Coin Buying "Tricks"

As a dealer who has spent over $100 million on rare coins, what are some of the “tricks” that I have learned that can help you when you are buying coins? Read on to see some of the ones that I think you will benefit most from. When I buy a coin I am looking to sell it immediately for a profit. This makes my needs as a buyer slightly different than yours as a collector. But your ultimate goal, I would hope, is to sell your coins for a profit. What are a few of the most obvious but most important parameters to consider each and every time you buy a coin?

1. Buy Coins That Are Pretty

Numismatics has always been a highly visual hobby. But the advent of the Internet has made the visual aspects of numismatics more significant than ever before. When I look at coins now one of the first questions I ask myself is: will it image well on my website? Coins that are pretty are very easy to sell.

The term “pretty” is somewhat semantic. I tend to like gold coins that are dark and dirty and find these to be aesthetically appealing. Not everyone agrees me. Some people like gold coins that have bright, dazzling luster while others prefer coins that two-tone contrast between the devices and the fields. But I think most people can agree that a certain percentage of coins are, for lack of a better term, “special.” This does not necessarily mean “expensive.” I have seen circulated $100 Bust dimes that I thought were really pretty. The bottom line is that you should try and have as many pretty coins as possible in your collection.

2. Buy Coins That Are Popular

There are many coins that no matter how many examples I have purchased over the years, I have never lost money on them. As an example, I have probably owned twenty 1838-D half eagles in the past decade, ranging in grade from VF25 to MS62. Every time I’ve owned one, it has sold quickly to a happy collector and I’ve made a decent amount of money on each transaction. It’s obvious to me why this date sells quickly: it’s a first-year-of-issue, it’s a one-year type, it has a neat design, it’s a Dahlonega coin and it is relatively affordable.

In the last few years, key date coins in virtually every series have shown dramatic increases in value. There is a good reason for this: they are very popular and this creates a constant level of demand for these issues. In some cases (like 1901-S quarters or 1907 High Reliefs) prices are now probably too high and these key issues are currently overvalued. But I would personally rather have a collection (or inventory) that was full of popular coins than ones that were too esoteric and hard to sell.

3. Buy Coins That Are Problem-Free

I’m pretty staggered at how unappealing most coins are that I see these days. As I look through other dealer’s inventories at coin shows or at auction lots, nearly every coin I pull out has some sort of problem. It has been dipped. It has funky color. It has hairlines from an old cleaning. That’s why when I see something that I really like, I try and aggressively pursue it.

In certain 18th and 19th century series, it is likely that 90-95% of all the coins currently on the market have some sort of problem. If you can patiently and carefully assemble a collection that focuses on the remaining 5-10% of the coins that are what I would call high end and choice, you will have a truly significant coin collection.

4. Buy Coins That Pre-Sell Themselves Every time I’ve made a big mistake purchasing a coin for inventory, it’s been a coin that I had to give myself a hard sell on. I’ve found that my first impression regarding a coin is inevitably correct. If I see a coin and it makes me gasp because it’s so pretty or it’s so above-average an issue that usually comes with bad eye appeal, I’m inevitably going to buy this coin no matter what. If my first reaction is “I don’t really like this” or “It’s OK except that spot in the right obverse field sort of bothers me” that doesn’t strike me as the sort of coin that is going to go flying out of my inventory when it is imaged and described on my website. As a rule, if you don’t like a coin the first time you see it, don’t buy it.

5. Buy Coins That Have Been Pre-Screened

Never, never, never buy expensive coins sight-unseen or based solely on a mediocre quality image with no return privilege. It’s one thing if someone is trying to sell you a generic MS63 St. Gaudens double eagle sight-unseen; even if the coin is low-end it is essentially a commodity and what it looks like is not especially important. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients send me expensive coins that they have purchased sight-unseen out of an auction and how many times I’ve had to politely tell them that it is very low-end. If your dealer insists you buy coins sight-unseen, find another dealer. If you think you can buy nice coins sight-unseen out of auctions, swallow your pride and hire a trusted representative to view the coins in person for you.