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August 7, 2011: An Official Redbook Contributor


E. M. of Farmington, MI emailed recently to ask what that red and white square symbol on our home page means.  And since I (DW) have always wanted to talk about that, I thought I would take the opportunity to do so here, in the Coin Commentary section of our site, right now.

And so, E.M. (or may I call you E.?), that little red and white square is actually a photograph of a metal lapel pin awarded annually by the good folks at Whitman Publishing to the people who contribute to ‘A Guidebook of Unites States Coins’ (i.e. the ‘Redbook’), and who are listed by name at the front of the book.

And yes, I am proud to say that I, David J. Wnuck, am one of them.

So how did I manage this professional coup?  Well, it is a (semi) fascinating story . . .

Goal Tender

When I first got started in the exciting world of coin-dealering, I set 3 distinct goals for myself:

1.   To Handle every coin in the Redbook
Not all at once, of course, but at some point in my working life I wanted to buy, sell, own, broker or otherwise have one of every coin listed in the Redbook pass through my hands.  And while we have had some incredible things, including one of the unique coins, and many others with just a few known, I think it is unlikely I’ll achieve this one (at least not without a good connection at the Smithsonian).  But you never know!

2.   To join the Professional Numismatists Guild
This one I did achieve several years ago, but we’ll save that story for another day.

3.   To Become a Redbook Contributor
Ah yes, today’s topic.  And my primary goal all those years ago – ever since I picked up a Redbook and saw that list of people at the front under the “Contributor” heading and thought how cool it would be to be one of them – I goal I am pleased to have achieved in 2006.

Pro and Con-tributor

In the current edition of the Redbook, there are 93 professional coin dealers and other specialists listed as Contributors, each selected based on their reputation, experience and expertise in one or, in some famous cases, all areas of US Coinage.

So what do they do?  Contributors are tasked with ensuring that the Redbook is as accurate and up to date as possible, in terms of its content (since through the years a number of varieties and errors have been added, while other issues have been de-listed), its information, and, the thing most people like to talk about, all that pricing data.

And every year, I spend hours and hours poring through the coins in my areas of expertise, revising some lower, and some higher, based on the current market activity we see (since we are very active in some categories and buy and sell as many coins in them as anyone, and our view of the market is, frankly, sometimes significantly different than the prices in the current edition).

When I’m finished, I submit the information to the people at Whitman, and my input is combined and averaged with that of other contributors, such that my numbers influence changes which appear in the book, but no one contributor has the ability to make wholesale changes to the current pricing – which makes sense.

And while that seems a pretty good system, there are a few issues . . .

The Price is Right (er, usually)

Input for the pricing in each edition is submitted 5 months before the cover date, which means that very recent changes to the market (based on external or macro-economic issues, or auction sales results signifying a significant movement in a specific area) may not be incorporated in the current edition.

Also, pricing tends to be sticky, meaning annual changes tend to be of the incremental variety, as opposed to dramatic shifts (even if such dramatic changes are well warranted IMO).

A few of the prices in the areas I know very well just don’t make a lot of sense to me, and have not changed in years despite my best efforts to fix them.  Which means that my view must be in the minority, even if I am pretty sure I am right!

But on balance, while not perfect, I think the Redbook is pretty accurate considering the sheer volume of data included, and the fact that it is, unlike the electronic pricing guides, done far in advance.  And, in all, I believe it is still the best, single, one-stop-shopping reference in numismatics, and it is a book we recommend wholeheartedly to every new (and not so new) collector.

Whitman is always interested to improve the final product though, so if you find errors of fact or price data in the 2012 Redbook, don’t hesitate to let me know about it.  I can’t promise you that your change will magically appear in the next edition (and, no, your name will not appear on the contributor list so do not even ask), but, I can guarantee you that I will investigate your suggestions and if I concur, I will incorporate them into my recommendations for the upcoming year.

And that, E., is what that red and white square is on our homepage.