So You Inherited a Coin Collection
by Keith Scott
So, you feel it is time to sell your coin long-time collection, or you have inherited a collection and you know nothing about coins and you want to sell them. As with the sale of anything, you want to make sure you get a fair price. Sounds simple enough, right? In the area of numismatics, when it comes time to sell, offers for your collection can vary greatly. The following tips will help guide you to getting a fair and reasonable offer. I will talk more on the term “reasonable” a little bit later. Coin Dealers, like any other profession, number in the thousands. From part-time single person businesses to huge companies that buy and sell millions of dollars of coins annually. And like other professions and industries, we have a few crooks. By following the general tips in this article, you should be in a better position to realize your collection's value. So here we go!
First and foremost, you need to know what you have. Why? If you do not know what you have, how do you know you are getting fair value? If you have thousands and thousands of wheat cents, I am not saying you need to inventory them all. In fact, it may not be worth your time. The chances of finding a key coin are slim at best. But you should know how many pennies you have. How? Simply weigh them. Wheat pennies come to about 148 pennies per pound. The same rule can apply to other common coins such as pre 1965 Roosevelt Dimes and Washington quarters as you may just a bullion price on these. For the rest of your collection, you may want to count the number of each piece. Make sure you have a complete list of your collection.
OK, time to contact a dealer? No, not yet. How do you know you are getting an honest one? Before contacting a dealer, you need to do some homework. Does the dealer belong to any organizations and clubs such as ANA or BBB? How long has s/he been in business? What is their reputation? Check out a couple of dealers before you make that call. Also, just because they advertise in a major coin collecting publication, does not make them honest. I know of one dealer who advertises in a major publication and sells cleaned coins as BU/Unc originals. Most novice collectors would not know the difference.
Now that you have done some research, it is time to contact the dealer. This can be done in many ways. You can give them a call or if you are the shy type, just send them an email. In your email, identify yourself and that you have a collection for sale. Include in the email the inventory you completed. This may come as a shock to many, but some dealers will NOT want your collection. Many dealers specialize in certain types or series, or just may have too many coins in their inventory. If your collection is an average collection of common coins, you may be disappointed to learn that many, if not all of the big dealers simply do not want to bother with you. It is too time consuming to sort the common collections and the margins are too small. Do not fret, all is not lost. Many smaller dealers will welcome the chance to obtain your collection. Many of these dealers work in mail-order only and may have only email or a PO Box as contact information. While they may appear shady, these folks generally are quite reputable. As before, contact the dealer and ask if they are interested. If they are not, just move on to the next dealer. If they are, ask them for their “buy price” list. Many dealers will publish a list of what they are willing to pay for certain coins.
After some hard work, you have a couple offers on the table. The offers are not anywhere near what you expected. Remember what I said above about a “reasonable” offer? Here is the painful truth. Coin Dealers are in business to make money. Sure, many of us chose this profession because we love it, but like everybody else, we still have mortgages, car payments, and college for kids, etc. When using catalogs and value guides it is important to remember that most of these resources (including Hobbizine) provide prices that you would expect to pay a dealer - not what you should expect a dealer to offer you. Markups can range from 20-50% or more for smaller denomination coins such as wheat cents. As I mentioned earlier, some dealers just may not want what you have. Also, many, if not all dealers, reserve the right to revise the offer on inspection of the collection. If you think all your Morgan Dollars are BU, but they are really AU, this would make a huge difference in price. Grading is highly subjective. Also, for larger, more diverse collections, a dealer may spend a considerable amount of time reviewing the collection to ensure a fair price.
So, what to do? Take the best offer and run? Maybe, maybe not. If this is an inheritance, and you have no emotional attachment, you can just sell and never look back. If this is your collection of 50 years, well this may be painful. You can continue to contact different dealers and wait for a better offer. If you feel your collection is really worth more, you can always consign it for auction. With some of the fees the major auction firms charge, it may not be worth it. You can also try your hand at eBay but unless you have a strong feedback profile, many buyers will not bid on your items. You can also locate eBay members who will auction off your collection for you for a percentage of the take. Sometimes this works out well and sometimes not.
For now, let's assume you have a reasonable offer and you decide to sell. By the way, this should be a written offer sent via the mail or sent via email. Many times, the buyer may be located in another city/state. No buyer will send you a check until they have seen the collection. If the collection is large enough (many, many thousands of dollars), some buyers will come to you. If not, your very viable option is to send the collection to the buyer via mail. Yes, that is right, via the mail. Wait you say, that sounds risky. It can be, but if you take precautions, you will have no problems. First, package the collection up very well. Make sure there are NO LOOSE coins jingling around. The sound of jingling coins is music to a thief's ear. So be sure to wrap them up well and tight. When sending via the mail, the USPS is fairly safe. Usually, you will want to use USPS Priority Mail. Contact your local post office as you can usually get free boxes. Generally, you will want to use the Flat Rate options as you can ship up to 70 pounds for under $10.00 (not including insurance), but ask your local postal clerk for options. For your protection, you MUST insure your package and pay for delivery conformation. Include in your package an itemized list. Most dealers will appreciate this as they will audit the shipment to the list. If all is well, you can expect a check in the mail in no time.
In summary, here are the tips
Keith Scott has been a collector for over 30 years and owns a small internet-based coin store at www.mountainviewcoins.com. Visit his website for a history of US coins, metal market updates and news about your favorite coins.