“I just got out my little red book, you know the one I’m thinking of…” Arthur Lee & Love, 1969
Ah-ha! According to Whitman’s Red Book publisher Dennis Tucker, it’s once again Red Book contribution time. The leaves are turning here in New Hampshire, which for 28 editions of the Red Book, has signaled to me that it’s time to stoke up the numismatic fires and get down to business.
Back – way back – in the fall of 1990, I had already been at Bowers and Merena three years. I had recently transferred from the retail department at B&M to the auction department where my numismatic fate would be sealed as a cataloger for the next 26 years, albeit under various company names, but always from a desk in Wolfeboro, NH.
That year, Dr. Rick Bagg, Auction Director for the firm, asked me if I would like to become a Red Book contributor, and, of course, Mr. Numonerdski jumped at the chance; little did I dream of the work it entailed. Within a week a package weighing four or so pounds was placed on my desk and I was a part of the Red Book family or contributors.
The four-pound package? It was a stack of papers of various colors, pink pages for Colonial contributions, yellow pages for another section of the book, blue pages for another, and so on. Each page was printed on one side with the dates, etc., for each coin in a series, followed by a boxed grade-value grid, left to right, where the values for each and every item in the reference were inserted in the grade columns – individually, mind you, in the fabled #2 pencil, please. I would laboriously hand-write every change in value I thought was necessary for any series I was working on. I usually did/do all Liberty Seated coins no matter if by Gobrecht or Barber, half dimes through trade dollars. I also did commemoratives and Morgan dollars back then, but I no longer keep track of either series except to handle an occasional piece during a show.
That first year, and for a decade or more to follow, Whitman Publishing had the old four-pound package delivered to my desk every fall; it was something I looked forward to and dreaded at the same time. However, the thrill of seeing my name among the best names in numismatics year after year was, and still is, enough to keep me going – this year’s contribution will be consecutive year 28 for yours truly. Thankfully, nowadays it’s much easier to make my annual contributions, and I always manage to have some fun while I’m at it. In various years I have been lusted as Frank Van Valen, Frank Edward Van Valen, F. Edward Van Valen, and many another nom de plume.
Back in the early 2000s, if memory serves me well – and it seldom does at my age – Whitman and the Red Book joined the 21st Century march of technology and the Whitman MVP site was born wherein contributors can now enter their data electronically at home on their laptop and at their convenience; it’s so much quicker nowadays!
As a kid collecting coins in the early ‘60s, I read my Red Book cover to cover, year after year. Years ago, a colleague at B&M suggested the “only thing” I had going for me as a numismatist was that I’d memorized the Red Book cover to cover, to which I replied “And?”
I’m almost at that fabled point in time where I’ll be forgetting more than I remember as the old saying goes, but when it comes to coins, my mind is still fairly sharp. At a recent coin show an old friend told a newbie collector that “Frank has forgotten more about coins than some of us have ever learned” – that to me would be scary if it were true, but it isn’t, and each fall the Red Book wondrously appears on my laptop and I sharpen my numismatic wits and dive right back in. Bring on the Red Book, Mr. Tucker!