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What would you do?

There is an old truism in numismatics that a coin is worth what somebody will pay for it.

Price guides are simply that, guides not actual trades or offers to purchase.

Even sales results posted on auction firm websites, as helpful as they are in assessing the state of the market, are not guarantees of what the next item will bring.

It pays to keep this in mind. As desirable as numismatic items are, you usually cannot get 100 cents on the dollar of value if you need to sell in a hurry.

Some retirees in Western Australia are meeting this reality head on as a firm that acts as a custodian for numismatic items put aside in that country’s version of retirement accounts are facing the failure of the firm.

All of the coins and notes are accounted for, so that isn’t an issue, but whether these items will realize what the custodial firm said they were worth in the last statement to clients is the big question.

The Rare Coin Company of Albany, which is in the state of Western Australia, the same one in which Perth sits, is reported to have failed with $200 million worth of numismatic items held for clients in their retirement accounts.

Even at the present 92 cent value of the Australian dollar, the inventory is worth $184 million in U.S. funds.

That sum is not easily realizable on short notice in the American market let alone in an economy less than 10 percent the size of the American economy.

The good news is that there appears to be no fraud involved.

The bad news, according to the story, is that some investors seemed to go whole hog in putting assets into numismatic items.

This story should be a wake-up call for American collectors.

There is a good reason investment pros recommend that your investments be diversified and that you need to keep enough ready cash to pay six month’s of bills in an emergency.

Doing this will assure you that any potential hit to any asset will not ruin your financial health, and you will have the flexibility to wait out potentially bad market sales conditions in order to maximize numismatic values.

It is the goal of every collector and dealer to buy material at the lowest possible prices. You don’t want to be in the position of having to take whatever is offered. Obviously, when a firm fails, everybody becomes aware of the fact that individuals involved might be desperate to sell.

Timing and circumstance counts for much in garnering maximum values for coins. Make the effort to assure that these will work in your favor.

And as I have written before, the best way to stay on top of the market is to sell something every so often to keep you aware of conditions in the coin market.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."