By Dr. R.S. “Bart” Bartanowicz
“Would you take a look at this coin and give me your brutal opinion? I purchased the coin online under “no returns.” The images looked good, and it cost me about $30.
“I know that it isn’t a lot of money for some people and I won’t starve, but I wish I had spent the money on a nicer coin.”
Our numismatist nodded sympathetically.
“You’re not the first person to regret making an online or even an over-the-counter purchase. The Internet images of coins may result in a coin appearing brighter, lighter or darker. Let me look at the coin through my loupe.”
Our numismatist carefully examined the Mercury dime, looking at it for damage, scratches, hairlines and other evidence of cleaning as well as the quality of the strike.
Looking up, he said, “The coin is mint state and there’s nothing wrong with it. Of course, as you know it’s a common date and there are plenty of them out there.
“What I suspect is you don’t like the haze on the coin’s surface in that the coin doesn’t present that bright and shiny look.
“On the positive side, I suspect that this coin was probably not far removed from being taken out of an original roll before it was put up for sale.”
The fellow looked relieved, asking, “So you’re saying I did OK?”
“I think you did OK,” our numismatist responded. “It’s not a full-bands Mercury dime but it is well struck. As I said, it’s a common date and you probably paid a little bit too much for it.
“Most likely you could have found a comparable Mercury dime for a bit less at a coin show or from a local dealer. The haze is a natural toning of the coin vs. being the results of a botched up job of someone cleaning/dipping the coin.
“If this were my coin, I would keep it. You’re not going to recoup your investment. I wouldn’t let anyone talk you into giving it a dip to brighten it up.”
The fellow was pleased.
“I’ll keep the coin. I appreciate your time and your tutorial was valuable.”
Our numismatist promptly replied, “I take cash or check.”
The above story of disappointment is just one of many that I’ve heard over the years. The main complaint that I hear today is that people are disappointed when they sell their coins and can’t get what they paid for them.
Wait a minute. Did I say today?
Actually I have heard that complaint my entire collecting life going back from the 1950s. The rule is that you have to hold on to your coins for quite a while if you hope to make a profit.
Having a collecting buddy or mentor will help you avoid or minimize mistakes when purchasing a coin. Don’t forget, a dealer who knows you and your needs is pretty darn handy because he/she will want your return business.
With all the above said and done, here are a few things to keep in mind. If you’re a budget collector and you collect circulated coins, you can still buy decent coins at a good price. You need to be a discerning collector. You want to avoid coins that have physical damage such as cuts, dents, and graffiti or show the results of a harsh cleaning with a steel wool pad or brush.
It’s always better to spend a couple of dollars more for a coin with good honest wear.
One of my favorite coins is the Buffalo nickel (1913-1938). You can buy many of the common-date Philadelphia-struck Buffalo nickels for a few dollars each in the grades Good to Very Good.
Some advanced collectors will work on low grade Buffalo sets because it is an American favorite and they’re available.
For the collector who can afford to spend more there are suggestions also. Viewing coin images online has pretty much become standard practice. In terms of professional quality I have to give a tip of the hat to the auction houses. Many small dealers also provide terrific images.
However, be mindful of toned coins as the online images can be difficult in looking for detractors such as hairlines and minutia. Graded coins certainly provide one the most protection vs. raw coins. It’s best to buy coins with return privileges.
I was recently interested in a coin that was imaged online but I couldn’t make out all the detail from the image. I had a great online discussion with the dealer and he said, “This coin isn’t for you. The bag mark that you see will be the first thing you see every time you look at it.” This was a great dealer who looked at the coin with a collector’s eye.
Final point, have a collecting buddy, mentor or a dealer that you’ve connected with. They will help you in making good decisions.
By way of example, I recently called my friend Neal and asked his opinion on whether or not to bid on a certain coin. He hollered, “Are you out of your ever loving mind? Run away.”
It was pretty darn good advice.
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• Keep up to date on prices for Canada, United States and Mexico coinage with the 2018 North American Coins & Prices guide.
• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.