Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by ZoidMeister, Sep 9, 2020.

  1. ZoidMeister

    ZoidMeister Hamlet Squire of Tomfoolery . . . . . Supporter

    Last question for the evening, I promise.

    So I bought this book decades ago. It says, "The definitive numismatic reference book" right on the cover. I've used it for reference once or twice, even jotted down a Breen attribute number on one or two cardboard flips. Other than that, it's been on a shelf.

    Yes, I know his sordid history. It was current news back in the day after I bought this book methinks. The version I have was printed in June of 1988.

    Now that I am back into numismatics, I am getting the feeling that this book is fairly useless. I ordered a copy of Overton's book to help my research on early halves. I note references to Newcomb for early copper coinage.

    My question is this: In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Breen reference book?

    In my opinion (thus far), it's a nice overview of US coinage from early colonial up to just post bicentennial issues. He even references some Newcomb and Overton attributions, but I don't get the feeling that he goes into much detail as the original authors.

    What the heck is this book good for anyway?

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  3. fretboard

    fretboard Defender of Old Coinage!

    I didn't know the man was a pedophile! :spitoutdummy: I checked with my friend wiki and his perversion was all laid out! The only good thing I know about the man is he died in prison! :smuggrin: @ZoidMeister -Didn't mean to poo poo the book, it may be a great book, idk! ;)
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2020
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  4. longshot

    longshot Enthusiast Supporter

    Mostly I hear that the man knew a tremendous lot about coins, but he also invented facts and/or made suppositions that are a stretch. It's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Like you say, today there are specialized books and plenty of other sources that are probably more up to date and reliable.. JMHO.
    I have the book but haven't looked at it in a long time.
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  5. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    The Breen encyclopedia is a very good GENERAL reference on the entire US coinage series all in one book. There is no other single book that covers everything in this much depth. HOWEVER there are errors in there and some made up facts, and it does not delve as deeply as the specific standard references for each series do. It couldn't without being as many pages as all the standard references combined. It is good if you want some general knowledge on a particular subject to some depth. But if really ant to get into something you need the standard references. I do still use my copy, and there are some areas when it has more information than I can get easily elsewhere. I mean if you want to know about the different die pairs of the Continental currency dollar where are you going to go?
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  6. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    It's a good reference to have but time has shown that some of the information is not correct. Many coins that he called rare are no longer thought of that way today.
    The guy was really strange. He had a really cool office.
  7. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    Which isn't surprising as much of the book was written in the mid 1950's. At the time he wrote it they were rare. By the time the book was published they weren't. and then after the book was published a lot more people knew about them and turned up even more.
  8. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    You don’t really know if a coin or variety is rare until you put the information out there and have collectors check out what they have. I don’t have a problem with the rarity estimates changing; I have a problem with made up facts.

    For example Breen criticized the subtle changes in the Seated design by Robert Ball Hughes because of an excessive sense of modesty toward the human body. What a bunch of nonsense!

    I would still recommend the book because no other book covers so many subjects. None of those who totally slam this book, perhaps because of Breen’s reprehensible behavior, have never come close to duplicating it.
  9. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Sorry, but I am sure that picture was posed in someone else’s library. Breen was quite “unkept.”
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  10. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    Breen himself doesn't look especially "kempt" to me in that shot.

    If I wanted someone to professionally photograph me in my office, I'd certainly want to tidy it up first. And by the time I got that done, I'd probably be grayer and bushier than Breen.
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  11. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Like @Conder101 said, not general reference book is NEARLY as complete as a specialty one. Anyone who does not believe me look at 18th or 19th century KM catalogs, and look up US coins. You would be SHOCKED how very little is in there. Its that way for ALL general books. No one wants a KM catalog spanning 28 volumes just for the 18th century, so they have to lose almost all specialty data.

    So, collecting a certain series? NEVER rely on a general book, by a, (or many), specialty books. It will ALWAYS reward you in either better knowledge to cherrypick or personal satisfaction, knowing the specialty references.
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  12. halfcent1793

    halfcent1793 Well-Known Member

    MOST of what is in the book is good information. Unfortunately, unless you're a specialist in a particular series, you won't know what is good and what is bad. And even then, many won't. We call this "Eminence-based research," as Breen was a very eminent numismatist.

    The information about varieties is generally pretty good, though 30 years old. The introductory sections are half-good. Unfortunately, he published a lot of conclusions that really were speculations.

    All that said, I still find it useful and still use it.

    Nowhere else will you find such a wealth of information about US coins in one book.
  13. ZoidMeister

    ZoidMeister Hamlet Squire of Tomfoolery . . . . . Supporter

    My point of reference, really, is in trying to determine which specific denominations and dates MIGHT be worthy of further research. My goal is in selling off a collection that spanned three generations of my family. I have already found one or two varieties in this collection that rise above the regular production for that denomination / year.

    Highly publicized varieties like the 1955 Lincoln Doubled Die are fairly easy to see and catch. The 1934-D doubled die Peace Dollar that I found in the collection is MUCH less known and publicized.

    Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of written documentation accompanying much of this collection. That makes my research much more important, especially with coins where a certain variety brings substantial premiums.

    I am finding that discovering certain varieties is becoming more common rather than the rarity in this hoard. One of my relatives, long since departed, seemed to have the knowledge and eye for these. Not every item in this collection is a desirable variety, but enough of them are to warrant the search.

    I don't need these references to expand my collection pursuits, but to avoid missing value in the collection, where possible. I think the Breen book gives me sufficient information with regards to coin series of the last century. It's those early series - specifically the half dollars and large coppers where I don't get the sense that Breen has these covered sufficiently.

    Your collective and individual advice on this so far is greatly appreciated. Thank you gentlemen / ladies / folks.

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  14. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    If you think there are lots of rare varieties I would highly suggest the two volume Cherrypickers guides. Look up dates in there and see what is known, and check what you have. That is how I would check them out.
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  15. ZoidMeister

    ZoidMeister Hamlet Squire of Tomfoolery . . . . . Supporter

    Thanks much. That one I have from my youth. A very early version I believe. I'm not sure what edition it is, but the cover looks similar this . . . . .


    I think it might even be signed by Fivaz. I will take a look at picking up the two volume publication.

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  16. ZoidMeister

    ZoidMeister Hamlet Squire of Tomfoolery . . . . . Supporter

    Just took a look at that volume on Amazon. I think that would be a great starting point for my research.

    Many thanks.

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  17. Insider

    Insider Talent on loan from...

    The Breen book sells for over $100 so someone is always looking for one. I use it all the time.
  18. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    The references are a good lesson for the day thanks everyone.
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  19. J.T. Parker

    J.T. Parker Well-Known Member

    The Breen book is great if used for general reference taking into account a few (out-dated) caveats. If you are collecting a specific coinage you may want to invest in a book written for that coinage. e.g. Standing Liberty Quarters = Editions by J.H. Cline, etc, etc.
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  20. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    My copy became a "lose leaf reference" very early. I have seen examples that have held together somehow. This seemed to be a problem with the later Breen books. My Breen half cent book has threatened to become "a whole made of many parts." The large cent book seems have better bindings, however.
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  21. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I have the half cent and Complete books, not the large cent one. I must have lightly used copies, since my bindings are in good shape. I admit I do not use them mush, not being an active US collector save for modern stuff for the kids and Proof Platinum which Breen wouldn't have anyway.
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