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Need a Guide or Do You Fly Blind?
April 05, 2011

As someone who started collecting as a kid in the 1960s, I was armed with Whitman albums by the age of 8 and then at the age of 11 I bought my first trusty copy of the Red Book.

Knowing what coins were struck, how many were minted, where they were minted and retail prices gave me a pretty good working knowledge of the numismatic hobby. I knew what I had found in my change and the mintage figures and prices told me why there were certain holes in the album that I had difficulty filling.

With this as my background I sometimes shake my head at questions that come my way. An e-mail over the weekend was one such head shaker.

The writer noted that a recent feature he had read stated that the first San Francisco silver dollar was minted in 1859.

How could that be? He has an 1848-S.

My response was that the San Francisco Mint began operations in 1854 and the coin he had was likely a fake.

What puzzled me was not so much that a person cannot know something, but that with all of the coin albums and price guides out there the writer’s first impulse was to question a statement of fact in a feature story.

Standard advice is to go buy a book. Alternatively, you can check a website. The Krause NumisMaster website will let you check a coin by date and mintmark for free, but you won’t get prices without paying for the service.

The free basic access will allow anyone at least to figure out whether a certain coin has been minted in the first place.

If you are reading this on the Numismatic News website, go to and see for yourself. Other readers are already there.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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