Introduction: Selling a coin collection can be an intimidating process. It is difficult to trust what you read online and it is even tougher to trust the local coin shop. In fact, many people get so overwhelmed by the idea of selling a coin collection that they don’t do anything with it and the collection ends up sitting in the closet for years. Our advice on how to best sell a coin collection is below.
Step1: Figure Out What Type of Collection You Have
There are essentially four types of collections:
- True Collector Coin Collection – This is a group of coins that was put together by someone buying from dealers or at auction. There was an intelligent goal to the collection and real time and money was spent to assemble the collection.
- Coin Assemblage or Hoard – A coin assemblage is something that a picker or opportunist put together. Most of these types of collections have lots of 90% silver and/or heavily circulated coins from the 1800s and newer.
- Mint Products Collection – This consists of proof sets, mint sets, and bullion products from the 1960s and newer that were purchased directly from the US Mint or its resellers.
- Late Night TV Collection – These types of collections usually have Franklin Mint products, coins that are framed, certificates of authenticity, etc.
It is important to understand what type of collection you have. The amount of money you can get for your collection, and the dealer interest in your collection, will strictly depend on what type of coins you have. As an example, if you have a true collector coin collection with a couple dozen coins with a total value of over $100,000, then you will have a line of dealers looking to pay lots of money. If you have a junky collection then you might only get 50 cents on the dollar and you might have a tough time finding anyone even willing to quote a price. Common and ugly coins are just flat out difficult to sell. Rare and attractive coins are easy to sell. It is that simple.
Step 2: Understand Spreads and Profit Margins
This step ties in with step1 and the different types of collections. It is important to understand that different dealers require different returns on their time and money. A dealer working at a flea market might be willing to pay $4 for a coin he can sell for $5. A large national dealer who sells several million dollars’ worth of coins on an annual basis might not even pay $1 for a coin he should be able sell for $5. It just wouldn’t be worth his time to try and market it to his audience. On the other hand, the flea market dealer might only be able to pay $500 for a $4,000 coin, but the large national dealer might be able to pay $3,750 for the $4,000 coin. The flea market dealer probably doesn’t know anyone with more than a few hundred dollars to spend, but the national dealer might have a customer ready to cut the $4,000 check the same day.
Just because something is listed on ebay or in a book with a price of $500 doesn’t mean that any dealer can magically get that book price for every coin. There is a lot of work and expense involved in running any level coin operation and maintaining a client base. If you show the same coin to ten different dealers you will probably get ten different offers. One or more of the ten will probably try to rip you off. However, the person who offers the most money isn’t the most honest, it just means that he has the best market and ability to sell the coin at a price that justifies his time in dealing with it.
Step 3: Create An Inventory Of The Coin Collection
We get contacted by lots of people who are looking to sell a coin collection. It is much easier for us, or anyone for that matter, to make an offer to buy a collection if we know exactly what is in it. Getting a big group photo shot of album pages or plastic containers just really isn’t especially helpful. On the other hand, sending us hundreds of pictures of individual coins isn’t solving the problem either. What we really need is an inventory (typed on a Word document or Excel spreadsheet) that details exactly what is in the collection. Just listing the year, mintmark, and denomination is a huge step in the right direction. We (or any other expert) can quickly look at the list and see if you have any coins that are potentially rare. Once we have the list we can tell which coins are worth a closer inspection.
“What we really need is an inventory that details exactly what is in the collection.”
Every coin shop loves to see someone walk in with a big pile of stuff because that is a signal that you don’t really know what you have. The coin shop will then try to pickoff the best coins and leave you with the rest, or more likely, they will just make a lowball offer for the whole deal and pick out the cream of the crop after you leave. Having an inventory of the collection is a signal that you know what you have and are serious about getting a real offer.
Step 4: Have Realistic Expectation
There is just a lot of misinformation floating around the coin hobby. It can get especially bad when dealing with an inherited collection. Just because a great uncle paid $35 for a coin in the 1980s doesn’t mean it is worth significantly more than that today. And again, just because a coin is listed for sale on ebay for $5,000 doesn’t mean it is worth $5,000 or even anywhere close to that price. Coins are priced based on how much money they have sold for in the past. If a coin regularly sells at auction for $2,000 then it is worth $2,000 and it is reasonable to expect someone to pay within 10-25% of that price.
Step 5: Get More Than One Opinion, But Be Fair
If you have a late night TV or modern mint products collection then you can price those fairly accurately without any expert assistance. In that situation you may only need one opinion. However, let’s assume you are deciding on selling a $50,000+ collection that has some nice collector coins in it. Needless to say, you don’t want to walk into a coin shop with no knowledge and just accept the first number you get. Every coin dealer understands that he is likely not the only person making an offer so you aren’t going to offend anyone if you tell the dealer you are taking other offers. At the end of the day the goal is to get as much money as you can for the collection. Odds are the sale represents a windfall or could be the entirety of an inheritance. It is important to take its sale seriously. However, there is a fine line between trying to get a fair price and being greedy and deceitful.
Once you have decided on the two or three dealers and/or auction houses you want to get a quote from then explain the situation to them. “Here is the inventory of a collection I am looking to sell. I can provide more details and pictures at your request. I am seeking a couple of offers and I wanted to get a price from your company.” That is a 100% appropriate introduction that will always get a positive response. The last thing you want to do is start lying about offers you have received or telling what other people have offered. The people who have the most success in painlessly and profitably selling a collection are people who take their time, screen the people they involve in the first place, and honestly represent their intentions and actions.