All sales were done by phone or by postal mail. Remember, this was long before fax machines and the Internet!
There are both contemporary and modern writings about Mehl that describe him as a huckster and mendacious. Others describe him as a genius of marketing that helped grow the hobby. Regardless, Mehl has a place is numismatic history that has to be respected for being able to use the tools he had to build a successful business.
Mehl built his company’s offices at 1204 Magnolia Ave. in Fort Worth. The building was rescued long after Mehl had died but his name still appears over the main entrance.
Image of 1204 Magnolia Avenue take from Google Maps.
I have been working on a few manuscripts over the last year. If I put in the extra time, I can publish two of them within the next few months. Both books are more of a labor of love, taking some of the best content from this blog plus some additional information and packaging it for a book. I am not settled on the format of one of the books and considering a different approach.
After nearly 11 years of writing this blog, I have a lot of information that can be shared in a much longer form than I can on a blog. But I would rather polish the manuscripts and have them in the hands of the collecting public than sitting on my computer.
A long time ago, I authored a technical book and contributed to another. My book is very out of date and would have liked to have provided an update. But since the publishing company owned the rights, it was not seen as a priority and has languished. I learned that unless the publishing company is willing to allow updates, I am better off trying to self-publish my work.
My experience also taught me that unless you write a New York Times Bestseller, nobody is getting rich off of publishing a few books. But publishing has its costs whether it is paid by a publishing company or by me, if I self-publish.
Self-publishing is relatively easy but it does require paying the up-front costs. I need help with the funding. One way people have been able to fund new ventures is through crowdfunding sources. Websites like Kickstarter and Indigogo provide a service where someone can have a project funded. Those who provide funding get a reward for helping, such as early access to the project being funded and having your name added to the acknowledgements.
I have participated in helping fund a few projects, but the only numismatic-related project was for the Baltimore BNote. The rewards for funding the project was receiving BNotes, which I still own. I thought it might be worth a try.
When the books are ready to be published, it is my intention to make them available in both printed and in an electronic form. The electronic version will be made available for the most popular devices (Kindle, iBooks, and the Nook) as well as one that can be used on any computer or device (PDF). There may also be additional rewards for larger donations (I have an interesting idea).
Would you be interested? Let me know what you think.
Whitman Publishing debuted the 71st edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins at the Whitman Expo on March 31, 2017. Early orders have been taken and some retailers are still waiting for their orders to arrive. For the hobby, waiting for the new Red Books is an annual rite of passage, even though some do not buy the book.
Over the years, the Red Book has been updated to include more color, better images, and more information. With the work of Q. David Bowers and the Whitman staff filling out the library of books about every coin type, mint and proof sets, and even a Red Book for the Red Book, there is an incentive to increase the purchase pattern.
Then there’s MEGA RED, the phonebook-sized version that includes more information, in-depth analysis of some coins, and more items including significant tokens and major errors. For those not old enough to remember the phonebook, a relic caused by the Internet, if you lived in a densely-populated area, the 1500-page MEGA RED book is about as thick as the telephone book used to be in those areas.
Contributors page from the 71st Edition of the Red Book
There is something a little different in this version of the Red Book. If you open to the Contributors page you will see the name of your favorite numismatic blogger. Last year, I responded to a call for pricing contributors to the Red Book. We provided an area of expertise and were assigned to submit the prices for our area. I volunteered to work on modern coin prices.
Modern coins are those classified as being struck after 1964 when silver was removed from most U.S. coins. These are the coins that some dealers do not show a lot of love for because they are not perceived as worth the effort to sell. Although some of that has changed since the State Quarters were first introduced in 1999, the hobby should show more respect to these coins especially since we are 53 years into the modern era.
Although many feel that the Red Book pricing is obsolete when it comes out, it is still a good guide to understanding the foundation of pricing even if there is are market fluctuations. Thus, it would not hurt to get these prices closer to being correct, especially for the upcoming collectors. After all, this is a “guide,” not a price list.
Lapel pin given to Red Book contributors
For my part, I would attend shows with a worksheet I created of modern prices. The worksheet is stored on my iDevices and was editable as I attended shows and looked at coins online. When I noticed a glaring difference between what was once printed in the Red Book versus what I was seeing on the bourse floor, I would note the changes in my worksheet. Using this information, I would take the average of the prices and use that to recommend updates.
Using modern terms, the coin prices reported by the Red Book is the result of crowdsourcing. Volunteers enter prices and the editors make the final determination from the input provides. It is not a perfect system but it works in an area where coin pricing is more of an art and not a science. Although I did not check to see how my recommended updates affected the prices in this edition of the Red Book. I just hope it helps.
Over the last few years, Whitman has been adding more information to the Red Book to entice people to buy a new edition each year. This year, they are adding new information to the MEGA RED Book to the book whose page count continues at 1,504 pages. It is physically a large book with a lot of information.
The key feature of the Red Books are the prices. Prices are set by industry insiders who report what they have seen as prices for coins. Because of the publishing lead times, the prices may not be accurate to market conditions. Some say that the prices are not in line with current prices because the market moves quickly. In fact, a comparison with online resources like the Numismedia Fair Market Value prices and PCGS Price Guide shows that the Red Book may need updating for the most common coins. The disparity is that great.
Even so, the Red Book in all its forms probably is the bestselling book on U.S. coins of all time. Whenever someone wants to know more about U.S. coins and what they are worth, the persistent recommendation is to tell them to buy a copy of the Red Book.
This brings us to the latest poll question:
Will you buy a 2018 Red Book?
Yes, I always buy the Red Book (37%, 7 Votes)
I don't buy any of these books. (37%, 7 Votes)
I will buy the 2018 MEGA RED Book (16%, 3 Votes)
I don't always buy the Red Book but I will this year (11%, 2 Votes)
I buy the special edition Red Books when they are produced (0%, 0 Votes)
I buy both the Red Book and Blue Book (0%, 0 Votes)
I don't bother with the Red Book and only buy the Blue Book (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 19
Select as many as you want. If you have another opinion, add your comments to this post.