NumisMaster Logo
Sign In
Free Newsletter

Collector Info
In Print
Site Map
Tips on Selling Coins
By U.S. Coin Digest, 10th Edition
June 23, 2011

This article is excerpted from U.S. Coin Digest, 10th Edition.

Selling coins is more challenging than buying them. The first thing to remember is you cannot force anybody to buy your coins. There is no automatic process. You have to work at it.

The smarter you work at it, the better the result. There are do’s and don’ts to follow. There are five tips to keep in mind as you prepare to sell your coins and there are five popular methods of selling coins.

Tip 1: Know prices

When you want to sell coins, you usually cannot obtain retail coin prices listed in Coin Digest. Dealers have to make a profit on what they buy and you must expect them to offer less than the prices printed here in this book.

How much less?

The answer can be a shock. For accurately graded and described material, offers will come in depending on how long the dealer expects that he will have to hold the material in inventory before he can in turn sell it to someone else.

For coins that might hang around for awhile, you are likely to get no more than 60 percent of retail. Coins that contain precious metals trade at far less of a discount to retail. Because metals were hot as this is written, many U.S. coins that trade close to bullion prices were actually trading at premium prices. These include many of the common circulated U.S. gold coin dates.

Knowing what is easily traded will help you accurately determine what has the higher values. Lincoln cents are expected to be hot in 2009, but to sell a Lincoln cent set that is anything less than Mint State, a dealer will look for the keys, the 1909-S, 1909-S VDB, 1910-S, 1914-D, 1922 and 1931-S. He might pass altogether if they are not there.

Series like Jefferson nickels are very hard to sell at premium prices. Most circulated dates are just returned to the bank. Even the Mint State grade coins are not in particularly high demand. If your collection contains classically rare coins, the prices you will get for them will be closer to retail value. Age does not automatically translate to value, but it has given the hobby time to establish pricing relationships that hold up year after year. Learn what these are and profit from them.

Tip 2. Complete Inventory

It is crucial to have an accurate inventory of what you are trying to sell, whether it is two coins you want to get rid of because you have others, or whether it is a lifetime collection.

A buyer needs solid information on which to base his calculations of what he will pay. An inventory is usually a starting point for discussion. It doesn’t mean the dealer doesn’t want to see what you have. He will ask if and when he is ready for the next step. A look at an inventory list will give him the opportunity to say that even if the coins are as you represent them, he just doesn’t have a need for them. That saves you the trouble of hauling them around.

Specialists in Seated Liberty coinage, for example, are less likely to spend time analyzing the value of coins outside of their area, but a generalist, which coin shop proprietors usually are, might be interested in everything.

Tip 3. Complete Sets Are Better

It is far easier to sell complete sets of various American coins for better prices than hodgepodge accumulations. Accumulations can have some good values hidden in them, but it is harder for a would-be buyer to make that judgment.

A complete set of large cents speaks volumes in a few words. The same is true of Morgan dollars or Standing Liberty quarters or almost any other set.

These are easier to evaluate and to sell to others. Thus, prices offered to sellers will tend to be higher.

Tip 4. Be Up-Front and Honest

If you don’t know something, the would-be buyer will figure this out in a hurry. If your lack of knowledge paints you as an unreasonable person, say trying to pass off AU-58 coins as MS-65, the buyer will not want to do business with you, or he will lowball you to protect himself.

Just being honest won’t make a deal happen, but it is a critical foundation to eventually making a satisfactory deal happen.

Tip 5. Don’t Ship Coins Without Permission

Shipping coins to someone without being asked is a frequent mistake and it is a stupid one. Make sure that the recipient knows something is coming to him, that he knows precisely what is coming and that he wants them to come.

Nothing is so irritating as getting coins in the mail that are unexpected and perhaps unneeded. Think about this for your own protection. A dealer who doesn’t need something is going to offer you less money if he makes an offer at all. A dealer for whom you’ve made things difficult is going to discount his prices to pay for the trouble that is caused. A would-be buyer might not want your coins at all and you are on the hook for the return shipping costs.

Five ways to sell

You have educated yourself about prices, you have a full and accurate inventory and you are ready to courteously contact would-be buyers.

What’s next?

Method 1. Sell to a Shop

Walking into a coin shop can be the best way to sell your coins. This is especially true if this shop is where you purchased many of your prize pieces and the owner helped you along the way.

If the owner knows you, not only will that facilitate the negotiating process, but it is to be expected that he will also know your coins. After all, he handled many of them. Coin dealers as a group have remarkable memories. They can discourse, if you let them, on the salient details of the XF-45 1909-S VDB cent that you bought from them a decade ago.

A dealer who helped you build a set will know the quality of your coins and if there are any problems. He will know how to make you feel most comfortable with the whole selling process.

And from the perspective of the seller, knowing the buyer can make all the difference. Who would you rather deal with, someone you know or someone you don’t know?

If you don’t happen to know the person in the shop doing the buying, your complete inventory and straight-forward manner will keep the process on track on a businesslike basis.

If there is anything in a shop scenario that makes you uncomfortable, you are best able to make the changes necessary face to face with the other party. If it turns into a high-pressure session, something has gone wrong and it might be best to go somewhere else, or try some other sales method.

Method 2. Sell in Traditional Auction

Since the turn of the 21st century, public auctions have been doing better and better at getting the maximum value for coins.

If your collection is of a certain size and quality, it might be in your best interest to consider consigning the coins to an auction firm. Naturally, the larger your collection and the higher the expected values, the bigger the firm that you might choose to deal with.

Auction firms usually charge the seller fees. These vary and can even be waived entirely for desirable material. The auctioneer calculates the public relations value of having your coins in his sale. You can even negotiate the option to buy back a piece that appears to be going too cheaply.

Almost anything that is mutually agreeable is possible, but you have to negotiate the terms ahead of time.

What if your collection won’t be making headlines in the next Heritage or Stack’s auction? Don’t give up. Most collections don’t.

Smaller auction firms might want to handle your coins. Here again, your accurate inventory will help these firms in making a decision quickly in determining whether they will sell your coins. They can quickly determine whether you make their financial threshold.

And, as is the case with shops, if you were a regular buyer at the auctions conducted by these firms, they will remember you and be just as delighted to help you sell your coins as they were to help you buy them.

For successful collectors, personal relationships between them and their dealers are as close or closer than a collector and his doctor.

Method 3. Sell in Online Auction

The arrival of eBay in the 1990s opened a new door for collectors interested in selling their coins themselves. You can sell one coin at a time at any pace you choose. You can sell a whole collection this way or any part of one. The choice is yours.

You simply need to prepare yourself to write accurate descriptions and post high-quality photos. Once again, that inventory that you prepared will serve you well.

Selling online has the advantage that you can get the highest possible price for individual coins. There are many retail buyers online who will be willing to pay higher prices than a dealer who is watching his profit margin. This is to your benefit.

The downside is the time element and your comfort level with computers and dealing with many persons otherwise unknown to you. Your commitment to being up-front and honest in your approach will serve you well here.

Method 4. Sell at a Show

Sometimes the dealer or dealers you know best do business at shows and it is at a show that you would like to sell your coins.

This works well for portable quantities of coins. However, the larger the quantities, the more you will have to consider the logistics.

If you want to sell your Proof-65 1895 Morgan dollar to your favorite Morgan dollar specialist at a coin show, go for it. This is quick and convenient and you probably will maximize the value you receive.

However, if you are going to show up unannounced with bag quantities of medium value circulated Mercury dimes, unless you know the dealer is prepared to handle them, you might be handicapping your effort to get the best value for your coins.

The show dealer you sell them to will be mentally figuring in his shipping and insurance costs to get them back to his base of operation. It might be better to sell this kind of thing in a shop or in a pre-arranged deal.

Nevertheless, shows in the United States do billions of dollars’ worth of deals in the course of a year and logistical issues are built right into everybody’s plans.

Method 5. Sell at a Club

This is selling as a social activity. Many coin collectors who are longtime club members might remember their favorite collector.

“Old Joe” has attended all the meetings you have ever been at, and he just always happens to have a few nice pieces in his pocket that he is getting rid of for the benefit of younger collectors.

You might discover someday that it is you who are Old Joe. You can enjoy the society of fellow collectors. You can educate the newcomers, and you can get a fair but not an incredible price for the pieces you choose to sell this way.

This, of course, depends on the rules of each club, but if you already know Old Joe, you already know the rules.


It is your choice which way you choose to sell your coins. There is no right or wrong way. It is a matter of getting the best prices possible.

You can choose to sell in multiple ways over time. You can break collections up and sell your best Morgans to the specialist, your bulk circulated silver coin sets to a shop owner and put a few medals online to see what they will bring.

But remember one final bit of advice. As a collector, it is up to you to be ready to sell when the time comes. This means test your sales skills from time to time.

Even when you are most interested in buying, plan to sell a piece here and there just to see who treats you the best and who gives you the best prices.

Desirable outcomes aren’t always a given, but if you practice, the odds tilt in your favor. People change over the years as old-timers leave the business and newcomers enter. A bitter divorce might change the nature of a dealer’s business dealings. He might become less pleasant to deal with.

You might hate dealing with online buyers, but you won’t find this out if you don’t do a little advance preparation.

It is up to the collector to be ready to sell his collection when the time comes. A part of this process is to do some test runs with a few pieces over the years.

If you do that when the time comes, you will be ready to get the best prices for the collection that you have built. That is the name of the game. We collectors are merely custodians of our collections. Sooner or later, we have to give them up. A properly prepared collector will achieve the most satisfactory result.

Good luck. Now get out there and mix it up a little.

This article is taken from U.S. Coin Digest, 10th Edition. Click here for more information on this important reference.

Add to:   digg
With this article: Email to friend   Print

On June 25, 2011 Al Beck said
Never sell to buyers set up in hotel/motel rooms with big newspaper ads. they pay about 30-50 percent less than local shops
On November 22, 2017 toriw said
I would recommend donating if you are having trouble selling your coin collection. is an IRS 501(c)3 non profit organization.You will receive a tax deduction plus help others in need of assistance.
On July 28, 2018 John said
thanks for the common sense advice

Something to add? Notice an error? Comment on this article.

About Us | Contact Us | Privacy | Your data is secure
©2018 F+W Publications, Inc., Iola, Wisconsin. All rights reserved.