The Best-Selling Blue Book Tells How Much Your Coins Are Worth
Of all the numismatic books Whitman Publishing has created over the years, including many recent titles that have already matured into standard references, the Guide Book of United States Coins—the “Red Book”—is by far the most popular. It’s hard to argue popularity when generations of coin collectors have bought more than 24 million copies in total!
The hobby community has another long-running annual price guide, though: one that deserves at least a tiara if not the record-holder’s crown. The Handbook of United States Coins—the wholesale-price guide known in the hobby as the “Blue Book”—has actually been on the numismatic scene longer than its retail-pricing counterpart. Hobby legend R.S. Yeoman started the book in 1942 as a groundbreaking resource for coin collectors. (It wasn’t until 1946 that the Red Book would come into being.) With the Blue Book, for the first time ever hobbyists had an impartial, research-driven annual guide to tell them how much the typical dealer would pay for their U.S. coins, and dealers had a handy guide for buying.
What Exactly Is the Blue Book?
Today, Senior Editor Jeff Garrett, backed up by Research Editor Q. David Bowers (with an annual overview by Editor Emeritus Kenneth Bressett), continues the venerable Yeoman tradition. As the Blue Book nears its eightieth anniversary, collectors and dealers alike find it to be a valuable yearly indicator for wholesale coin values. More than 100 leading professional coin dealers, numismatic researchers, and organizations contributed to the 78th edition, which is available now from bookstores and numismatic dealers around the nation.
New coin collectors sometimes ask, “What’s the difference between the Blue Book and the Red Book?” The main answer is simple: the Blue Book lists wholesale prices many coin dealers will pay for collector coins; the Red Book lists retail prices that a collector can expect to pay for the same coins.
For the past 78 years, the Blue Book has aided millions of people who have inherited coin collections, have coins to sell or trade, or are actively engaged in collecting. The popular coin-folder method of collecting by date and mintmark has created ever-changing premium values for coins, based on the supply and demand of each. The Blue Book, through its panel of contributors, has reported these changing values over the years. It also serves as a source of general numismatic information for all levels of interest in the hobby.
Who Uses the Blue Book?
Many Blue Book readers are longtime numismatists who appreciate the quality of the book’s photographs and historical/technical data. Other readers might not actively collect coins, but found some old “pennies” and nickels in Grandpa’s cigar box in the basement and want to know how much they’re worth. In addition to more than 25,000 listed dealer buy prices, the Blue Book contains a wealth of numismatic information—instructions on grading, more than 900 photographs that can be used to identify coins, rare and valuable features to look for, mintages and other data, historical background, and more. The book has sections on colonial and early American pieces, all regular federal coins from the 1790s to date, classic and modern commemoratives, Proof and Mint sets, popular die varieties, private and territorial gold, bullion, State quarters, Presidential dollars, selected American tokens and medals dating from the 1600s onward, and more.
“More people than ever are inheriting coin collections,” said Garrett, “and the Blue Book is an excellent tool to start the process of establishing values. The book is simple to understand, with accurate pricing reflecting what you can expect to receive for your coins.”
How are the Blue Book’s Prices Compiled?
The values shown inside the Blue Book are average prices paid by dealers for various United States coins. They represent a cross-section of prices being paid around the country, compiled from many geographically separated sources, from coast to coast and North to South, some in heavily populated metropolitan centers and some in smaller towns. All are experienced professional coin dealers or longtime collector specialists. Local supply and demand and unique inventory conditions can affect any given dealer’s pricing; having a single-source compilation of typical prices gives both buyers and sellers a benchmark for comparison. While many coins bring no premium in circulated grades (e.g., common pocket change), they usually bring higher prices in Mint State and Proof. Extremely rare and valuable coins are often sold at public auction, and prices vary according to current supply and demand.
Editor Emeritus Kenneth Bressett recalls his experience with the Blue Book, first as a reader and later as its editor: “The Blue Book was the first professionally produced coin reference that I ever used. When it was introduced in 1942 I was astounded by the scope and quality of its content. I continue to use it today as a handy reference to market trends, and as a quick way to find reliable statistical data that it contains. Throughout the years, Whitman has continued to uphold the standards set by its original author, R.S. Yeoman, and to provide collectors with the best and most accurate information possible. I am often reminded of how fortunate I was to have found a copy of this important book so early in my career, and to have been a part of continuing the tradition for the past 78 years.”
New Features in This Year’s Blue Book
The 78th edition of the Blue Book (with a 2021 cover date) features the modern, updated layout of recent years, improved black-and-white photographs, the latest data from the United States Mint, and, for the first time ever, a 16-page full-color feature section on Morgan and Peace silver dollars. “The dual 100th anniversary of the last Morgan dollar and the first Peace dollar is approaching in 2021,” said Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker. “This year’s Blue Book explores the history and charm of these valuable silver coins, two of America’s favorite classics.”
All of this combines to make the Blue Book a handy educational reference—and explains why, like the Red Book, it remains one of the longest-selling publications in the hobby.
Published in convenient softcover and library-quality hardcover on high-quality paper, the 78th (2021) edition Blue Book has a retail price of $12.95 (softcover) or $14.95 (hardcover). You will find it online, and at bookstores and hobby shops and retailers nationwide.