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How to sell your coins without being "Taken for a Ride"

For all of us there comes a point in our lives when we consider selling our coins. Whether your reason is to regain some cash for medical expenses, a down payment on a house or that vacation you have been dreaming of, there will come a day when you decide to sell your collection or leave it in your will to your children. I have (for a down payment on a house), and had I known then what I know now I would have been better prepared to ensure I got every penny out of that collection. In hind sight, I know “I got taken for a ride." So I thought you might benefit from my lessons and experience with buying and selling coins over the last 30 years or so.

  1. Please read all of this before selling your coins to anyone.
  2. Screen available dealers. Feel free to call several dealers, ask them a few questions to determine their knowledge level. Ask them what they specialize in and what references they use. Ask for referrals. Follow your gut instinct. If you think they are not absolutely straight forward and upfront with their answers to your questions, then they most likely lack the honesty and integrity to help you get the most out of your collection. Once you have decided on a dealer prepare your collection for an appraisal before scheduling an appointment.
  3. Inventory everything beforehand. This not only helps you to ensure you are paid for every coin and piece of currency, but will also help the dealer you are selling your coins to by providing a record of every coin that should be recorded on their appraisal sheets. You can then validate their appraisal list against your inventory list. If their appraisal list doesn’t match your inventory list, show them the door!
  4. Do not clean your coins with anything. They are worth more as they are. A cleaned key might as well be a cull coin. If you have cleaned coins you should expect them to be devalued by at least one full grade, Brilliant Uncirculated to Almost Uncirculated or Fine to just Very Good. Cleaned coins are very hard to sell. Cleaning coins can leave fine hairline scratches in the coin. Harshly cleaned coins with scrub lines may be significantly downgraded several grades. The use of cleaning solvents leaves chemical residues in the valleys of the coins. As hard as you may try to rinse the solvents off the coin, you will not get it all out of the valleys and any flaws on the coins surfaces. These chemical residues will further corrode the coin over time.
  5. Schedule the appraisal. When scheduling the appointment, let the dealer know what you have so that the right reference materials are brought to the appraisal. Plan on the appraisal taking some time to complete. A good thumb rule is that a well organized shoebox full of coins takes about 60-75 minutes to properly appraise. Understand that appraisals are not free. We charge 25 dollars per hour for one of us or 45 dollars per hour for both of to appraise your collection. This fee includes travel time if greater than 30 miles from our shops. The good news is that the appraisal is free if we purchase your collection, since we would have had to do it anyways.
  6. Test the dealer during the appraisal. If you have a key date or semi-key date coin, place it in a common date slot of a different date in the book. A reputable dealer will point it out and appraise it correctly. If the dealer fails this test it means he was either not properly appraising every coin or he was intentionally letting it go at the cheaper price for the common date coin that should have been there. In either scenario, you lose. So if they fail the test, boot them out the door. Another way to test the dealer is to spot check the dealers grading of your coins yourself after the dealer has graded them and recorded his grades. If there is a disagreement, the dealer should be able to justify to you why he recorded the grades he did. Bear in mind that distracting scratches and gouges will deflate the grade of the coin by at least one grade. These scratches are beyond those induced from normal circulation. If the dealer cannot justify his grade, show him the door. He is most likely intentionally downgrading your coins so that he can pay you less for them.
  7. Demand that appraisal sheets be used. Appraisal sheets should include a complete listing of your coins including their grades, any known significant variety designations (Recorded in the Red Book) and their BID or ASK prices as listed in the CDN Greysheet. When the economy is strong the same is true for the numismatic industry and you should expect the ASK prices to be used. When the economy is not so strong the BID prices are used as these prices are what dealers can hopefully expect to sell your coins for. Remember buying coins is like buying a new car. You never pay full sticker price. The bottom line is that the car dealer’s lowest sales price is effectively the same as the BID price for coins.
  8. Do expect that each coin and piece of currency is appraised and recorded with the grade before the CDN Greysheets are referenced. Why is this significant? There are dealers out there who will set the grading standards next to CDN Greysheets as they grade the coins. When they see the higher price associated with the higher grade they may record a lower grade so they pay you less. If you see the price guide and the grading standards being used together during the appraisal, boot the dealer out the door!
  9. What are BID and ASK prices? They are pricing trends recorded in the Coin Dealer Newsletter. This is the only continuously updated price list in the numismatic industry that covers U.S. coins and currency. The CDN Greysheets, as they are called, that your dealer should be using should all be dated within the last 3 months to ensure you are getting the most from your coins.  They aren't the bible, but they are as good of a price reference there is. If the dealer does not have the CDN Greysheets, run away fast or show the dealer to the door.
  10. Verify the correct values from the CDN Greysheet are recorded on the appraisal sheets. While I have never actually seen a dealer do this I can envision a dealer giving the impression he is looking the price up and then recording another lower price in the appraisal worksheet. Just let the dealer know that as each sheet of the appraisal is complete that you would like to verify the prices recorded against the reference materials. Whether you do or not this should keep them honest. If the dealer bulks at this request boot him or her out the door.
  11. Do not expect to get the Red Book value for your coins. Remember the Red Book is produced many months in advance and depending on the time of year the recorded values may be over a year old. The prices in the Red Book represent the most hopeful resale price, not necessarily the average resale price, for the coins listed. Usually, the values will have gone up, but this is not always the case. As more of any particular coins become available in the marketplace the realized sales prices tend to lower. However, if fewer coins of a particular date are available the price tends to go up. The reality of the business is that every dealer out there is in it to make a few bucks by reselling your coins. Most dealers have overhead business expenses which have to be absorbed into what they can afford to pay for your coins. Reselling your coins on line may cost the dealer up to 18% of the sales price due to auction sight fees and credit card and PayPal transaction fees. That is the stark reality of the business. So if the dealer wants to make 20% profit he can only pay you 62% of the expected resale price. If he has to pay all of his bills from his coin business alone he has to pay you even less.
  12. Do expect the dealer to openly share with you all of his reference material used to appraise your collection. If the dealer cannot or will not share the reference materials, DO NOT SELL THEM YOUR COINS! Show them the door! Those references shall include the last 3 months of CDN Greysheets as an absolute minimum. If the dealer you are working with does not have them, DO NOT SELL THEM YOUR COINS! Additional reference materials are dependent on the sellers advance notification to the dealer that they have specific coin varieties or error coins. These references may include specific books on Morgan Dollars including the “TOP-100 Morgan Dollar Varieties, The VAM Keys” or the “TOP 50 Peace Dollars”, etc. While Morgan Dollars constitute the largest area of variety collecting there are other coin series with known significant die varieties that may command a premium. Some dealers (I would venture to say most) will show up hoping you know nothing about these other varieties. Most of these significant varieties are listed in the “Cherrypickers’ Guide To Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins”. If you have known coin varieties or error coins tell your dealer up front when setting up the appointment. If they don’t show up with the reference materials in hand, show them the door and find a dealer who does. If they don’t have a particular reference, don’t sell them the coins covered by that reference. Tell them to come back when they have the correct reference materials. The same goes for paper currency. If you have currency, tell them before they come. And again, if they don’t have the references including the CDN Greysheet (In this case green for the color of paper money.), DO NOT SELL THEM YOUR CURRENCY!
  13. Do expect that most dealers will charge an extra 3 to 5 dollars to verify recorded variety designations. This process can be time consuming to the dealer. Fortunately, we are quite fluent with die varieties and will validate any variety listed in the references cited in this document for no additional charge.
  14. Do expect the dealer to bring a copy of the “American Numismatic Association Grading Standards For United States Coins” and/or a copy of “Making The Grade” to your appraisal. Do expect them to show you how to use the grading standards and do expect them to openly share use of the grading standards with you. Unfortunately, there are some dealers out there, even in the Charleston area, who will “downgrade” your coins so they end up paying you less for them. We will bring both books, show you how to use them and openly share them with you throughout the appraisal process.
  15. Do expect the dealer to verify every gold coin, certified or not, against the “United States Gold Counterfeit Detection Guide”. Unfortunately, as much as 30% of the mid and late 1800’s gold coins and some in the 1900’s are, in fact, counterfeit. Again, the dealer should openly share this reference with you.
  16. Do expect to be asked to present legal identification. This is required by South Carolina state law as a deterrent to the selling of stolen goods. State law also requires the dealer to record your contact information (name, telephone number and address). You should expect the same of the dealer. Dealers are also required by state law to hold the coins and currency purchased for a period of seven days solely to allow for any police investigations to follow-up with the sale in the event the coins may have been stolen.
  17. Do expect that every reference we have discussed above to be brought to the appraisal. This assumes you provided advance notification of the general contents of your collection.
  18. Do expect the dealer to know exactly what the closing prices for gold, silver and platinum from the previous business day’s stock market closing were. Better yet, you can look it up on line yourself and not even tell the dealer you know. Again, for coins worth more for their metals content you are effectively testing the dealer. If the dealer has grossly underestimated these values, either correct him or show him the door.
  19. Remember, your collection is yours and yours alone to sell. Do not be pressured by any dealer, including us.
  20. Your experience selling your coins should be as memorable as the time you invested in collecting them and enjoying them. We will do everything we can to show you that we are serious about helping you get the absolute top dollar for your collection.

The words in this writeup are mine and mine alone and represent “my experiences and opinions”. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to appraise and buy your coins. Because my house payment and my business partner’s house payment are not dependent on our coin business (We are both retired Naval Officers.  Our profit margin does not have to be as high as those other dealers. Because of this, we can and will pay you more for your collection.

Very respectfully, Bill

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