Fitty Cent
February 23, 2007 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Coin collections - what is the best way to find a fair and honest appraisal for about a hundred coins?

My mom and I finally got around to looking at the coins stored in a safe deposit box by my grandfather. Mostly it consists of a crap load of Kennedy half dollars, silver dollars, wheat pennies, early 1900s pennies, nickels and dimes and a bunch of random oddities like a 1780s George III (I think) English coin. From my experience as a kid with coin dealers I recall that it can be quite a shady and dishonest business. I'm not sure if that has changed at all since the late 70s. Does anyone have suggestions as to how to get a straigthforward appraisal in the New York City of Hudson Valley area? Are there good websites for this kind of thing?
posted by spicynuts to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If watching the Antiques Roadshow has taught me anything, you need to bring it to a professional appraiser and indicate that you have no intention of selling the coins. That you're looking for both a "fair market value" appraisal as well as an "insurance" appraisal. The insurance appraisal with be about 25-50% higher than the fair market appraisal, presumably because people think it's ok to rip off insurance companies or something.

By taking the option of the appraiser buying your coin collection at a steal, he's less likely to lowball the value.
posted by Dave Faris at 12:08 PM on February 23, 2007

Just as a general rule: don't sell your collectibles or antiques to the same person that appraises them. You are better off looking for someone you can pay to give a fair appraisal than you are getting a free appraisal from a dealer. If you have to go to a dealer for an appraisal, tell them ahead of time you have no intention of selling your coins, but that you are getting the appraisal for insurance purposes only.

I am not familiar with coin buying and selling on eBay, but I'd think it would be relatively easy to find comparable coins through searches of past auctions.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:08 PM on February 23, 2007

I'd start with the dealers in your area listed at the official site of the American Numismatic Association

What you have however sounds like a lot of common lots that I have seen before, which most people think are worth far more than they actually are, but depending on the amount of material you could have a few hundred dollars worth.

The Kennedys will be a factor x face value. US Coins were 90% silver 1964 and prior --excluding nickels and pennies. Kennedy's were 40% between 65-69.

The silver dollars (Eisenhower and Susan B Anthony dollars are not silver.) and 19th century copper will have to be looked at and appraised.

Wheat pennies are not worth very much unless you have some uncirculated ones or a rare date --probably around $.75 a roll.

Also, DO NOT try to clean coins before you take them to a dealer --you'll just destroy them.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:17 PM on February 23, 2007

Yeah, MasonDixon, I'm pretty much sure the vast majority of it is common and not all that valuable, but there are five or six things in there that give me pause (a couple obviously mint things in protective display boxes) so I want to make sure I can get someone who who won't try to pull the wool over my eyes. I'll start with your link.
posted by spicynuts at 12:27 PM on February 23, 2007

You might just buy a price guide and do it yourself. Estimating condition is not the easiest thing in the world but your coins are not likely to be "mint-state" and it's not hard to get in the right ballpark with the other grades (Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine); also those grades have little influence on the value of a piece.

The nice thing about the price guide is that it will inform you that your 1914-D penny is unlike all the other coins in your collection, because instead of being worth $0.05 it's worth $1500. This is the kind of thing where unscrupulous people really will try to screw you, and your grandfather isn't around to point it out.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:27 PM on February 23, 2007

You might also pick up one of these: Red Book

It's a guide to US coins and their values. Most novices tend to overgrade their coins or assume their coin matches the description of the rarest or most expensive one. These are general values, not necessarily the number the coin would exchange hands at.

Also, check out the site I gave you above for local coin clubs and coin shows.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2007

Well that'll teach me to hit preview.

I still think do-it-yourself is likely to be more fun and less risky.

I don't have a good recommendation as far as a price guide, but an amazon search for "coin price guide" turns up a half-dozen titles, any of which I'm sure would be adequate.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2007

OK, we're all doing the simultaneous posting thing here. I have a few old copies of that Red Book kicking around, which are very good; I'd only warn you that reading it might turn you into a coin collector. It's fun!
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2007

Coin appraisers are not going to want to spend lots of time appraising 100 coins for nothing. Unless you are sure the value of the coins is going to be high, it is probably not worth the cost of an appraiser. Start out with a coin guide at the library or use Ebay to get a rough idea if it going to be worth hiring an appraiser.
posted by JJ86 at 1:11 PM on February 23, 2007

I was once a moderately intent coin collector, and still make a few strictly amateur forays into the field. I don't agree with all the advice here, but I think it's more a case of fearing possible misinterpretation on your part. Consider much of my advice as coming from, ohh, 25 years ago when I was more intent on the hobby, though I think it remains accurate.

Red Book is fun and it can provide a general idea of relative value, but please, don't use the actual listings to tally up the values and run about the house singing hosannas to your coin collection of aggregate value $3426.18. It doesn't work that way. Red Book usually shows what you pay to get your coins, not what dealers pay to resell them later. And Red Book can quickly date out, depending on what is hot or cold in the market. A lot of the eBay dealers quote "Trends" values from Coin World, which is a popular weekly coin newspaper among collectors, and far more current. Use eBay completed auctions as a price trend source, as already suggested. Still, Red Book is interesting to go through for a budding hobbyist, an excellent general information resource, and a good first step to figuring out what treasures you have.

As to your basic values, it sounds like many of your coins are more likely to be valued based on their intrinsic, or "melt" value, than their numismatic value. Good news: silver is hot right now, running about 10x face. This site has a useful breakdown of silver values for recent coins, and most older coins have the same composition. What should you get for pure melt? I'm not sure what shops and dealers are paying for coin bullion price, and it's hard to look up on Google, but I imagine it shouldn't be less than 90% of spot. That's the lowest you usually see on eBay. Which means your silver Kennedy's from 1964 should be worth at least $4.50 each (40% composition 1965-1970, $2-ish). It is important to remember that melt value is the lowest common denominator. If you have older silver coins (walking liberties, mercury, barber, standing liberty, and so on), there is usually a numismatic premium unless the coins are really in crap condition. Same is true with uncirculated condition silver coins of more recent issue.

As to dealers, well, I'll tell you my tale of woe to give you perspective and a warning. When I was young and had a bit of money, I bought several nice coins for numismatic value. Then, in my late-20's or thereabouts, I encountered a situation common to MetaFilter readers, I ran completely out of money: rent, utilities, food. And my coins were the asset to exploit. So, I went to the nearest large city at the time (St. Louis) and shopped my coins around to reputable dealers who were members of the ANA. It was an amazing experience. And depressing. Coin dealers (never go to a pawn shop to sell non-junk coins) quoted prices all over the map -- there was literal a 4x difference in offered price. Every single dealer sounded honest and sincere, and they probably were. And the best price offered was less than one half of what I had spent. Gah! It's still painful to think about.

Why the difference? Because grading is an art, and differences between close coin grades is almost completely subjective. I used to have several books on grading, and I still had problems making consistent matches with claimed grades. Obviously dealers had the same problem -- still do, there are a lot of disclaimers and debates on eBay and elsewhere about coin grades. Why are grades so important? Because a small difference in coin grade can make a difference of a multiple -- a coin that grades Fine can cost twice as much as one in Very Good condition, the next lowest grade. It's why you need to go to multiple dealers to see what they think -- not one, not two, and even three may be low. Also, coin markets run in cycles. I had bought in a hot cycle and sold in a cold. Fortunately for you, coins seem to be pretty hot right now, if only because silver and gold metal markets are running at high levels. In fact, the coin market is hot enough I wouldn't be surprised if you already had or soon will have private contacts from people interested in your coins.

You can also safely mail coins away for a quote if you deal with a reputable coin house, insure well, and document everything with pictures and so on before you send it -- also, weed out the basic stuff using Red Book or coin magazine first. I tried mailing away as a youngling too, it was the second highest quote I received. No problems, otherwise.

It isn't true that coin dealers won't come to you, depending on what you have. Many coin dealers travel around the country for good deals on collections. For example, about five years ago I purchased an always-coveted $20 gold St. Gaudens piece from Heritage Galleries (safely ensconced in a bank vault for you burglerish readers). To this day, I occasionally get unsolicited notices from the company that they have a buyer swinging through my area who would like to see about repurchasing my items. Now, you might not have enough stuff to interest a gallery or auction house, but some of your coins did sound of more than basic numismatic interest. Give a few dealers a call, tell them about the nicer coins, and see if they will come to you, or will be close-by in the near future. Or maybe arrange a mailed quote. You've got nothing to lose if you're careful, and potentially a lot to gain.

Okay, that was way too long and could easily have been twice as long. I tried to condense, but selling non-junk coins raises several issues, as with any other valuable commodity.
posted by mdevore at 2:44 PM on February 23, 2007

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