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Coin Trading Pitfalls
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
February 07, 2014

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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In my last column, I started a series in which I’m revealing my greatest regrets in more than 55 years as a collector. In it, I talked about cleaning disasters. In this column, I’m going to discuss trading disasters.

If you’re like most collectors, you’ve got duplicates of some of your better coins. As just one example from my collecting days, I once owned three 1913-S Barber quarters, all the same grade.

At any rate, if you have duplicates, you’ve undoubtedly considered trading some of them for other coins you don’t have. Perhaps you’ve even made some trades with your duplicates. I hope your trades have turned out better than mine, and in this column I’m going to relate a few trades that I still regret.

One of the earliest of these occurred when I was still in high school. At the time, I was looking through several rolls of cents each week, and I often found scarce Lincolns in these searches. One of these was a second example of the 1914-D.

It wasn’t quite as good as the one I had put into my album, so it was a prime candidate for a trade. At the time, I had not found a 1931-S, and in fact I never found one, so I came up with the idea for a trade: my Good 1914-D for a 1931-S in Fine or better, which I figured was about an even trade.

I ran a classified ad in the back pages of the coin newspaper I took, listing my home address and phone number. (Obviously, times were different in the 1950s from the way they are today. Today, I would supply only a post office box as my address.)

The day the ad appeared, I was home sick from school, so when my mother told me there was someone on the phone who wanted to talk to me, I answered it. It turned out that the man who called was from my home town, and he had a F 1931-S cent he wanted to trade for my 1914-D. Could he come over right away and make the swap? Unfortunately, I said that he could. Although the coin he showed me was an odd red color, perhaps from being in a fire, I felt pressured by his adult presence and made the trade. Of course, I instantly regretted it and regretted it even more when the trade offers started coming in the mail. All of them involved 1931-S cents grading better than F.

My next regrettable trade involved Buffalo nickels and one of my About Uncirculated early O-mint Barber quarters. I sent my quarter for several G-Very Good scarce date Buffalos, but when the package arrived, I found that none of the nickels had a full date, which I considered a necessity for the coin to be a full G.

Feverishly, I repackaged the nickels and mailed them back to the sender. Naive that I was, I neglected to insure the package, and my trading partner said he never received them. As a result, I no longer had the great Barber quarter, and I didn’t even have the About Good Buffalo nickels.

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Another dumb trade involved Washington quarters. Where I lived, Denver-mint coins were rather easy to acquire, and I had managed to trade some not-so-good coins for a couple of uncirculated 1936-D quarters and 1931-D dimes. This was actually a good trade, but I managed to fritter away the good coins, as you will learn.

I had found some low-grade, G-VG, 1932-D quarters, but I wanted a better one for my collection. So, I offered by way of a classified ad in the coin paper to swap a Brilliant Uncirculated 1936-D Washington for a 1932-D in Extremely Fine or better. The trade was made, and the coin I received was an EF 1932-D all right, but it had a scratch on the eagle’s breast and had been cleaned.

Of course, this was a bad trade in two respects. The first was the condition of the coin I received, and the second was that the coin I traded increased in value much more than did the coin I received. Unfortunately, this is always a danger when you trade one coin for another.

I was out of coin collecting during the time I was in college, which was primarily the decade of the 1960s. When I started back, I decided to fill in my albums by trading some of my duplicates for coins I needed. Two bad things resulted from this decision: My home was burglarized because I had used my home address again, and I actually made some trades that were disasters. Here, I’ll talk about the second of these bad things.

As I recall, I responded to a classified ad in which the person offered several key coins for a variety of coins including semi-keys and other keys. After an exchange of letters, he sent me a slightly circulated 1909-S V.D.B. and a VG 1916-D. In return, I sent him such coins as AU and BU 1931-D dimes, a BU 1936-D quarter, and so on. Dollar-wise, what I sent was equivalent in value to the two keys he sent me.

I soon began to worry about the legitimacy of the coins I had received. Did they have added mintmarks? The color of the two keys was nice but not quite natural. Had they been cleaned and retoned?

Unfortunately, this was before the days of the certification services. I did take the coins to a local show, but the dealers I showed them to essentially split in their opinions. About this time, I got a coin newspaper that mentioned that the person I had been trading with had been arrested for manufacturing key coins by adding mintmarks. Care to guess what coins he specialized in creating?

Yep, he loved to make 1909-S V.D.B.s and 1916-Ds. I eventually sent the two I had gotten to the Secret Service, and my trade partner was locked away in prison, where he met an untimely end.

I have one more trade I’ll mention next month, but let my experience be a lesson to you: Think long and hard before trading your valuable duplicates. And then don’t do it.

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