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Coin Collecting: The Value Of A Coin
( Published 1963 )
About those old coins you have-how did you happen to get them? Did you find them in the attic-in that old Saratoga trunk that once belonged to your great-grandfather?
They may have considerable value-if your ancestor was a coin collector who knew what he was doing. They may be fairly valuable if he made a practice of putting away any bright new coins as they came his way in change.
But, if your great-grandmother was the one who accumulated (rather than collected) the coins-mostly because they looked old-they probably will have some but not a great deal of value.
How do you find out how much your old coins are actually worth? Well, there are two types of catalogs available which will help you-and you can buy either or both. One catalog purports to tell you how much a dealer will pay you for a specific coin. Its prices are usually on the definitely conservative side. The other catalog tells you how much a dealer will charge you for that same coin. Somewhere between the two figures will be about what you may expect to realize from the sale of that coin.
In the coin-collecting business, condition is a most important consideration. A coin in an absolute mint state of perfection may be worth as much as a hundred dollars or more. That same coin, well-worn and in what would be graded as "Good" condition, may be worth only 25 or 50 cents.
And how do you, an absolute amateur, determine the condition of a coin? It's not impassible, but it may take some months for you to become an expert on the subject. Unless you plan to become a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool collector, you don't want to spend that much time.
So you decide to take them around to same dealers and see what they'll offer you for your old coins. But there are some dangers in that course of action. There are, to be sure, highly reputable dealers who would never dream of taking advantage of your ignorance; others are less ethical. But you plan to get several offers on your coins.
You start out. The first dealer, if he's at all interested, asks how much you want for your coins. You don't know -so you ask for an offer. He repeats: "How much do you want for the lot?" When you decline to state a price (mostly because you haven't any idea of their worth), he regrets his inability to make an offer.
You may wonder why he declines to give you any estimate of the worth of your old coins. It's not too difficult to understand. You're asking him, in effect, to appraise your coins without charge-to go out on a limb so that other dealers can snipe at his offer.
He knows that, if he's the first dealer you've talked to, you may decide to shop around until you find another dealer who will give you a little bit over his offer-it may be only 5o cents or a dollar. The coin business today is quite competitive, and no dealer likes to lose out to another over a matter of pennies. They may be important to you; they irritate the dealer.
Until you have some inkling of the coins' worth, you probably won't have any idea how much to ask.
You may wonder: Is the dealer being fair to you? In almost any other business involving antiques, a dealer will usually make an offer. But that old bureau or antique table, which the dealer made his bid on, can't be toted too easily. You may hesitate to shop around-to try another dealer or two.
You've probably made up your mind as to about what it's worth. You have decided that this or that antique dealer is reputable. So you've taken your antique to his shop. And you'll probably accept his offer if he approximates your estimate. He may even agree to raise it a bit to the amount you think your table or chest of drawers is worth.
But in the coin business, it is all too simple merely to stuff your coins back into the envelope or old cigar box and walk out to try another shop. The dealer knows this-and it makes him reluctant to quote a figure. If he's the first or second dealer you've visited, he knows that his bid, no matter how generous, won't be acceptable to you, for you're still shopping around.
So what's your best bet? Determine as best you can a reputable dealer who will appraise your coins-for a fee, of course. Ask him to make the appraisal on their value to him, as a dealer. While the percentage fee is slightly higher on this type appraisal, you will be getting not only an expert's statement as to value, but a firm offer to buy.
You may be shocked at the lowness of the appraisal figure, or delighted by its size. But you'll be certain of one thing: the next reputable dealer, down the street or across town, won't vary more than a percentage point or two from that honestly-appraised price.
A word of caution: Before you take on your selling trip, don't attempt to improve on the appearance of your coins. They may look dull; don't attempt to shine them. Always remember that your best-intentioned efforts cannot improve the coin's value one bit. Instead, you may damage it and actually lower its grade and value materially.
Never try to clean a coin in any way if you plan to sell it. The buyer, whether he's a dealer or collector, does not object to a dull-appearing coin; in fact, this evidence of age, known as patina in some cases, is most desirable. Let's look in on a coin dealer as he encounters a man who has a shiny coin he'd like to sell. Only someone has "played with the coin" and attempted to cover up the aging and wear and tear that come naturally to everything-coins as well as humans.
"I got something good I want to show you."
There was the air of the gambler about the man. His suit was just a bit too sharp, his manner too breezy. The dealer recognized the type and prepared to take the whole thing in stride.
From an inside pocket, the man took a folded bit of paper. Elaborately he opened it. The dealer indicated a velvetcovered tray and the man ceremoniously placed the gold dollar on it.
"Know what that is?" he demanded.
"Of course. It's a gold dollar," answered the dealer patiently.
"Ever see one brighter and shinier? It's just like it came from the mint. Notice the date-it's a good one-1870. Know how many gold dollars were made that year?"
The dealer gave a tired smile.
"Offhand, I don't recall the exact mint figures for that year."
"They turned out 6,300 of these gold dollars in 1870 - just exactly 6,3oo-not one more." The visitor paused. The dealer didn't appear impressed. Finally, he said:
"So what'll you give me far that brand new dollar?"
"In the first place," began the dealer, "the coin is not brand new.""Why!" the man exploded. "It's as bright and shiny as it ever was."
"Maybe it looks that way to you."
"It has a very high catalog value-$100 in Uncirculated - and over $200 in Proof. Maybe this is a Proof, huh?"
"It's not a Proof and it certainly isn't Uncirculated now." "How can you tell?"
"Many ways; but the easiest is simply by the amount of wear on the coin. The high points are entirely smooth, and--"
The man interrupted:
"You mean, I got stuck? I didn't get a bargain? The fellow who sold it to me said it was a darn good coin."
"It was-once. I don't know what you paid for it, but--" "I gave this fellow $50 for it."
"Well, I'm afraid I'd have trouble selling it for more than $5."
The man looked down at his gold dollar, then picked it up.
"But tell me-how come it looks so brand new?" "Someone buffed it-probably used jeweler's rouge on it. Trying to make it look young again, they ruined it."
"Oh, well," said the man, as he pocketed the coin, "guess I better stick to horses-you're always fairly sure how old they are."
So, if your coins look a little old and dirty, leave them that way.
Among the do's and don'ts you should follow if you want full value from your coins:
Don't use an eraser to brighten a silver coin. Sure, it makes it look shinier, but that shine won't fool any coin expert into thinking your coin is fresh from the mint.
Leave copper coins as you find them. A household cleanser, while it will brighten copper coins and make them shine, gives them an unnatural color that fools no one and even makes them undesirable to many.
Avoid jeweler's rouge and the buffing wheel as you would the plague. They'll make the worn spots even more prominent.
If eventually you should become a coin collector and have a certain piece you think might be improved by careful cleaning, don't try to do it yourself. Take it to an expert who can advise whether the coin can be cleaned successfully, whether its value will be improved thereby, and how much the job will cost you.