"Wow...the Coin is Better Looking in Hand!"

At least once a week we hear from a client who calls excitedly or emails us immediately, pleased with their most recent purchase. And they always say the same thing, "You know, I loved the photos, but this coin looks even better in person!" So that begs the question - why do I not show you exactly what you can expect when you open a package from DWN?

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Mark Goodman: Numismatic Imaging Jedi

I’m going to turn this blog over to Mary Winter. For those of you who are not aware of this, my wife is the numismatic imager, par excellence, whose coin photos are part of what makes raregoldcoins.com, in my opinion, a very special numismatic experience. Mary recently had a training session with Mark Goodman whose coin photography skills are quickly becoming legendary with collectors all across the US of A. Take it away, Mary...

I have a confession to make. All I know about coin imaging I learned from Mark Goodman. No, let me rephrase. All I know about GREAT coin imaging I learned from Mark. I have been DWN’s coin photographer since raregoldcoins.com became a website in the mid-1990’s. I was initially self-taught…and it showed.

Anyone who has ever tried on their own to take a photo of a slabbed coin knows how hard it can be to have an image turn out decent, let alone good. After years of trying everything I could think of, the Numismatic Gods (NG’s) smiled on me and quite serendipitously, one of Doug’s customers mentioned a man he knew who was an excellent coin photographer. Desperate and intrigued, I got the contact information on this person and emailed him straightaway.

As I recall, I initially just asked him questions by email. It became quickly apparent that he knew his stuff – and was self-taught to boot….gulp. But I swallowed my pride and continued to ask questions. I found he was not only extremely talented, but willing to share his expertise.

Once DWN relocated to Oregon in 2006, the NG’s smiled once again as Mark Goodman is also located in Oregon, within traveling distance of our office. I asked him if he would ever consider training me in person – and he agreed. That was perhaps 1.5 to 2 years ago. After my initial training, I saw quite a difference in my photography. But there was more to learn…

This year Mark wrote a book, “Numismatic Photography” (available for sale at www.zyruspress.com) which is a must-have for anyone wanting to improve their coin imaging skills. Doug “suggested” I study it…ALOT. I was blown away at the amount of research Mark had put into the book, as well as its ease of use for the layman. And his color photographs tell it all. I was once again humbled and knew I needed more help.

Hat in hand I contacted Mark again. He was as gracious as before and willing to help me again. I sent him a request for further training and he agreed. This session went levels beyond where I was before and I hope my photography from here on out will do him justice.

As I said, and can’t say enough, thank you Mark Goodman – everything I know about great coin imaging has come from you!


Before Goodman.....D'oh!


After Goodman.....Aaahh!

Online Coin Images

More and more I find myself buying and selling gold coins based on the images on my website and on other websites. Is this a good thing? I am a very strong advocate of the adage that there is absolutely no way that you can accurately grade a coin based on an image. But in today’s Internet-driven numismatic market many collectors and dealers have to make important and potentially expensive decisions based on images.

The reason that I hesitate to make certain decisions based on images is that, frankly, most of them are not very good. The large coin companies, who often handle hundreds if not thousands of coins at a time, are not able to take the time on each coin image that is required for them to be accurate.

There are a few things that I like about coin images. For one, they make nice, original coins look better than the typical coins offered for sale. In the past few years, I have become very “image conscious” when I buy coins. If a coin is overly bright or has funky color, it will not image well and will be a hard coin to sell. If a coin is crusty with dark, natural color and nice surfaces it will image well and, hopefully, be easier to sell.

Coin imaging is still unable to accurately capture a coin’s luster—which is best sensed in three dimensions, with the coin being spun back and forth. That’s one major reason why I am always very hesitant to buy a high grade Uncirculated or Proof coin without seeing it in person. Lower grade coins are different. I feel fairly comfortable buying circulated coins (up to AU50 or so) based on images because on these pieces luster is not an essential characteristic in determining grade.

There are other things to keep in mind when looking at coin images. Many people forget that the typical plastic slab has lots of wear and tear and this often makes the surfaces of coins look scuffy and scratched when they aren’t. In my experience, gold coins in PCGS holders photograph better than those in NGC holders. While I can’t offer scientific explanations as to why this is, my guess is that since coins are jammed tightly into white holders, this makes them a much more difficult subject to image than PCGS coins which float more loosely in clear holders.

As you become more familiar with certain rare coin firms, you learn more about their imaging. All of DWN’s images are taken using natural light and no coins are enhanced with Photoshop or other imaging software. But I can think of at least one major retail firm that blatantly uses Photoshop to make their Proof gold coins seem virtually flawless and an auction company who so totally enhances their color images that the coins in person look absolutely nothing like they do in the catalog.

There is still no substitute for buying coins based on seeing them in person but coin images are clearly getting better all the time and are becoming a huge factor in retail and auction sales. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years, as digital cameras get better and better and new technology emerges that will enable websites to contain three dimension reproductions of coins and other flat objects.