by Dennis Tucker
“Buy the book before the coin” is good, solid, often-quoted advice for newcomers to the hobby. Frankly, it’s guidance for a lifetime of collecting; we should all heed it well beyond the beginner stage. And fortunately for today’s hobbyist, this advice has never been easier to follow—thanks in large part to one incredibly productive author, Q. David Bowers.
Numismatic publishing has experienced a renaissance, an exciting boom, over the past 15 years. Dave Bowers joined forces with Whitman Publishing in 2003 as the company’s numismatic director and as research editor of the Book of United States Coins (the hobby’s best-selling annual price guide and reference, known everywhere as the “Red Book”). He had been a Red Book contributor for years before that, and had helped with other Whitman projects. But it was in 2003 that the relationship was formalized—if a handshake agreement can be called “formal”—and things really took off.
I joined Whitman Publishing myself the following year, as the company’s publisher. I’ve been a coin collector since around age seven, and like any good collector I owned a number of well-read Bowers books, most of them bought directly from his company (at the time, Bowers and Merena Galleries) when I was in my teens and early twenties. Among the Bowers books that traveled with me from my little hometown of Phoenix, New York, to college in Rochester, and later to Atlanta, were his 1987 monograph The Strange Career of Dr. Wilkins: A Numismatic Inquiry; the 1988 reprint of his 1964 classic, Coins and Collectors; and the 13th (!) edition of High Profits From Rare Coin Investment (1991).
Working With Mr. Bowers
By the time I started working for Whitman Publishing, Q. David Bowers was a world-famous numismatist with decades of experience. Several hugely successful companies had his good name attached to them as a founder and officer. He had served as president of the Professional Numismatists Guild and of the American Numismatic Association. His track record as a dealer and auctioneer included selling many of the finest, most valuable, and most historic coin collections ever assembled. For years I (and many other fans) had read his Coin World column, “The Joys of Collecting.” He’d been named as one of only six living people in a roster of eighteen “Numismatists of the Century” in a 1999 poll conducted by COINage magazine. And as a book author he had a long shelf of numismatic titles to his credit, many of them best sellers.
I remember my first conversation with “Mr. Bowers” (as I addressed him a couple times), made by phone because he was in New Hampshire and I was in Georgia. Finally he said, “If you keep calling me ‘Mr. Bowers,’ I’ll have to call you ‘Mr. Tucker.’” From that point on it was “Dave,” as he prefers it, as relaxed and down-to-earth as can be.
Since then I’ve emailed Dave or spoken with him on the phone nearly every day, and we’ve published dozens of new “QDB” books ranging from 96-page monographs to 900-page encyclopedias (plus several editions of the 1,504-page Mega Red, for which he serves as research editor).
Here are some thoughts on the development of his latest book, Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace, which will debut in October 2017, and where it stands in the Bowers oeuvre.
The Expert’s Guide
In 1999 Whitman Publishing had released an excellent new book by Kenneth Bressett, longtime editor of the Red Book. His Whitman Guide to Coin Collecting quickly established itself as a popular introduction to the world of numismatics. In my first year at Whitman, one of my big projects with Dave Bowers was another new book that might be placed on the other end of the hobby spectrum. Its title is The Expert’s Guide to Collecting and Investing in Rare Coins. Because of its sheer size (688 pages) it’s tempting to characterize the Expert’s Guide as a book reserved for advanced collectors. In reality, this was (and is) a volume for everyone with a serious interest in the hobby, whether new or old. As Dave wrote in his introduction:
“It is never too early or too late to discover coins and the other delights that make up the world of collecting. If you are a preteen, welcome! Similarly, if you are in retirement, welcome! Numismatics knows no restrictions of age, race, religion, politics, or anything else.”
The Expert’s Guide was a monumental undertaking, compiling Dave’s 50-plus years of hobby/industry experience in 34 chapters of engaging prose with more than 1,300 illustrations. We released it in October of 2005 with much fanfare, including mainstream publicity in the Wall Street Journal. Collectors immediately fell in love with the book, and it earned strong reviews:
- “Dave Bowers is uniquely qualified to write this book,” said Clifford Mishler, retired chairman of Krause Publications. “He brings proper balance to the interplay of collecting and investing in our hobby community.”
- Ken Bressett, who wrote its foreword, asked rhetorically, “Are there really ‘secrets’ to successful coin buying? You bet! And Dave Bowers reveals them. His style is entertaining, informative, and motivating. The profits you will accrue from reading this book extend far beyond the monetary.”
- Bill Fivaz, coauthor of the Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins, said, “If there’s a single person who could write this book, it’s Dave Bowers”—and he jokingly opined that the prolific author’s next book would be The History of the World!
Dave tells me that of all his books, the Expert’s Guide is the one that generates the most enthusiastic letters and emails from readers. He likens reading it and absorbing its lessons to getting a master’s degree in numismatics. Sales numbers confirm its popularity: Whitman has sold tens of thousands of copies since 2005.
Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace
About 10 years later we were planning on updating Ken Bressett’s Whitman Guide to Coin Collecting, by then well established and popularly known as the “Yellow Book.” It had been reprinted several times over the years and was ready for a new edition. As I studied our publishing list and talked with our sales team (who interact every day with collectors nationwide), I noted that we have the Yellow Book as a beginner’s introduction to coin collecting, and the 688-page Expert’s Guide for more advanced students of numismatics. Was there an opportunity for a companion to these two titles—specifically, a book for intermediate collectors who have devoured the Yellow Book and the Red Book, and want to continue expanding their knowledge?
Knowing the hobby community and the needs and interests of collectors, I strongly believed the answer was “yes.”
To that end, this year’s harvest of new Whitman books includes:
- for hobby newcomers, the freshly revised, updated, and expanded new edition of the Whitman Guide to Coin Collecting, which debuted in July 2017, and
- for continuing students of the art and science of numismatics, Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace: Secrets to Being a Smart Buyer will be available in October.
With each book you get more and more information to add to your storehouse of numismatic knowledge.
In Bressett’s Whitman Guide to Coin Collecting, a newcomer will learn about coin collecting as a hobby; reasons people collect coins; coins as historical documents; how coins are made; where to find them; what factors affect their value; and the basics of grading coins, studying them, storage and display, maintaining a collection, and other points of interest.
Bowers’s Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace tells you how to successfully navigate the numismatic marketplace and find high-quality coins; how to build a great collection; and ways to explore new highways and byways of the hobby. Dave shares wit and wisdom from his experiences as a professional coin dealer, today adding up to 60-plus years in numismatics.
Bressett’s Yellow Book offers, among other resources, an illustrated catalog of all U.S. coins by type. Chapter 3 of Bowers’s Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace does as well, but with a more in-depth approach, and many more photographs. The information is compiled with the goal of making you a smarter buyer of high-quality coins, no matter which series you collect.
In chapter 4 Dave shares stories about colonial and early American coins and tokens, treasure-ship coins, commemoratives, private and territorial gold pieces, numismatic books, historical medals, counterstamps, and other specialties. Many of these subjects are introduced on a basic level in the Yellow Book; in Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace they’re given more analysis, with case studies; and in the Expert’s Guide most of them get even deeper coverage in their own individual full-length chapters.
Chapter 5 introduces dozens of numismatic personalities from yesterday and today, many of whom Dave knew personally, and gives a history of the rare-coin market and its historical cycles. Chapter 6 offers a guided tour down memory lane, with the author sharing his recollections of the marketplace in a “personal scrapbook.”
My hope for Inside the Rare Coin Marketplace is that, whether you’re a fresh face in the hobby or have been around a while, you’ll learn something new, you’ll pick up a few good “coin stories” to share with friends and family, you’ll discover ways to sharpen and hone your collecting habits and strategies, and—of course, because this is a Dave Bowers book—you’ll be thoroughly entertained along the way.