Coins, Coins and More Coins
December 7, 2006 8:59 AM   Subscribe

How do I determine the value of a safe full of old coins?

Dear old Dad died a few years back leaving close to a century of history for us to sift through. Most of it's been divided up amongst us kids, but what remains is the most difficult. Dad collected coins for as far back as I can remember. What we've got is a small safe full of coin books - some complete, some not - old film canisters with misc. coins, little bags of coins, etc. etc. etc.

The few coins that I've taken to a local coin dealer have resulted in less than spectacular results. A 99% book of coins was valued at just a few dollars over face value! Surely coins dating back to the early 1900s and beyond should be worth more than that, no?

How do I go about finding a reputable coin dealer in the SF Bay area? How do I know who will give me an honest assessment of their worth and who is trying to snow me for their own profit?

Currently all the coins are in the original state, packaged as mentioned above. Do I start by inventorying (?) all the coins, or ... ?
posted by SoftSummerBreeze to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Inventory the coins first, of course. You may want to pick up some coin appraisal books or check the library. They will help to give you some idea. Ebay is also a place that may help to give you an idea of the market value of some coins.
posted by JJ86 at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2006

I think a lot more affects the value of a coin than just its age. Condition is very important, as is the relative scarcity and/or collectibility of the coin. This basic website has some good general information, and some broad value ranges.
posted by slenderloris at 9:25 AM on December 7, 2006

Coins are much like stamps. The "book value" is a fictional number. The coins are actually worth what someone will pay for them.

Find a local coin collecting club, ask them to recommend a legit dealer, take the coins to a dealer and ask for an appraisal with the understanding that you are not wanting to sell. Be prepared to pay for these services.

Then, advertise the collection as it is in an appropriate forum, and expect to get much less than the appraised amount.

But, the best solution, hang onto the collection and pass it along to your own kids some day.
posted by HuronBob at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2006

and of course, silver coins can just be sold for weight iof they're not 'collecticble'
posted by flowerofhighrank at 9:33 AM on December 7, 2006

I know this has nothing to do with your question but....

You say your dad has been collecting coins as long as you can remember - obviously it meant enough to him that he kept them in a safe and has been holding on to them for so long.

It sounds like you are going to receive much less than 'book value', possibly face value or just a little over face value; it may be worth it to hold on to them for sentimental purposes...

It seems that your father would not have sold them, maybe you shouldn't either.

Just one man's opinion.
posted by ASM at 10:45 AM on December 7, 2006

What ever the collection is worth now, it will be worth more in another generation the future. Unless you are an avid stamp collector or something similar and would use the proceeds to grow that collection (which your dad would probably completely understand), I'm with ASM - don't sell it.

Check ebay for prices, that will show you how much they are really worth, regardless of what some book will say.

You can raise the value of coins by cleaning them and shining them. Doing this is also a good meditative, personal task to perform with your kids if they are younger so you can tell stories about your dad (or stories about when you were a kid) to them. Then they will have the memory of the time you all spent together cleaning the "family" coin collection with you. This gives the collection a direct firsthand meaning for them, which will make the collection have value to both you an your children independent of the fact that it was your dad's.

As your kids grow, you can make an ongoing activity out of finding coins to round out the collection.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:00 AM on December 7, 2006

"You can raise the value of coins by cleaning them and shining them."

In a word no...Never....NEVER do this. If you ever want to sell them for above face value to say a dealer or other collector very few will even take a second look at coins that have been cleaned.
posted by Captain_Science at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2006

You can raise the value of coins by cleaning them and shining them.

No. To the contrary, you certainly will lower their value in all cases by following this advice.

I know quite a bit about American coins, I'm not in a buying or selling mood right now, and I happen to be in the Bay Area, so I'd be happy to take a conflict-of-interest-free look at them for you, if they're mostly American.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:16 PM on December 7, 2006

Here's my advice about selling comics, no doubt it applies just as well to coins:
Fact is, a fair price has as much to do with your expertise as it does with objective valuation.

Presumably you don't know anyone who could go to your place to look at the collection, but that would be best. It can't work online because you would have to type up a complete inventory - probably not worth the effort. The second best solution is buying a price guide and looking to see if you have any 'key issues'. The prices are meaningless, but you can get an idea of relative importance, with that information you could pursue more specific online assistance (ebay ended auctions, follow up here, whatever).
ikkyu2's generous offer is the ideal opportunity to gain some expertise quickly and easily - it is bound to result in a better price. However, be diligent, do some legwork on ebay and in price guides first (again, not for raw valuation, but to understand what types of things are desirable). The effort will help you make the best use of one another's time. Just as important, in general you don't know if your consultant is as expert as they seem/claim, so give yourself the tools to test them.

very few will even take a second look at coins that have been cleaned.

This is true for almost any serious antique or collectable. However, when this topic came up around watches last month, the consensus seemed to be that polishing is a common way to add value. The vagary and fickleness of collector markets is astounding.
posted by Chuckles at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2006

So, the old "put a penny in the Taco Bell hot sauce" idea is out?
posted by sagwalla at 8:37 AM on December 11, 2006

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