How To Sell Your Coin Collection
Inheriting coins (perhaps from an estate sale) can often lead to amazing discoveries of potentially valuable coins to sell. This is indeed something worth getting excited about!
You may be a person who has inherited a “box of old coins,” or you may be a numismatist looking to change direction with your collection. In any case, you need advice on how to sell your coin collection for the best price. The selling process can seem like a dauting task, particularly when you just want to liquidate a whole collection at once. We're here to help!
Follow the three simple steps below to get the most when selling your coin collection.
Selling a coin collection can be very rewarding if done properly.
#1: Find Out What Coins You Have
If you’re a coin collector, you already know what you have. Feel free to jump to “Step #2: Find the current market price for each coin.”
If you’re a non-coin person, determining which coins you have can be done with a few simple resources. It is the first step toward finding the estimated value or potential value of your coins so that you can judge a fair offer. You could also get the collection appraised at a local coin shop, especially if you’re looking to sell via that method.
Here are some great resources for beginners:
The Red Book: The Whitman Guide to US Coins, aka “the Red Book,” is considered an indispensable resource for coin collectors. It gives mintages for each coin produced by the United States, and comparative prices. The actual prices are not indicative of the current price for any coin, but the price spread between common dates and rare dates of the same coin type illustrates their relative scarcity.
PCGS Coinfacts and Photograde: The Professional Coin Grading Service was the first company to offer certification and condition grading for rare coins. Their online resources include Coinfacts, where you can learn the rarity of your coins; and Photograde Online, which allows you to see what each coin type looks like in different states of wear.
Look Up Key Dates and Varieties of Your Coins: Key dates are the hard-to-find coins that are required to complete a coin set. Key date coins are usually the most expensive of their coin series, possibly excluding rare varieties. For an example of key dates in a coin series, we recommend Key Date Morgan Dollars: Collecting Tips and Prices.
Varieties are coins where something happened during the minting process to make them different from ordinary coins. Types of varieties include die doubling and repunched mint marks.
Some varieties are very hard to detect unless you know what to look for. Even experienced collectors should check their coins to see if one is a valuable variety that slipped through the cracks and into their collection.
Many types of variety coins are far more valuable than the “normal” version. This makes it worth your while to double check any coin that seems like it’s different from the normal strike. Searching for varieties online will pull up the better known examples, such as the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Cent.
#2: Find the Market Price for Each Coin
Finding a current market price for your rare coin collection is an imprecise science, at best. Unlike fungible assets like stocks or smartphones, every coin is different—even from the same mint and year. The older the coin, the greater the variability between them.
This means that even the most up-to-date information is nothing but a rough guide to a coin’s value. There are some places where that information is more credible than others.
CDN Greysheet Prices: The CDN Greysheet is a market price guide for coin dealers. If you have a bunch of coins that your research shows are valuable, it may be worth spending $8 for a single month’s access to this online coin price guide. Most of these prices are updated weekly, with some updated more often. Follow the link to reference the Greysheet Coin and Currency Pricing for Dealers and Collectors.
Online Auction Records: The big coin auction houses such as Heritage, Stack’s Bowers, and Great Collections post realized prices from their coin auctions. You can search these records to see what coins like yours have sold for. (Heritage’s site is the easiest to search.)
Remember that prices posted will include the buyer’s premium, which can be as much as 20% of the hammer price.
Confine your searches to the last one or two years. Older auction results can reflect prices realized during the last rare coin bubble. This is why current auction records for many coins were set ten or more years ago.
How to Determine a Coin's Melt Value
If you have worn “common date” dimes, quarters, half dollars or silver dollars, you might get more money selling them for their silver content instead of at a low numismatic value. Any US dime, quarter, or half dollar made in 1964 or earlier has silver making up 90% of its weight. The common name for these coins is “junk silver.”
An assortment of 90 percent silver coins.
Morgan and Peace silver dollars will sell for slightly more than their silver content, unless their features have been almost completely worn away. Of course, common-date gold coins have a far better chance of having a melt value exceeding their numismatic value.
Before selling an old silver or gold coin, determine its “melt value”—the value of the silver or gold the coin contains, using current gold or silver prices. That way, you can tell if a buyer is offering a fair price or trying to take advantage of you.
Use our Gold and Silver Coin Melt Value Calculator to find the melt value of your coins based on their face value. You can also consult the chart below to do the calculation manually.
Remember that you won’t be offered 100% of melt value if you are selling “junk silver,” but if someone offers you less than melt value on a numismatic coin, you may want to walk instead of argue. You should know what your coins are worth after doing your research.
Actual Silver Weight (ASW) US Junk Silver Coins (Chart)
|Pre-1965 Dime||0.0723 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.0723|
|Pre-1965 Quarter||0.1818 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.1818|
|Pre-1965 Half Dollar||0.36169 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.36169|
|40% Kennedy Half Dollars||0.1479 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.1479|
|Large Silver Dollars (Morgan or Peace)||0.7734 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.7734|
|40% Eisenhower "S" Silver Dollars (1971–1976)||0.3161 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.3161|
|35% "War Nickels" (1942–1945)||0.0563 troy oz||Spot silver price x 0.0563|
REMEMBER: A scarce date or variety of a coin can be worth far more than its melt value, even in greatly worn condition.
Coin Grading: Certified (Slabbed) Coins
Coins that have been certified and graded by a professional coin grading service are sonically sealed in a protective clear plastic “slab.” Slabbed coins fetch higher prices and are easier to sell than uncertified “raw” coins. Buyers have the peace of mind that a slabbed coin is genuine, and is graded properly.
The question of when to send a coin to a third-party grading service such as PCGS or NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporaton) can depend on your objective. Some collectors prefer all their coins in a set be slabbed, usually at the same grade. Return on Investment (ROI) for these collectors is a lesser concern than for collectors who want to enhance the value of their coins on the resell market.
Deciding whether or not to send a coin to a TPG for certification can be tricky. Do you send a coin worth a hundred dollars in to be graded when it can cost nearly $30 to do so?
Adding the grading fee to the price you paid for the coin might leave little room for profit. The situation changes with higher value coins. In those cases, the extra money you would get for selling the coin slabbed could far outpace the cost of getting it graded.
Whether you get your coins graded or not, make sure you never resort to cleaning coins. This actually makes the coins worth less, not more.
#3: Find the Right Buyer for Your Coin Collection
Now that you know what coins you have and a rough idea of what they’re worth, it’s time to find a buyer.
Note that these suggestions are for numismatic coins (collectible coins). If you have bullion coins like American Silver Eagles or Canadian Gold Maple Leafs, you can probably walk into a pawn shop and walk out with money (though not as much as selling to an online bullion company). These kinds of modern coins are priced based on their bullion value—i.e. the value of their metal composition.
Some dates of the American Silver Eagle coins are highly collectible, such as the 1995-W.
Different Types of Coin Buyers
Different coins will sell better to different buyers. Your set of Buffalo Nickels or Walking Liberty Half Dollars are going to sell better to a local coin shop or a fellow collector. Whereas a type set of pre-Civil War gold coins from the Dahlonega or Charlotte mints will probably fetch a better price from a coin dealer specializing in highly valuable coins, or an auction house like Heritage Auctions.
The first place you should look to sell your coin collection is the place where you bought the coins. You already know that they buy and sell the type of coins you are selling. Don’t expect to get back what you paid for them, though. The seller is running a business, not a coin library!
Other Coin Collectors
If you’re a member of a coin club, this is another market for coins you’re selling. You probably know other people who collect the same coins you do. This is often the easiest way to sell coin collections as a whole. Potential buyers are usually more interested in an entire collection put together, such as a type set of Barber coins.
Don’t join a coin club just to try and sell your coins, however. That’s the best way to ruin the local market for you, since word will get out to coin store owners.
Local coin shops should be your go-to destination for low- and medium-value coins. Everything from nice Wheat cents to semi-key date Morgan dollars should find a home at one of your local coin shops. Some shops that employ a professional numismatist will even buy old small gold coins.
It's also important to read dealer reviews and check the Better Business Bureau. Most reputable sellers in the numismatic community, even if they are online dealers, will be members of industry organizations like the American Numismatic Assocation (ANA). Most local shops are the right place if you are selling United States coins especially.
Another avenue is online marketplaces such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace. This might be your best option for selling single coins (each coin individually). This requires more effort than selling to a coin shop or fellow collector, and can open up a risk of losing your coins or money if a buyer files a dispute. EBay in particular will side with the buyer in 99% of all disputes, leaving you with no recourse.
You will likely receive less than the full retail price for the vast majority of coins listed on eBay, social media, and the like. One advantage of this route is greater access to buyers interested in a large collection of world coins (foreign coins) or ancient coins.
Coin shows are a good place to see what coins like yours are selling for. It’s also a great place to make acquaintances with coin dealers. You may find an interest in other related collecting pursuits, such as notaphily (the collecting of paper money or paper currency).
Coin shows are busy places, so don’t feel put out if a dealer can’t devote a lot of time examining your coin collection. Even if they are too busy during the show, you can follow up with them later.
Online Coin Companies
Online coin companies have the capital to purchase entire coin collections, even high-end ones. You won’t find common date minor coins here, except those being sold as junk silver. Your local coin shop or fellow collectors are more appropriate venues for those types of coins.
One thing to be aware of: you will have to insure and ship your coins to the dealer. You won’t be paid until they receive the coins. This holds true for both common items like proof sets or more exotic coins like platinum bullion.
Auction houses fall into two broad categories: small, local ones and large ones that aim for an international audience. Small auction houses tend to be more specialized. Daniel Sedwick, for example, specializes in shipwreck coins and Spanish colonial cobs.
On the other hand, auction houses like Heritage or Stack’s Bowers conduct auctions for all kinds of collectibles, not just coins. They may sell antiques and are focused on online auctions that cater to an international audience.
The downside to international exposure for your coins that an auction provides is that you don’t know how much you will get for your coins until the auction is over. High seller’s fees are another drawback. It can also take weeks after the auction closes to be paid.
Selling Your Coins: The Payoff
If you’ve done your due diligence on the true value of your coins and taken the time to market them to the correct buyer, you can feel confident that you received a fair value for your coin collection. Whether you were “cashing out” or simply selling off coins to take your collection in a different direction, you can congratulate yourself on a job well done!
Read more about coin collecting, buying coins, and selling coins from the numismatic experts at Gainesville Coins:
A published writer, Steven's coverage of precious metals goes beyond the daily news to explain how ancillary factors affect the market.
Steven specializes in market analysis with an emphasis on stocks, corporate bonds, and government debt.
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