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Education, patience keys to getting top dollar


By James Evans

Over a lifetime of collecting coins, I had accumulated quite a bit of stuff. Most of it was circulated, almost all of it raw coins, almost none of it exceptional in quality or rarity. Still, the sum total of retail or book value of my collection was in the $10,000 range. My wife isn’t interested in coin collecting, and our son isn’t really interested either.

A few years ago David Harper wrote a piece in the News encouraging collectors to at some point sell some of their collection. Thus was the spark provided that has ignited an entirely new phase of my coin collecting experience.

I wanted to set my collection up for my heirs so when they acquired my collection they would have an easier time selling it in the market and a greater chance of getting a fair price for what I leave them.

My first attempt at selling involved taking a complete set of circulated Buffalo nickels and an almost complete circulated set of early Lincoln cents to a local show. The Buffalo set had no three-legged 1937-D or other major variety but was otherwise complete. The Lincolns were from 1909 to 1940 without the 1909-S VDB or the 1922 plain. I graded each set closely and conservatively and, with the help of the News monthly price guide, determined a current book value of about $2,200 total. Some of the coins were AU, some were good and most were in between somewhere.

Taking these sets to a local show, I showed them to six dealers. Four returned the two folders to me within 30 seconds, saying they were not interested. Another asked me what I wanted for them and when I said I would take $1,500 for both, which I felt was a price that might start a negotiation, he told me the sets didn’t fit in with what he was looking to obtain. The sixth dealer offered me a price of $500 for both folders. Needless to say, I was disappointed and had received a bumpy introduction to the world of coin selling.

From the nadir of that first attempt at selling, things have improved. I realized that in order to get the best possible price for my coins that I needed to re-educate myself about my coins and then approach the selling market in a more informed manner. Sellers need to understand that dealers have to know they can make money on a coin reasonably quick. We all know the expenses involved in being a dealer. There are business licenses, show setup fees, insurance, overhead and the need to make money to support themselves. For a dealer, coins are a business and for me coins are a hobby. I understand why a dealer can’t offer me top dollar for my collection. My coins for me are a lifetime’s labor of love, but to a dealer it is just another coin collection.

To get the most money for your raw coin collection you have to be an educated and smart seller. You must ruthlessly go through each and every one of your coins and be totally honest with yourself as to the grade and condition of each coin. You must see each coin’s positive and negative attributes. You must know how to grade scrupulously and accurately. You must be able to recognize if a coin has been chemically cleaned. You must purchase or borrow books relative to your collection and learn everything you can about the coin and the series.

I had collected my Buffalo nickel sets mostly 20 and 30 years ago. Yes, it had appreciated in price substantially, but in the intervening years there have been a substantial number of new varieties that have been discovered. There have been numerous counterfeit coins that have come on the market. You have to be able to prove that your raw coins are not counterfeit. If you can’t do all this, then you are going to be eventually forced to sell your “lifetime of love” collection at a less-than-bargain basement price.

I did all this with my Buffalo nickel and early Lincoln cent collections, and I learned a lot about these coins. Eventually I sold them both on eBay and netted about $1,100 combined.

A few things I have learned during the selling experience:

1. Raw coins are difficult to sell either to dealers or the informed public – serious or semi-serious collectors like myself. There are too many variables and risks involved in raw coins for informed collectors to take the risk of obtaining these from an unknown person. eBay is great in reaching other people and a broader market, but the purchaser is buying this stuff cold and blind, going only on my good word and my reputation to make their purchasing decision. They have no idea who I am, but when I can put in a listing description that I have purchased my coins from reputable dealers and can name some of those dealers, and I can tell them that this one has a slight rim nick at 4 o’clock and that one looks like it was chemically cleaned, then I begin to build trust between that potential buyer and myself.

2. You cannot be in any hurry to sell your coins. If you are in a rush, you will not get the best price. Period. You must be patient and stick to your minimum necessary price and work the market. Patience pays off.

3. If you sell on eBay and use PayPal – as you should – your selling price is discounted by about 13 percent once PayPal and eBay fees are subtracted. You also must insure and ship the product. Understand the costs of selling on eBay.

4. When selling, if you reach a price where you feel you are letting a coin or a set go for too little, and the purchaser feels they are paying too much, you have probably reached a good and fair price.

5. Sometimes it is best to simply take the price offered by a dealer at a coin show. Know the market. Research the market. Understand what your raw coins truly are worth to a buyer. I let a handful of worn large cents go for about $10 each to a dealer at a small show. I knew that on eBay these were listed for about that price with no bids anywhere on any of these coins, and I was happy to let them go to a dealer who offered that in cash money to me. By not selling on eBay I saved 13 percent immediately in selling fees plus the cost of shipping.

The money I make from selling my raw coins I put back into high grade (MS-64 and higher) Morgan dollars. This way I know that my heirs will be able to get a reasonably good price for these when they go to sell my new collection.

The best part of all this is that I am newly energized as a collector. I now go to shows regularly, my wife accompanies me and we have a nice day out together built around attending a coin show. I find the overwhelming number of dealers love to talk coins and are happy to discuss with me what I am trying to accomplish as long as there is no one else at their table doing business with them. Attending a show even when I don’t have money to purchase anything adds to my knowledge and makes me both a better seller and purchaser. Relationship building is always positive.

I urge every collector who has mostly raw coins in predominantly circulated condition and who wants his heirs to be able to receive something close to a fair price for his collection after he or she is gone to begin to liquidate and reestablish your collection now! Mr. Harper’s advice that got me off the seat of my pants to begin to sell some of my collection is spot on!

This “Viewpoint” was written by James Evans, a hobbyist from Leominster, Mass.
Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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