coinfodder's Blog

30 Jun 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Coins

Library | coinfodder

Honest reviews from an honest source. This is an extremely hard topic to speak on.

Especially on the author himself. It is hard to write about a person's work when the police rap sheet is exceptionally long and has some disgusting stuff on it.

Well, I will try to write this from a numismatic standpoint.

Welcome back to CoinFodder's brutally honest coin reviews, and today, we will be delving into the bible that is the measuring stick for all coin books and omnibuses that would follow. Yes, that's right. Walter Breen's encyclopedia of coins.

For a man who died in a penal institution and was registered as a sex offender in the more prude 1950s's, Breen had a very accomplished life, at least in the Numismatic field. Finding himself banned from Sci-fi writing conventions due to the fact he could be nowhere near children. This book was the last resort for Breen to partially salvage his ruined life, with about a quarter of it behind bars or doing... something.

First off, let me say- this book is HUGE. This was the predecessor to today's Mega Red Book of Coins. Not to mention that the font is tiny. So if Walter decided to make the font a tad larger- I wouldn't be writing this. I would of been in the hospital with a broken foot from dropping this "thing" at the library.

Like Sylvester Crosby from the 1870's, Breen was reliant on descriptive imagery. However, with the times, he had more access to photographs, unlike Crosby. Unlike Crosby, Breen had a knack for engaging the reader with interesting, but small stories on the coins. These stories and theories that are derived from these factual stories were considered revolutionary by the Numismatic Community, and many from the encyclopedia are still cited in sources such as John Highfill's Silver Eagle Bible and the Mega Red Book.

He is also one of the first and most comprehensive source of anti-counterfeiting speech in the Numismatic world, however, it would take years before these tips and tricks were finally put with pictures for a more practical usage. Here is a paragraph from Page 111, speaking on Continental Congress Patterns:

"More deceptive are old casts made from genuine 1776 coins. They are porous, sometimes also showing raised bubbles or blebs around letters. Edge leaves are crude or absent. Unlike the genuine, they often have a high lead content, sometimes enough to leave a trace on paper- 'You can write your name with them' as one young collector put it. Authentication of low-grade specimens is necessary."

Completely ignoring the fact Breen was allowed to even speak to a young collector, this is one of the most descriptive counterfeit detection guidelines I have ever seen. However, with the advent of pictures in color, these guidelines would prove obsolete in just a couple of years.

Moving past colonial coinage into more modern coins, we can see that Breen uses more images, with descriptions gradually being overtaken by images. He uses Sheldon Numbers to categorize the coins. At the beginning of a certain type of coinage, whether that be reviewing Reich's Busts or Brenner's Lincoln cents, he will spend about a page or two (in tiny print) about the coin itself. With these stories, he speaks on the history of the coin, and afterwards, he makes a logical hypothesis on the history of the coin. With each specific coin, Breen discusses and comments on the coin. I have decided to describe one for you. Here is his review on the 1964 Silver Kennedy Half Dollars.

"Over 40 million (Philadelphia and Denver) have long been held in European hands. Mintage figure includes many struck in 1965 from 1964-dated dies; these cannot be identified. For clad striking's, see 5275."

I may have forgotten to mention- those numbers you see next to the specific date on coin are for two things- 1) To make cross references easy to find. And 2) to brag about just the sheer number of coins he is reviewing and commenting on.

In addition, Walter Breen covers more than just American coins (well, they may technically be considered American coins... but). He also takes time to cover Confederate Coinage, Territorial Coinage, and private coinage as well. For the collector of Puerto Rican and Hawaiian coins, he also takes the time to cover those as well.

Overall, if you can stomach the fact that Breen was a bad person and should not be commended for his behavior at all, this is an extremely enjoyable book for the numismatic enthusiast, and should be considered in every coin collector's library, or the coin book collectors' collection.

Thanks! Fodder

Please ask Numimaster (Preston) for link. I have been providing the editing Link.

Link to TheNumisMaster's website and Centsearchers Newsletter. On his behalf, I am asking for subscribers. It is completely free. -www.numismastery.weebly.com

Guess the Song Lyrics: Last Time:Another One Bites the Dust: Queen

When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?
I should have stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man

You know you can't hold me forever
I didn't sign up with you
I'm not a present for your friends to open
This boy's too young to be singing
The blues, ah, ah



Level 5

I had not heard of "Breen" before today. He doesn't sound like a nice person. As Bama has previously said, I'm not one to "judge a book by it's cover", but I think I'll avoid weighing in on a subject I know nothing about (Walter Breen). Thanks for posting the information. I've learned something today!

Long Beard

Level 5

Also co-author with Anthony Swiatek "Silver & Gold Commemorative Coins, 1862 to 1954". The only book I own bearing his name.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Breen. In this cancel culture environment, there are many who would erase him and all he has done, good or bad. As for his behavior, it is unforgivable. He's not the only numismatic figure who is facing cancel culture. William Sheldon father of the famous and fatally flawed Sheldon Grading Scale is being called out for cancellation due to his work as a psychologist. So not only do they want to get rid of the scale because of who he was and wrote about. That's flat out wrong in my opinion. Evaluate Breen's and Sheldon's academic numismatic work and decide for yourself whether their work has merit or quality. But let's not cancel them. Instead let's see them as they are in their summation. The good the bad and the ugly


Level 5

Very interesting about Breen. Did not know the history of the author. Plenty of newer books on the same subjects.

It's Mokie

Level 6

Not a fan of Breen at all. He is the lowest form of scum. As for his numismatic legacy, it has been superseded byvolumes of more current and accurate research available to us today. Bottom Line, one can learn all they need about numismatics without ever reading a single Breen word.


Level 6

That is one GIANT book. Besides being a convicted pedophile, I though most of his work has been discredited as bull and a lot was made up. Not sure. Not a nice guy. Go wash your hands and take a long, hot shower.


Level 7

Good by yellow brick road by Elton John!! Great song. I sang for many years just dumped 2000 sheets of music. That was half.. Did many shows and sang in every church in Brooklyn. Brought back good memories. .Sang in five languages. You had to.. As far as the book goes . Can't read anymore.Donated mine to the library. Still have a few reference books. Thanks.for the report though. Good work.


Level 6

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John I've seen this book...It's huge!

We use cookies to provide users the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your cookie settings, we'll assume that you agree to receive all cookies on money.org. You may disable cookies at any time using your internet browser configuration. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use. To learn more about how we use cookies and to review our privacy policy, click here.