by Dennis Tucker, Publisher, Whitman Publishing

A new book on U.S. gold eagles ($10 coins) will debut just before Thanksgiving 2017.

Its author, Q. David Bowers, nicknamed the Dean of American Numismatics, has been studying U.S. gold coins for more than 60 years, and writing about them almost as long. He has examined more than 5,000 numismatic catalogs, read countless periodicals, and studied all the available books on gold coins. On top of this old-fashioned book learning, he has personally examined hundreds of thousands of gold coins, many of them in the process of cataloging the most famous coin collections ever to cross an auction block.

His studying began even before he laid hands on his first gold coin. Dave has told me that when he was a young numismatist (he got started as a coin dealer in his early teens, in the 1950s), gold pieces weren’t seen very often. Even among the grownups in his hobby club such coins were rarely brought in for show-and-tell, or to trade. It wouldn’t be until the early 1970s that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era restrictions on gold ownership would be lifted. Then, Congress and the Treasury Department spent 10 years of trial and error developing a sustainable (and, as time would prove, very successful) gold-bullion program.

A New Modern Era for Classic Gold Coins

Since the 1986 debut of the U.S. Mint’s American Eagle coinage, Americans find it easier than ever to buy, sell, and trade gold bullion. On the numismatic side (apart from bullion coins), today many factors make classic pre-1934 American gold coins easy to study, collect, and enjoy.

  • The Guide Book of United States Coins (the perennial Red Book) gave numismatics a huge boost starting in the late 1940s. The Red Book is updated annually, with hundreds of thousands of copies distributed every year, making the coin-collecting hobby popular and accessible.
  • World economic conditions brought an influx of U.S. gold coins back from Europe starting in the 1950s.
  • The invention of modern professional third-party coin certification in the 1980s brought seemingly scientific stability to the subjective art of grading, and gave birth to a robust sight-unseen market.
  • The communications boom provided by modern technology has made the available pool of gold coins broader and deeper for any collector with an Internet connection.

Books Rarer Than Coins

Gold coins haven’t always been this popular and accessible.

Looking back to the 1950s, when Dave Bowers started in the hobby, books about gold coins were even rarer than the coins themselves. In 1964 researcher Walter Breen wrote a 24-page monograph on gold dollars, focusing on die varieties. In 1975 numismatist David W. Akers, after spending more than 20 years researching gold coins (dollars in particular) and keeping detailed notes on their every aspect, published United States Gold Coins: An Analysis of Auction Records, Gold Dollars. Over the next seven years Akers compiled volumes covering every U.S. gold coin series. Breen, too, had continued to write monographs on other gold coins (up to the $10 denomination, published in 1967), and included gold coins in his two encyclopedias published in 1977 and 1988.

In the meantime, other researchers slowly added to the hobby community’s knowledge of U.S. gold coins. Articles were published in Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, Numismatic News, Coin World, The Numismatist, Coins Magazine, and other periodicals. Cornelius Vermeule explored the aesthetics of U.S. coinage, including gold, in Numismatic Art in America (1971). Coin World published its Almanac in several editions starting in 1975, providing much technical information and data. Kenneth Bressett and others codified the grading of U.S. coins, including gold, in the Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins(first edition, 1978). Later, Richard Doty, curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection, wrote his wonderful America’s Money, America’s Story, and Roger W. Burdette dug into the National Archives and other primary sources to build his award-winning Renaissance of American Coinage books. The gold coins of individual mints were covered by Rusty Goe (Carson City), Douglas Winter (Carson City, Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans), and other specialists.

Bowers Makes His Entrance

In the midst of this activity, Q. David Bowers emerged as the preeminent author on U.S. gold coinage-a position he holds to this day.

Bowers’s History of United States Coinage, As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, published in 1979, included his analysis of the nation’s gold coins. In 1982 he published United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History. In 1989 his numismatic history of collecting U.S. gold coins was released as part of the proceedings of the Coinage of the Americas Conference. Various of his other book