What’s the difference between the Red Book and the Blue Book?

Roy C. writes: Doc, The Official Red Book of United States Coins and The Official Blue Book of United States Coins, by Whitman, published by St. Martin’s Press. Question: What is the difference between the two books, and which of the two has the most accurate overall prices?

Both the Red Book and Blue Book show approximate “retail” prices in grades that the coins are most often seen. The prices might be different since the books are published using data from different sources and may be a year or so behind the current market. The books usually do not address values in gem grades except for the most modern coins and even then, usually the highest grade considered is MS65.

From the stand point of coin value, the books are less about retail prices and more about relative rarity. One can compare prices within a series to identify rare dates and mint combinations. Actual prices may be a quite different when you actually go out and buy specific coins.

If you want access to more than just prices, the Red book is the right choice. Much more detailed and encompassing than the Blue Book, the Red Book is used by both collectors and dealers on a daily basis. It’s considered the “Bible” for U.S. coins.

The “Black book” is the wholesale version of the books above and shows relative wholesale values (when you sell coins into the market). Again the data is generally out of date even for the latest issue but it does give you an idea of relative value in a handful of grades.

The best source of current coin pricing is to monitor the market for the coins you collect in hobby publications and auctions.