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Insider's Tips for Buying and Selling Coins, Part 2

How to Sell Your Coins to a Coin Dealer


People who sell their coins to coin dealers often feel they have been given short shrift. The dealer might stir his finger around a box or jar of coins for a minute or two (if that long) and then make an offer that seems too low. Even worse are the cases where the dealer opens up the blue Whitman folders, takes a quick glance, and then offers $9 for the whole collection. How can he know what the coins are worth if he doesn't even look at each one first? Is he trying to rip me off?

The Realities of Selling Coins

As explained on the previous page of this article, coin dealers see a vast amount of what they commonly call "junk." Although these coins do have a (minimal) value, they are so often seen for sale, but so hard to sell, that dealers are reluctant to buy them, and when they do, they can't afford to pay much money for them. When someone brings in a large can of Wheat Cents, for example, most dealers will run their fingers through them to assess the range of dates and average quality of the coins. If they appear to be run-of-the-mill common date, circulated Wheaties, the dealer will usually offer a flat rate for the lot, either a price for the load based on his estimate of the weight or coin count, or he might run them through a coin counter (or weigh them) and pay a per piece price. Whatever he does, he assuming two things:

(1) That any valuable dates have been removed from the lot already, and;

(2) Even if the coins haven't been searched, the valuable dates are so rare anyway that in all likelihood, none of them will turn up in this lot.

Therefore, he pays a "worst case scenario" price for the coins. The same is true for most of the coins minted in the twentieth century, whether they are Buffalo Nickels, Mercury Dimes, Washington Quarters, etc. A quick assessment of grade and dates is done, and a bulk price is offered, frequently based on the bullion value of silver for coins made of this metal. If the dealer should happen to find a rare coin in the batch, that's great, but most of the time he doesn't, and such coins are not worth the time it takes to check each one.

If you want to maximize the price you are paid for such coins, you'll need to sort them yourself into batches, and be sure to remove any coin worth ten times face value or more according to the Red Book. The way coins are sorted for maximizing the price varies from type to type, but for Wheat Cents sorting them by decade will help somewhat. For example, at the time of this writing, Cents in the 'teens go for 15 to 18 cents each on up (depending on average grade.) Cents in the 1920's go for 10 to 12 plus; Cents in the 1930's go for 6 to 8 on up; but circulated Cents in the 1940's and 1950's usually go for 2 cents each. Mixed, unsorted Wheaties go for 2 cents each, or maybe a little more if the dealer sees they are heavy in early dates. By sorting them into decades, you've improved your profit margin. Further sorting, into individual years can also help if you have enough to make full rolls.

Selling Coin Collections

If you have complete collections, whether in folders or albums, it is best to leave them in place. But when it comes to selling partial collections, keep in mind that dealers can often make really quick decisions about the value. For example, most dealers who buy coins see dozens of those blue Whitman folders every month. They can glance quickly at the coins in the folder and appraise the value of the collection based on which holes are empty (they are usually the same 3 or 4 key coins.) Without those few rare "keys," the coins might as well be in a jar or shoebox, and the dealer gives you the price accordingly. If the coins he sees in the folder are of higher than normal grade, his offer should be higher, too, but most people feel slighted when coin dealers merely glance at their collections and then make offers.

The same principle applies to coins in other folders, such as Dansco albums and other coin folder and album brands. It only takes a moment for someone who has the key dates memorized to check to see if they're there.

To maximize your profit when selling coins in these folders, especially the ones in low-cost folders like the Whitman type (where you press the coins into little holes in the cardboard,) you can remove the coins from the folder and put each one in a 2x2 coin holder. Mark the date and mint mark, if any, on the holder (but don't put down grades on these holders if you don't know what you're doing.) Keep a separate list of the Grey Sheet or Red Book value for each coin if you want (with the grade estimated as best you can) unless you know you're going to sell them all anyway, no matter what (as long as the offer is reasonable, even if low.) There is something about a coin in its own "place" that makes it stand out as an individual, and although the dealer will still basically price the whole group together, you'll probably get a markedly higher offer than if you'd left them in the Whitman folder. Part of the reason for this is psychological; making each coin its own, rather than as part of an incomplete collection, it seems to be worth more. But part of the reason is practical, too. If the coin is already in a 2x2, the dealer will save time and a bit of expense, which he can pass onto you.

Selling Coins in Slabs and 2x2's

If the coins are in slabs (plastic grading service holders,) they are generally worth more than the same coin that isn't in the slab. How much more depends on the quality of the slab it's in. If it is a PCGS or NGC slab, the coin should trade very near the Grey Sheet "bid" price, since these prices are for "sight unseen" coins which tend to be among the lowest examples in that grade. If the slab is ANACS or ICG, it is still pretty solid, but not worth as much as the top tier of PCGS and NGC. If the coin is in any other slab than these, it is usually worth about the same amount than if it was in a 2x2. The best way to maximize profits for non-premium slabbed coins and 2x2's is to consult the Grey Sheet and try to get near the "bid" price for your coins. Knowing the values ahead of time is the key, but remember that the dealer needs room to make a profit.

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