By L.A. Saryan
The point of this essay is to encourage coin dealers to treat their customers with courtesy and consideration, and to not let personal biases or frustrations intrude when engaging in numismatic transactions. Nothing in this hobby is more demoralizing than a dealer who uses insult, derision, or ridicule while attempting to make a sale.
I would like to recount a couple of recent experiences which brought this issue to the fore. To tell the story, I need to provide some background.
My collecting days began around the age of 9. As a youngster I made frequent trips to local hobby stores, always excited to add new items to my collection. My parents had no problem as long as I enlarged my collection through trades or gifts, but when it came to spending money, my dad would say “that’s not collecting, that’s buying.” I was reminded to keep my enthusiasm for purchases under control.
Youngsters do not instinctively know how to conduct themselves in the world of adult dealers. I soon found that some dealers were friendly and willing to offer information and guidance, while others would feign insult or treat a customer rudely if he asked the wrong question. Some might offer a small discount, some did not. Gradually, I learned that negotiating a mutually agreeable price for an item is an inseparable aspect of the hobby.
Back in those days, shops were filled with young collectors, and dealers could perhaps afford to throw errant kids out of their stores. I can recall being treated with disdain by arrogant shop owners. Today, with a dearth of young and novice collectors, the rough business practices of the 1950s and 1960s ought to be a thing of the past.
Fast-forward to 2013. I have now been collecting for more than 50 years. I am a serious researcher with dozens of publications, literary awards, and exhibiting prizes to my credit. I’ve attended the ANA summer seminar four times, organized coin collecting clinics for scouts, and served local clubs in various capacities. I help produce a club newsletter and a scholarly numismatic journal, and have even edited a book or two. And, I have a wide circle of numismatic friends around the world with whom I communicate on a daily basis.
The first incident took place at a recent show. Maybe business was a bit slow for the Chicago dealer whose table I approached. Maybe his nerves were frazzled by the change in show venue from previous years. I inquired pleasantly about a gold bar that I spied in the dealer’s case. I had seen similar bars elsewhere made of base metal with gold plating, so I asked if the bar was solid gold. The response I received was curt and uninviting—I would say rude: “Everything I have is gold,” he said, “and if you don’t think so, you can keep walking.”
Is this any way to make a sale or encourage a discussion? I mentally reviewed my words to be certain that I had said nothing to offend, and followed his advice. I also noted the dealer’s name and promised myself to walk past his table without stopping in the future.
Recently, I endured an even more distasteful encounter over the internet. I have a friend, a new collector, who is assembling a specialized collection of ancient coins within strict budgetary limitations. He located a coin of interest for sale on the website of a fairly prominent New York dealer, and asked me to assist. Like many ancients, this one had some issues but was rare and interesting. Listed for sale at $775 for several weeks, it was not moving.
The dealer and I were not well acquainted, so I sent him a polite e-mail, introduced myself, identified the coin in question, and offered $425 plus shipping. While admittedly this proposal was less than the dealer was seeking, in our opinion it was reasonable and an amount that my friend could afford. At least, it was a starting point for negotiation, and in the event there was interest, we were prepared to adjust our offer upward. If not, the seller could have simply ended the discussion, or countered with a slight reduction in his asking price.
I was hardly prepared for what happened next. The dealer’s reaction was apoplectic. He responded to my communication with vituperation and personal attacks. In a return e-mail he impugned my numismatic integrity and credentials. Feigning offense, he stated flatly that half price offers (actually, I offered 54.8 percent) were an “insult” and that his shop was “not a bazaar,” as if he never negotiated business transactions himself. Finally, he refused outright to have any further business dealings with me.
Why such outrage over a polite and honest offer? Why did the seller feel the need to get his dander up over an e-mail from someone he hardly knew? Whatever happened to the old adage that the customer is always right? If there were no interest, it would have been easy enough to reply with a “sorry, no thanks” and be done with it.
Coin collecting is a leisure pursuit engaged in by people who appreciate art and history. Successful dealers cultivate personal relationships with their clients; they impart information and convey enthusiasm for the hobby. In my experience, more than 90 percent of the sellers out there, in shops, at shows, and even on the internet, are friendly and reasonable. They are courteous, honest, helpful, and have decent interpersonal skills.
The few rogue dealers out there who treat customers (especially women and youngsters) rudely, however, are ruining the hobby for everyone else. These guys need to clean up their act or go into a different line of work.
Leon Saryan is past-president of the Milwaukee Numismatic Society.
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