Many home hobbyists, including me, buy coins online from auction
portals like eBay, Proxibid and iCollector, to name a few. A “portal,”
in and of itself, is not an online auction. Rather, it provides a
uniform digital platform through which dozens if not hundreds of small
auctions, timed or live, are occurring at any given time on any given day.
Unlike sessions on portals, major auction companies usually offer
only holdered coins from top grading companies. Hobbyists with little
numismatic knowledge can bid with confidence, certain to get an
authentic coin, usually at a reasonable price.
Auctions on portals offer slabbed coins, too, not only from those
top companies but also from bottom-tier ones that grade every coin —
even ones damaged, polished or altered — as high Mint State.
To bid successfully here, buyers must know numismatics, or else
they risk losing hundreds of dollars on inferior coins, including counterfeits.
So why do hobbyists, including me, bid on portals? You can find
magnificent coins at below-wholesale prices that have lain dormant in
bank boxes for a half century.
Don’t register and bid via a portal unless you trust the
particular auctioneer. Some are hosted by reputable dealers and
auctioneers with fine reputations and numismatic expertise who treat
buyers with the same courtesy as onsite clientele.
Auctions hosted by reputable dealers and auctioneers will be easy
to spot. They have sharp photography, low buyer’s fees, choice
consignments and quick, inexpensive shipping. They use PayPal or
Auction Payment Network to process credit cards.
Avoid those that have high buyer’s fees (some charge as much as 22
percent). Others may require you to contact them or a third-party
shipper with your credit card information — perhaps the biggest risk
of all. You never know who has access to your financial data.
Always read terms of service for each estate auction or online
session. Many do not allow returns for any reason.
Be sure you know how to operate bidder windows if you join a live
auction. Portals typically have training videos.
Never bid on a coin unless you can reasonably assess its grade,
variety or condition. Otherwise you’re sure to experience buyer’s remorse.
Check Coin World’s Coin Values to know latest values (and
always figure the buyer’s fee and shipping into your maximum bids).
Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor
at Iowa State University and also a member of the Citizens Coinage
Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.