When To Consider A Coin Auction

Introduction:  An old coin business adage is that you auction coins for two reasons.  You either don’t want to see the coin again or you don’t know what it is really worth.  Despite being an old saying, it still applies today and those are the two essential reasons why most coins get auctioned.  Dealers consign coins to auction houses because the dealer isn’t having any luck selling them privately and they want to expose the coins to a large audience and get as much money as possible.  Non-collectors often auction coins because they don’t have the experience to know if they are getting a fair price from a dealer.

It is no surprise that major coin auctioneers like Stacks Bowers auction tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare coins on an annual basis.  Lots of time and work is involved in selling a coin for as much as possible and it is usually more effective to have a professional auctioneer do the work for you rather than try to do it on your own.

How Does The Auction Process Work

Auctions can be an intimidating concept for first time sellers.  Some people don’t like the idea of coins being out of their possession.  Other owners are worried that their coins will sell too cheaply.  If all roads lead to Rome, then all good coins lead to auctions.  But not every coin is best sold at auction.  We have a few categories below that better explains what types of coins do great and what types of coins sell poorly at auction.  Our best advice would be that if you do think an auction makes the most sense for you, choose an experienced coin auctioneer like Stacks Bowers.  It unquestionably takes expertise and hard work to run a successful coin auction.  Don’t think that consigning something to your local barn/estate auction is the same thing as working with a true coin professional.  You want to make sure that your coins are photographed and cataloged appropriated.  The auction should be online as well as at a coin show.  And most importantly, you want to make sure that the auctioneer has a network of collectors ready to spend millions of dollars.

Types Of Coins That Do Great At Auction

  1. Any coin that doesn’t have an auction result in the past 5+ years could do great at auction.  Collectors can enter and leave the market in a fairly short period of time.  If it has been several years or longer since a coin has been offered for sale publicly then there is likely some built up demand for it.
  2. Any top population coin almost certainly has to be sold at auction to realize its true value.  Top population means that the coin is the highest graded coin by NGC or PCGS.  That means that all of the collectors who require the best of the best will have to compete with each other to buy it.  That is a great recipe to get a huge auction price.
  3. Any coin that has unusually high eye appeal for its assigned number grade is going to sell very strongly at auction.  A nicely toned and original trade dollar that is technically graded a 62 could sell for closer to what an average looking 63 or 64 graded trade dollar would bring.  Collectors like attractive coins and will pay premiums for them.
  4. Fresh coins sell very well at auction.  The term “fresh” will mean different things to different people.  But it is generally used to describe a coin that has been off the market for decades or longer.  Most coins that sell today have traded hands multiple times in the modern 2000+ collector time period.  Any collection assembled in the 1980s or older will get lots of attention if it is hitting the market for the first time.

Type of Coins That Don’t Do Well at Auction

  1. Gold bullion coins are best sold directly and not at auction.  This applies to generic modern coins like Krugerrands, Maple Leafs, etc.  You will always get more through a direct sale rather than paying seller fees to get the coins sold through auction.  There are a few exceptions where some bullion coins actually have a real numismatic value, but those examples are few and far between.
  2. Common coins that are worth less than $500 are usually best sold privately.  An auction house usually needs to make about $250 per coin just to cover their expenses of marketing and moving the coin through the auction process.  Because of that, large coin auction firms don’t handle many coins worth less than $1,000.  Most dealers can offer more money for lower value coins than what you would clear after auction fees.

Auction Expectations

Any dealer will tell you that having the auction option is a great tool to have in the tool belt.  However, you still want to make sure you have reasonable expectations.  As an example, let’s say you have a coin that almost always sells at auction for $2,000 but you have shopped the coin around and can’t get an offer higher than $800.  In that situation it 100% makes sense to sell the coin through auction.  After fees you will surely clear significantly more than $800.  Now let’s say a different coin has sold for as much as $2,000 and as little as $1,000 over the past three years.  In today’s market it is unlikely it will sell for $2,000 or higher, and it may not even sell for $1,000.  Past performance is no indication that a coin will have that auction success again.  In that situation the $800 offer might be a realistic indication of what price you would receive after fees.  We are not suggesting the coin market is weak right now.  Sometimes coins just get to the point where the supply is greater than the demand.

All we are saying is that an auction isn’t a magic bullet that solves everything.  There are fees involved with an auction and it could take months from the time you ship the coins until you receive payment after the auction.  We could tell hundreds of auction success stories.  And generally speaking if you understand the auction process and it makes sense for you then you will have a pleasant experience (provided you choose a good auction house).  Just understand that the type of coins you have and your expectations will greatly influence how you feel about auctions when the sale is final.

Other Ways Coin Auctioneers Can Help Sellers

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that coin auctioneers only auction coins.  Most major auctioneers do a huge direct buying and selling business.  Auctioneers are in a great position to know the names and contact info of the most active and serious collectors in the world.  Many of the greatest rarities don’t go to auction; they get placed directly with collectors by auctioneers acting as the sale broker.  Auctioneers are usually some of the only people qualified to accurately appraise a coin or collection.  Even if you don’t necessarily want to sell your coins through an auction, it probably makes sense to at least seek the opinion of auctioneer at some point during your research and decision process.