Making Friends With Your Coin Dealer

Most high quality specialized collections are built with strong cooperation between a collector and one or two dealers that form a close, mutually beneficial relationship. What can you as a collector do to earn the trust of a dealer who will be critical in the success of assembling the sort of collection you aspire to form? How do you become the sort of collector that dealers like to do business with? If you look at the roster of great collectors over the course of the past century you will find a number of common traits: they were keen students of numismatics, they had strong financial resources, they were not afraid to "step out" when purchasing important coins and they had intelligent numismatic advisors who were regarded as allies and not adversaries.

In today's numismatic world, too many dealer/collector relationships are based on distrust. While there are certainly dealers who cannot be trusted, there are many specialized dealers who are extremely trustworthy and whose counsel should be eagerly sought by collectors.

Here are some suggestions on behaviors to avoid:

1. Don't Expect Continual Freebies: Imagine what a doctor's reaction would be if you called him up a few times and asked for a free diagnosis. A coin dealer will feel the same way if you call him repeatedly asking for information but never buy from him. By the same token, most dealers will be very happy to provide all sort of free services to good clients. I will sometimes make "courtesy purchases" from dealers who are good guys and who provide me with information that I find helpful. I am also happy to perform a number of free services for good clients including upgrading coins, looking at auction lots, sending detailed write-ups on coins and helping to establish credit with other dealers or auction firms.

2. Don't Be A "Know It All": I greatly respect collectors who admit their shortcomings. Admitting that you do not know everything is, in my opinion, far preferable to pretending that you do. I am a professional numismatist who has intently studied the coin market for over twenty years. I should know more about it than my clients, just like they know more than I do about what they do for a living. Most dealers are pretty adept at spotting a "faker" and it is hard to shed this label once it has been applied to you.

3. Be Accessible: If you are impossible to get in touch with, a dealer is not likely to make an effort to offer you coins. Let a trusted dealer know your "secret" cell phone number or whether you prefer to be called at work or at home.

4. Pay Promptly: Unless you make prior arrangements, send payment on the coins you buy within a few days. Slow payers get a bad reputation and tend to be forgotten when interesting new coins become available. It is very important for a medium to large-sized coin dealer to have good cash flow. If you slow up this cash flow, you make the dealer unhappy. Pay promptly and the dealer is happy.

5. Be Loyal (if the dealer has earned loyalty): There are certain collectors who are known in the business as being price shoppers. They will buy from whoever has the least expensive example of what they are searching for. Most dealers greatly respect loyalty and will reciprocate. A customer who has no sense of loyalty with any dealer will wind-up purchasing lots of low-quality, cheaply priced coins.

In the same vein, do not give your want list to every major dealer in the country. When I learn that a want list I receive is also in the hands of ten other dealers (and I will generally figure this out in a few days since I'll get phone calls from the same dealers looking for coins on the list!) I become much less interested than if the list is "fresh."

6. Let the dealer make a fair profit: In an ideal dealer/collector relationship, there will be as much disclosure as possible. In many cases, I'll tell a collector where I bought a coin, what I paid for, what I am pricing the coin at to dealers and what I have bought and sold other comparable examples. Most collectors will let me make 10-20% on coins that I have assumed all of the risk on and 5-10% on coins that I have assumed no risk on.

Some collectors just can't help themselves and will try and negotiate a reduction in price even after a deal has been struck. Don't get in the habit of taking "shots" at a dealer.

7. Decide whether you are a collector or a dealer: The Internet has created a new hybrid in the numismatic world: the collector who is simultaneously a dealer. If you are a collector, you are "entitled" to certain services which a dealer does not receive. These cost more money but provide a safety net. If you want to act like a dealer, than understand that you have to make quick decisions (see below) and you have little recourse for returning a coin after you've bought it.

8. Make Quick Decisions: No dealer expects a collector to make an immediate decision on any coin, especially one that is expensive. But it is very inconvenient when a collector ties up a coin for a week agonizing over a decision. Let the dealer know up front if it will take a while to make a decision. And if the dealer asks you not to show the coin to other dealers or ask for second (or third) opinions, don't blatantly do this anyway.

9. Understand The Dealer's Terms: Know in advance what a dealer's return policies are. Don't expect to be able to return a coin for a full refund after a month if the return policy of the dealer is stated as ten days. If a coin is purchased on a sight-unseen basis (a bad idea, in my opinion...) than the collector should understand that he has no return privilege.

In my two decades in the rare coin business, I have been very fortunate to meet a number of really nice collectors. Many of these people have become good friends of mine who I see on a social basis. They know that they are being represented in their numismatic transaction by someone who genuinely cares about their best interests. I know that their word is their bond. And that's what I am looking for in a customer: an honest, sincere person who will treat me with as much respect as I will treat him.