How and Where to Sell Coins
Advice from the Experts on How to Sell Your Coins
By Alan Herbert
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A frequent question from numismatic newcomers: “I have a coin. What is it worth?”
With certainty, the answer is that no one can tell anything about that coin from the owner’s all too brief description. If you have coins to sell, it is natural that you might wonder where you can sell the coins. The first, and most obvious answer is that you can buy and sell coins at your local coin shop. Coin shops serve as excellent locations where you can sell coins, as well as get more information about coins in general.
If you want to know how to sell old coins, or any coins for that matter, you need to start with a detailed description of the merchandise. Tell us as much about the coin as possible – denomination, date, mintmark, anything that looks “wrong.” Always helpful is to note the apparent metal, if you want to sell gold or silver coins, or just modern clad coins, make a note of the coin’s composition. A sketch of the coin, and a record of the wording on both sides, may be vital to identification, even if you include a photo or scan.
This is especially important if you are asking about a minting variety. Photos or scans of old coins you want to sell are useless if they are blurred, so get things in focus. Don’t waste money on a professional photo until you have a firm value for your coin. Few professionals are equipped to photograph coins.
The alternative is a rubbing, either with a soft pencil or aluminum foil. The problem is that neither one will survive a trip through the mail. A pencil rubbing will smear and a foil rubbing will look like it had been run over by a steamroller. You need to encase the rubbing in a reversed 2x2 cardboard holder or a small box, so that there is no pressure on the rubbing.
Don’t be afraid to ask if you feel you have a coin that has potential value. All too many collectors decide their coin is rare and valuable so they sit on it, in hopes of finding more.
Coin price guides mostly quote retail prices for coins. This is because dealers use wholesale prices and add their individual markup, so no two dealers are likely to have the same retail prices. Coin dealers won’t give you wholesale prices, but they may give a small discount if you look like a good customer.
When you do find a dealer that meets your standards, hang on to him or her. The more business you do, the more you are likely to profit from buying. Most dealers are happy to share their expertise with regular customers.
Before buying that beautiful coin offered on TV, try the local coin dealers. In most cases, they can provide the same coin at a fraction of the cost. When you sell, expect offers that are discounted heavily from the retail value, unless the coin is especially valuable, or one the dealer needs for a client. Like collectors, most dealers specialize; keep this in mind if you are trying to figure out where to sell gold coins, where to sell silver coins or where to sell old coins, the answer might be the same shop, or perhaps, three different shops.
Many collectors make the mistake of expecting full retail from a dealer. Like any other business, the coin dealer has to buy at wholesale in order to profit on a retail sale to pay the help, rent, taxes and other expenses of doing business.
Coin shops are businesses, and despite the prices listed in price guides, the average dealer has no use for rolls of circulated clad quarters, halves and dimes, or nickels and cents. The dealer has no market, since anyone with time on their hands can search rolls of coins. What this boils down to is that – except for the odd silver coin that shows up – you should spend the coins, rather than keeping them for a dreamed of day when a dealer wants them. Even dealers don’t know how to sell a coin that there is no demand for on the market.
Collectively there are probably millions of dollars worth of coins that are being hoarded, both by collectors and the public, based on the assumption that they will gain in value as they get older. The assumption is based in part on fact, but any appreciation will be painfully slow. It will be even slower than the better choice, a savings account. The important thing to remember is that in nearly all cases uncirculated grade coins will appreciate much more quickly than coins that are worn. This applies to bullion coins as well. If you are looking to sell bullion coins, you can expect to get at least the spot price of the precious metal in the coin, but dealers are still going to account for their profit margin.
Most price guides show the retail value of the coin, usually in several grades. This is confusing to the novice trying to figure out how to sell coins, who assumes that is the price someone will pay for the coin. The important point to understand is that the retail price is a base. Every dealer deducts his or her profit margin from the retail figure, just as every other business does. Be happy that coin dealers don’t use the really complicated formulas that are used in other instances.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to sell your coins by putting an ad in the local newspaper. You are asking to get your coins hijacked, even if you meet your potential customers in a bank. It’s unsafe at any speed. Most local coin clubs have swap meets or auctions where you are likely to do better and be in a safe environment. Like most aspects of numismatics, research is important, knowing where you can sell a silver coin isn’t just about having silver coins to sell, it is about knowing the value of the coin, and taking safe, reasonable measures to realize that value.
Many “vest pocket” dealers offer coins for sale in the hobby publications classified sections, just remember, until you can grade for yourself, you need to be careful of the offers. Knowing how to sell silver coins, or any coins, is just as important as knowing how to buy them. And just like when buying, it is important to keep a careful record of what you sell, and for how much.
When selling a collection, sell the coins as a group. Don’t let anyone “cherry pick” the collection by buying the valuable coins and leaving the lower valued pieces behind. Make a list of your coins, showing exactly what you paid for each one. If you cannot show proof you paid a premium for a coin, the IRS will take the difference between the sale price and the face value of the coin as taxable profit. Picture what that does to $20 gold coins you might sell. Copy this paragraph and post it where you can’t miss it.
When selling, take your list and a few sample coins and shop them to several dealers to find the one with the most interest in your collection. Talk to a dealer you trust if you have questions about where you can sell, especially if you have rare old coins, or gold and silver coins. If the collection is large or valuable, you will want to find an appraiser to give you an idea of the value before you try to sell it. Here again, the list comes in handy.
Coin dealers have had a bad rap. The public perception of coin dealers ranks them down close to used-car salesmen. This is an unfair assessment, due mainly to the fact that the public knows next to nothing about coin collecting. Their only contact probably was to try and sell some coins. Or they may have heard of a neighbor’s “bad deal.”
Word of mouth is great advertising for a firm, but it can never catch up with bad mouthing. While there are a few bad apples in the bunch, the majority of coin dealers are like any retailer, hard-working assets to the community. They are great sources of information, depending on their specialty, on where and how to sell gold coins, or where you can sell old coins. As previously mentioned, dealers, like collectors, are specialists, keep this in mind.
A big part of the problem is the misconception that coin dealers somehow differ from all other businesses that pay wholesale prices for the merchandise they sell at retail. Many collectors get furious when they are offered a discounted price for their coins. They display their ignorance of common business practices by this attitude and the result is unwarranted bad press for the dealer.
The solution is to realize that buying and selling coins is, in fact, a business, and it will not survive if there is no profit. You, in turn, have several ways to ensure that you are not being ripped off. It’s a good idea when doing business with a dealer you are unfamiliar with to first make several small purchases or sales.
Questions to ask yourself include, “Was the dealer courteous? Did he know his stock? Was the coin accurately graded? Were you satisfied with the cost?”
If the dealer passes the test you’ve found a good place to do business on a larger scale. This is the same thing you would do when buying anything. What’s different between buying a coin or going into a hardware store and buying a pound of nails? Or going to a grocery store? Coin prices fluctuate. So does the price of grapes or bananas. The grocer buys from the producer at wholesale and sells at retail.
Once you see the coin dealer as a business person, you will have come a long way toward a successful relationship with the dealer.
It will surprise you, but one of the biggest problems that dealers have are collectors trying to rip them off in any of a hundred ways, not limited to the thief who stuffs his pockets with coins when the dealer isn’t looking or is taking care of a legitimate customer. That’s one reason why you see heavy security at coin shows.