About two weeks ago, the numismatic world was stunned to hear the announcement of the sale of Whitman Publishing to CDN (Coin Dealer Newsletter, publisher of the Greysheet). Whitman has been serving the numismatic community since 1932, and its history closely mirrors the evolution of the hobby through the decades. A huge number of serious collectors started out by filling a Whitman album in their youth. My own numismatic journey started in 1969, with a Whitman Lincoln Cent folder for coins 1941 to date.
Since 2003, when the Anderson family purchased Whitman Publishing, they have greatly expanded the number of specialty numismatic books for United States and World coins. They have published hundreds of titles, of which many have been widely acclaimed and award-winning. Their prodigious output has meant a boon of information for modern collectors and has undoubtedly stimulated the rare coin market over the last two decades.
Several years ago, after being sold to its current owners, the long-running Coin Dealer Newsletter (the Greysheet) went through a radical restructure and update. They decided to eliminate the weekly sheets of years past and publish magazines: one for retail pricing and another with the standard wholesale prices they have published for decades. The new formats have been well received and the current form of the Greysheet is greatly improved, with vastly more pricing information. The Greysheet has transformed from a simple weekly flyer to a suite of numismatic publications. CDN has also invested considerably to develop an internet strategy.
The Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book) is the crown jewel of Whitman Publishing. It is by far the most widely distributed numismatic book and is available in bookstores around the country. Nearly everyone starts collecting coins starts with a Red Book in hand. Its basic information about numismatics is vital to anyone new to the hobby.
I have been the Senior Editor of the Red Book since 2019; however, my involvement with the Red Book dates back another decade before that, when I started helping Ken Bressett with the annual pricing. His mentorship has prepared me for the role as caretaker of one of the most important brands in the hobby.
Although surprised by the announcement, I am excited to see what the next chapter brings for Whitman Publishing. In an ever-changing world, even the most iconic brands need to adapt to remain relevant. It will be thrilling to see what new tools and ideas CDN can bring to the table for the Red Book and its dozens of other products and brands. Information is one of the most impactful elements in the hobby today and, together, Whitman and CDN have become the new powerhouse for numismatic information.
There is a long history of information impacting the hobby. Some of the oldest rare coin price guides for U.S. coins began in the mid to late 1800s. There was a boom of collector interest in U.S. coinage when the United States Mint stopped making Large Cents. A few of the greatest collections ever assembled were started at this time. Over the generations, rare coin price guides changed very little. Slowly, conditions became more of a factor in pricing, but with only one or two grades listed for most coins.
In late 1946, the first edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins was published. This became the bible of numismatic pricing for the next 75 years or so. I remember times in the 1970s when dealers would not price coins in inventory until the latest edition of the Red Book was distributed. Most of my early knowledge of rare coins came from memorizing as much as possible of the Red Book.
We now live in the information age, and coin collectors have been a huge beneficiary of this new trend. Because of the many price guides, auction records, and population information, the hobby is now more transparent than ever before. In my opinion, this has been one of the biggest drivers for increased collector demand in the last 20 years.
Regardless of their budget, collectors want accurate pricing information before making a purchase. This may sound simple, but I can assure you it is not. For one thing, rare coins are not commodities. Nearly every rare coin is different in appearance – even in the exact same grade. We have discussed this many times over the years. Eye appeal and general appearance can greatly impact the value of a coin. This is very hard to convey in price guides.
Most price guides list prices for the imaginary “average” coin for the grade. Therefore, actual coins can trade over a wide price range based on appearance. This can be easily observed by attending any major rare coin auction.
There is also much discussion about what constitutes wholesale and retail prices for rare coins. Many have a hard time defining the term “retail”. Because of the abundance of pricing information available to most retail collectors, the standard markups of times past are hard to sustain for many retail companies. I can safely state that there has been a huge blurring of the line between what is wholesale and what is retail in today’s marketplace.
Many consider price guides to be a problem for the hobby, and I have heard dealers complain about too much information being available to collectors. In my opinion, it is not much different than the pricing pressures nearly every retail company in the United States faces. Consumers can price-shop with a few clicks of their phone for everything from socks to automobiles. In the long run, this transparency will greatly increase volume for many players, but profit margins will continue to be squeezed. Rare coin consumers are the winner.
There are now more tools than ever for the average or advanced collector. With the purchase of Whitman Publishing (and therefore the Red Book) by CDN, there will be new and improved pricing information available to collectors at all levels. Because of the resources being devoted to numismatic information, now is the best time in the history of the hobby for collectors to buy coins at the lowest possible markup. Be sure to use the information you now have available to your fullest advantage.