Around five years ago Sotheby’s made a business decision to sell
fewer lots but concentrate on lots of higher quality. The
international auctioneer decided to largely abandon the $5,000 and
below end of the market, focusing not on lot volume, but on the
expensive items that were more profitable for the business.
That decision provided a greater stream of material for local and
regional auctioneers, who generally welcomed the mid-range items and
the occasional high-end item that came in as part of an otherwise
As part of this shift in business strategy, Sotheby’s raised its
buyer’s commission from 20 percent to 25 percent for items that cost
$20,000 or less. Later the fee policy was adjusted to 25 percent for
the first $50,000. In the past year, several major U.S. coin auction
houses moved their coin buyer’s fee from 15 percent to 17.5 percent
for most coins.
Collectors are increasingly utilizing lower-fee firms like
Teletrade and GreatCollections as alternatives to buying and selling coins.
Teletrade offers a flat 15 percent buyer’s fee per lot with an $8
per lot minimum fee. The firm is a member of Spectrum Group
International, which also owns Stack’s Bowers. GreatCollections offers
a buyer’s fee of 10 percent with a minimum fee of $5 per item.
But these firms don’t just focus on the low end. Both have
succeeded in attracting high-end consignments recently.
For example, on June 3, a lone bidder on GreatCollections captured
a 1781 Libertas Americana silver medal — perhaps the most popular
early American medal — graded About Uncirculated 50 by Professional
Coin Grading Service for a bid of $70,000.
On May 27, multiple bidders competed for a 1999 American Eagle
silver bullion coin graded Mint State 70 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.,
raising it from its starting bid of $14,000 to a final price of
$22,500.01 — or $24,750.01 with buyer’s fee.
These firms fill an interesting role in between online auctions
like eBay and traditional full-
service auction houses.
Teletrade alone offers 25,000 to 30,000 coin and paper money lots
each month and collectors have taken to the increased buying
opportunities that these online auction houses provide. Further, as
these two auctioneers grow and compete, their level of service and
quality may keep improving, helping all collectors. ■