always better? No. Over the holidays my dad and I, both toy train collectors, were trying to do a little detective work. We had a steam locomotive and boxcar that had survived from 1942 –- they had been part of a set, but we didn't know what other freight cars came with it.
The Greenberg Guides have been our standard reference work for years. For toy trains, especially Lionel Trains, Greenberg Guides have consistently proven informative and accurate. My father did some writing and editing for a few of Bruce Greenberg's publications, and I got to see first-hand how a pool of knowledgeable hobbyists could create reference works as rigorous in their scholarship as any specialized encyclopedia.
Most fields of collecting have a standard reference work that hobbyists use to determine rarity, value and general background information. Scott publications for stamp-collecting springs to mind.
The particular Greenberg Guide we needed was at Dad's house, so we tried to do a little research on the web and got a real education. All of my searches –- even those using catalog numbers –- yielded ebay pages almost exclusively. While ebay may be a great place to buy, it's a notoriously unreliable information source. We saw mismatched pieces called "sets," common items labeled "rare," and photo captions that were just plain wrong.
The adventure prompted a discussion about the importance of accurate information to collecting. Someone who had not witnessed our online travails wondered if there was any money in publishing such works –- wasn't it easier just to post it on a website?
Sure; as long as the level of scholarship and peer review remains high. Bruce Greenberg and other dedicated enthusiasts set the bar quite high. Higher than what I found online this weekend.