There are pitfalls to be avoided when it comes to buying collectible, precious metal coins. Most coin dealers are reputable and professional. But a few are perfectly willing to take advantage of novices. And then there are the bad apples found in every business who will rip you off. Whether buying from a professional dealer in his store, a private collector, a telemarketer, by mail order or from an online auction, here are some factors to watch out for.
A coin’s condition is key to its value. Determination of a coin’s condition is called grading. There are professional, third-party companies that examine a coin, assign a grade and then label and seal it in a protective holder. The major grading companies guarantee their certification – provided the holder remains intact. This can impart a sense of confidence as to a coin’s value. The problem lies in fact that grading is subjective – grading companies often differ in their evaluation. And if you purchase an over-graded coin, you are bound to be disappointed when you try to sell it.
Loose coins or those sealed in little cardboard holders are usually graded by the seller – and the potential for overgrading is substantial. Compare any such private grading to a standard grading system before purchasing. You can learn about detailed grading standards from the ANA or any number of books and other websites.
Private Mint Commemoratives
You’ve seen these offered on TV. They commemorate some special event and are usually nicely packaged in a lovely case. They may be pitched as “strictly limited to two per household, but call now – quantities are limited”. Purchase these if they have a special meaning to you, but don’t buy them as investments. These mintages are stamped out in quantities that greatly exceed demand and often contain a minimal quantity of precious metal. They are rarely resold at a profit.
Make sure your dealer is a member of a professional organization. The ANA (American Numismatic Association) is the most respected coin organization and they have a code of ethics which they enforce. Check out the CARE (Consumer Awareness REsources) program at their website: www.money.org for information on their various education, advocacy and mediation programs. While a dealer’s professional affiliation does not guarantee square dealing, complete lack of membership in any industry group could indicate a problem.
The sight-unseen nature of online coin auctions opens the door to various potential problems. Often, listed coins are simply being dumped by dealers who can’t sell them in their store. They set a high reserve or minimum and simply relist coins which don’t sell – until an unsophisticated bidder meets or exceeds their inflated price.
Bid only on listings which include a clear close-up photo of both sides of the coin. When a purchased coin arrives, compare it to the listing to ensure it wasn’t switched. For certified coins, be sure the photo includes the capsule label with the serial number clearly identifiable. Frenzied bidding wars can take you far above the coin’s value. Consult a price guide, know your maximum and stick with it.
Assorted Red Flags
A dealer urging you to buy right now….prices are rising rapidly! If the price really is going up – why isn’t he holding the coin until he can make more money himself?
Bargains prices too good to be true. And investigate any guarantees of future profit.
Take possession of the coin. Do not arrange to make payments on an expensive item unless you truly know the dealer’s background. If you cannot purchase it outright – don’t buy it. You could be left with nothing but worthless receipts while the company is long gone with your money and coin(s).
NEVER buy from any “All Sales Final” dealer. Know the dealer’s return policy
If it doesn’t look right – don’t buy it.Coins can be doctored or altered to improve their appearance. Many of these camouflage methods can be spotted under magnification even by inexperienced buyers. Have some knowledge of what a good coin looks like before you attempt to purchase any coin.
“Rare coins” How rare could it be if it’s being marketed on a shopping channel? And what grade “rare” coin is being offered?
Coin collecting and investing can be fun and lucrative – as long as you understand the game!