When collecting coins, one of the most important factors is information pertaining to the coins. A collector needs the equipment to mount and store the coins, along with funds to buy everything necessary, but without information, the coins themselves are an unknown. Pricing guides help collectors pinpoint the type of coin they have and learn everything about it. U.S. price guides offer very complete information from all the mints that have been used in this country.
Information Available in Coin Guides
Collectors can choose from many different types of coin guides, even when the field is restricted to just U.S. coins. The job of a U.S. pricing guide is to give collectors detailed information on every coin that has ever been made in the United States. This includes not only present-day coins, but also those that are no longer minted. The guides track changes in designs and in the metals used to mint the coins. Most coins have switched metals over the years. Some switch designs once every few decades, and sometimes the designs change more often than that. Coins also differ slightly according to where they were minted. (The three primary U.S. mints can be found in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco.) There may be slight changes in composition from year to year, and some mintings produce coins with certain flaws. The most helpful guides have color templates that show every coin design (front and back), along with every change that the coin has undergone. Prices are listed by year, with different sections for different designs of the same coin and different prices listed for each of the mints.
Different Guide Books and Their Purposes
Most coin collection guides are filled primarily with one type of information: how much coins are worth based on their condition. The commonly used U.S. quality system gives grades ranging from poor to uncirculated. (Coins may also be graded "proof," which is similar to uncirculated but covers coins that are taken directly from the mint and have absolutely no contact with any other material). While these values are slightly relative, there are specific factors used to decide each coin's condition, including luster, clarity of design and lack of scratches. Good pricing guides give indicators for each coin to help collectors determine the coin's condition. For example, a guide may say that "all tail feathers on the eagle will be visible" on a coin with a "very fine" rating. Several traditional books are used to determine coin prices. One popular version published every year is titled "A Guide Book of United States Coins" but is often referred to as "the red book." There is also a "blue book" officially titled "A Handbook of United States Coins," along with a "greysheet" price guide for dealer transactions printed in the Coin Dealer Newsletter. Collectors can also find several less official guides online.