Both the Official Red Book of Coins and the Official Blue Book of Coins are made by the same company, Whitman Publishing. (Yes, the same company that makes Whitman Albums!)
Although they are both made by the same company, some collectors swear by the Red Book while others swear by the Blue Book.
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I do have an answer for which one I think is better, but first let’s compare them.
The Red Guide Book
The Red Book of Coins, also known as “The Official Red Book”, and officially titled, “A Guide Book of United States Coins” is an iconic book for coin collecting. Every collector knows about it, and serious collectors own at least one.
The Red Book has sold over 24 million copies since it was released in 1946. New editions are available every year with updated information and pricing.
The book doesn’t just provide information on coins in circulation, it also includes information on tokens, error coins, mint and proof sets, Confederate tokens, Civil War coins, gold, bullion, US Mint medals, and much more.
The book provides mintage numbers, approximate value, mint location, historical information, grading, and tips on how to detect counterfeits.
The Blue Handbook
The Blue Book is the predecessor to the Red Book. It’s official title is the “Handbook of United States Coins”.
Although the Red Book is now the more widely recognized book, the Blue Handbook was actually first, being first printed in 1942, two years before the Red Guide Book.
The Blue Book also contains information on grading and how to start a collection. As well as the pricing and rarity of coins, tokens, die varieties, private and territorial gold, proof sets, and more.
The Handbook of United States Coins, is meant to be a guide for collectors/sellers when making buying offers. As such, the Blue Book lists cheaper prices for coins than the Red Book.
Besides the difference in how each book calculates prices, the Blue Handbook has slightly less historical information than the Red Guide Book.
Which is better for pricing coins?
If you were to only look at the cover, these books look almost identical (besides the color, obviously). The real difference is how these two books price coins.
The Red Book, focuses on what coins can be sold for, while the blue book lists what prices coins can be bought for. In essence, the Red Book is retail prices and the Blue Book is wholesale prices.
Which one has more accurate prices overall? The better question is, are either books accurate for pricing?
Both books are made and sold for the following year, but information is gathered the previous year. For example, the 2022 Red Book should be released in Spring of 2021. All the pricing for the 2022 Red Book was gathered late in 2020.
So, if you wanted to know what a coin was selling for in 2016, you would not get the 2016 Red Book. Instead, you would get the 2018 Red Book.
It should not be surprising that a physical book will be a little out of date, especially in such a fluid market. It is important to know that either book may not represent what you can actually buy and sell a coin for.
Especially for coins where most of the value is tied to the spot price of gold and silver, the information could be very out of date. In 2020, silver had an average closing price of $20.69, but a year low of $11.77!
One user put it best on this NGCcoin Forum, “The Red Book lists the prices dealers wish they could sell their coins for; the Blue Book lists the prices dealers wish they could buy coins for to include them in inventory.”
So the Red Guide often overvalues coins whereas the Blue Handbook undervalues them.
Below is a photo of the first page of the 1973 “Handbook of United States Coins With Premium List.” It includes a notice that the prices are “the average amount dealers will pay for coins (according to condition) if required for their stock.”
Which Book Is Better?
And the winner is…
The Red Book. The consensus is that the Red Book Offers more value to collectors for it’s historical information, even if the pricing is not 100% accurate.
Unless you are selling coins more than buying, I would recommend the Red Book. The Blue Book is better only if you need to know what a coin dealer will initially offer to buy your coins.
In fact, buying both books can be helpful if you are consistently buying and selling. It’s overkill for some collectors, but both books have drawbacks and upsides.
The best way to use either book is not as a rulebook for pricing, but as a general guide of relative prices. You can compares coins of the same series or denomination to get a guide for the coins rarity.
Share your thoughts in the comments and vote in the poll below!