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Bad collector, bad spouse?

It may be a new year, but the same old problems continue to plague us.

Here we are on the seventh day and already I have received an email from a bereaved spouse of a collector.

“My husband passed away recently and left me with his coin collections. The coins are not organized and since I have never shared his interest in coin collecting, I am perplexed as to what to do next. I contacted some of the companies he was buying his coins from but they were not helpful; they are more interested in selling me more coins than advising me on how and where to sell my coins, which is what I would like to do eventually.

“How/where can I find someone trustworthy to advise me on sorting out/cataloging and eventually selling my coins? How can one find reputable dealers who will give fair value for one’s coins? What is your advice for someone in my situation?”

That is the widow's dilemma.

I cannot tell her that her husband was selfish even though he was. I hope his general finances were left in better shape than his coin collection.

The information provided by the email is minimal but it is enough to surmise that the collector probably was buying from large impersonal sources. All new issues perhaps? All from telephone sales people perhaps? All from TV programs perhaps?

I do not know, but what I do know is if the collector was doing something as basic as filling Whitman albums the collection would look organized even if he did not leave behind an inventory or instructions.

It is possible the collector himself didn’t know much about what he was buying?

So what is the widow to do?

Either she or a family member will have to do an inventory of some kind.

They will have to find a price guide like Coin Digest if the coins are American or Standard Catalog of World Coins if they are foreign.

Certainly no shop dealer is going to want a boxful of who knows what dropped on his counter. The work involved in sorting simply does not pay especially if the widow or her representative simply turn around and walk out the door at the end of the process.

One other thing to keep in mind, if the collector was spending thousands of dollars on his coins, I think the widow would have made it her business to be aware of what was being purchased. The fact she isn’t either indicates a tremendous faith in her husband, or the sums involved were insignificant.

If the latter point is true, this whole exercise is not worth doing for anybody.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."