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Michael Bugeja

Online Coin Auctions

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.

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Archive for 'April 2016'

    Dings and Damage in Online Auctions

    April 30, 2016 9:43 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Click the photo above and expand it for a good look. The bump on the left is easy to see. That coin is not grade-worthy by PCGS, NGC, ANACS or ICG. The one on the right, with the ding, is.

    I give credit to the auctioneer who described the coin on the left. At least he made an attempt to call attention to a flaw, which is more than many sellers do. He understated the flaw somewhat, however: "Appears to be a slight rim ding on reverse. "

    It wasn't a ding. It was damage, and that led to this post. 

    Sometimes auctioneers (and collectors) forget what Morgan dollars have been through in the 138 years they have jostled in bank bags on the way to the vault or spilled in a jackpot on the casino floor. To the hobbyist, those large dollars--among the most popular buys in online auctions--are associated with places rather than journeys, specially the wild west (Carson City) and Comstock Silver Load (Nevada).

    But stop for a minute and imagine the jolts and jars those coins experienced before ending up in a light box where a photographer captured their condition digitally for the Proxibid or eBay session displayed on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

    Fact is, many uncertified Morgan dollars have either taken a beating in past use ... or hibernated in a bag. And chances are the ones that took a beating have a bump to show for it and the ones that hibernated have a ding.

    Dings are sometimes called "nicks," and while they won't necessarily keep a coin out of a first-rate holder, they can affect condition, depending on how deep or how many dings are evident.

    The coin with the bump in the above screenshot is an 1891-CC. And again, my hobbyist hat is off to the under-stating auctioneer because unlike some sellers, he provided a reverse image and then called attention to a condition issue.

    It has taken online auctioneers years to understand that they must provide obverse and reverse photos in online auctions, precisely because of flaws like this. 

    If the auctioneer doesn't provide a reverse image, you may not want to place a bid. 

    Sometimes Losing is Winning in Online Auctions

    April 24, 2016 3:02 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Above is a screenshot of how my maximum bids did in an online Proxibid auction held on Sunday, April 24. I bid on nine coins and lost every one. I was a bit disappointed that my maximum bid on one lot was matched by an onsite bid, resulting in my losing the coin. But overall, I was pleased to see I did not overpay for any coin the way that onsite bidders did.

    No Internet bidder won any of my preferred lots.

    I practice several important rules when bidding online. Previously I wrote about the "One Flaw Rule ," reminding me not to place a bid whenever I suspect a serious condition such as pin scratches or cleaning. These nine bids represented what I considered lots worthy enough for judicious bids.

    I seldom place a bid based on the retail price as listed in Coin World's Coin Values . Rather, I check the latest auction prices on PCGSCoinFacts and then use that as a guide for maximum bids, factoring the buyer's premium and shipping cost into that amount. 

    Take, for example, the 1877 Trade Dollar graded VF35 by ANACS, considered one step below PCGS holdered coins. At that grade, a similar coin in a PCGS slab sells for about $180 at auction. Recent auction prices with BP added ("realized price") for VF 1877 Trade Dollars in ANACS holders are in the $140-160 range.

    That informed my $100 maximum bid. The lot in question sold for $210, or $247.80 realized price--about $100 more than the typical auction sale for that lot.

    I didn't like the look of the 1890-CC PCGS Morgan, so I put a low-ball bid for it. The coin was graded MS61, but was heavily bagmarked. It sold for $560 realized price, about $40 more than retail value. Same result for the 1892-CC, which sold for about $25 above retail.

    The worst "buy" here was the 1882--CC MS62 by Dominion Grading, a company no longer in business but known to be an excellent grader. It's difficult to get a good buy on any Carson City dollar. This was, however, was a bad buy with a realized price of $318.60. That's about $100 over retail. Typical auction realized prices for a PCGS-holdered 1882-CC are about $180-200.

    It's fine to pay that amount if you really need or want a coin. Bidders who pay more than auction rates help drive prices upward, and that's important for the hobbyist like me. I just don't want to be doing it. You may want to be as cautious, too. Your auction dollar will go farther.

    Be Sure to Check COAs on GSA Dollars

    April 18, 2016 1:44 PM by Michael Bugeja

    ​When buying Morgan dollars encapsulated by the General Services Administration, the certificate of authenticity as well as the box and holder the product comes in are important to check before placing a bid.

    If the certificate is wrong, the owner most likely switched out a dollar from the original box. That's easy to do, and it usually happens when the coin owner sends in the GSA holder for encapsulation and is left with an empty box and COA. (True, some hobbyists send their GSA dollars to companies that affix a label to the original GSA holder; others, like me, dislike the GSA holders because they take up too much space and no longer fit in boxes housing other Morgans in a set.)

    At any rate, there is a way to tell if the Morgan and COA match--assuming the auction or seller has provided a photo of the certificate (and that is not always the case).

    The first two numbers in blue in the upper right corner should match the year of the coin in the holder and box. In the screenshot above, the dollar is an 1883-CC with a cert that begins with an "82," indicating the COA belonged to another coin.

    When I see this, I take a long look at the coin to see why it was switched out. If I spot a flaw, I don't bid.

    Here's why: Most GSA dollars are brilliant uncirculated, but some are badly bag-marked or even almost uncirculated. Those get a different certification insert without a number. Switch out that insert with another that indicates BU condition, and you have bid on a problem coin.

    Also, the GSA holder and box should be in good condition. GSA holders are known to scratch and crack. Also, the lid should attach to the box with a thin black paper, which often rips or detaches. Bid lower on those scratched, cracked holders and detached boxes, again assuming the auctioneer has included photos of the coin, box and COA.

    And that's the trouble with bidding online. Only a select few auctioneers on Proxibid and eBay show photos or describe the condition of the holder (obverse and reverse) and box (in tact or detached) and include the correct COA.

    If you are interested in reading more about GSA dollars, here is a nifty site recounting its history. You might also be interested in visiting the Carson City Coin Collectors of America site.

    GSA dollars are mostly from Carson City, but other mints are represented, too. See Coin World Values for more information about pricing.

    Questionably Graded Coins in Online Auction

    April 8, 2016 8:29 PM by Michael Bugeja
    The above screenshot (click to expand) shows what looks like an almost uncirculated Morgan graded MS65 by a relatively unknown holdering company. Owen McKee, an Iowa coin dealer with whom I have done business for years, questions the grade in his Proxibid description. 

    I like that about this auction. McKee's buyer premium may be high at 20%, but he offers hundreds of lots with something for everybody, and I've scored some nifty coins in his online sessions. I'll don't like paying premiums above 15%, but I do like auctioneers I can trust because of their numismatic knowledge.

    Actually, the slab and grade in the screenshot above is not extreme, as far as these things go. And grading is subjective ... to a point or two. But there are some companies that exaggerate grades in their labels to such extent that coin dealers like McKee have a difficult time not making a qualitative comment about the lots--lots he is selling for one of his consignors, by the way. (That says something.)

    McKee calls the grading of this 1898 Morgan , purportedly MS66, "atrocious." 

    You will have to decide whether to bid on these types of coins. I bid on raw or uncertified coins, using my grading judgment, and ones slabbed by PCGS, NGC, ICG, and ANACS. I will consider coins slabbed by the green or gold PCI and SEGS. But when I see lots in holders like the 1898 one, I navigate right on by.

    Well, that's not entirely correct if the date of a coin may contain a rare variety, such as a "tailbar" 1890-CC Morgan or "double-die reverse" 1901 Morgan . In the past, I have scored these varieties on bottom-tier slabs because the person holdering them did not recognize the rarity or include it on the label.

    But you get the point. Bid cautiously. Deal with auctioneers you trust, as I do Owen McKee.

    One more thing: If an online auctioneer ever assigns a high value, such as might be found in Coin Values or PCGS Price Guide, to a coin in one of these bottom-tier holders, you may want to reconsider bidding in that online session. Proxibid rules forbid assigning a value to these types of coins. When I see an auctioneer do this, I report the item--a feature that Proxibid has added to its online auctions.

    Also, eBay has had similar rules for coins for years now. You can read about their guidelines by clicking here

    Factor Opening Bids Before Placing One

    April 3, 2016 8:58 AM by Michael Bugeja
    ​True, an 1884-CC Morgan dollar ranks among the most popular lots in any online auction, and you can find dozens of these on Proxibid and hundreds on eBay. The coins come in first-, second- and bottom-tier holders as well as government holders from the General Services Administration. GSA dollars are particularly coveted.

    In the 1960s, the US Treasury discovered 3 million uncirculated Morgan dollars in sealed bags. In the 1970s, the dollars were sold to the public. The 1884-CC is the most common of the hoard. It had a mintage of 
    1,136,000 with 962,000, or   84.6% of the run, found in those bags. The majority of these grade MS64, according to PCGS CoinFacts.

    The coin above was offered in a recent Proxibid sale with an opening bid of $600, a 300% mark-up from recent auction prices as listed by PCGS CoinFacts. The coin sells retail for about $275. Add to that Proxibid opening bid a 15% buyer's fee plus shipping and handling--assuming you win the lot with the opening bid--and you're paying hundreds more than the coin is worth.

    You can buy a GSA MS65+ (or with some negotiation, an MS66) for that price on eBay. Here's an example, a rainbow-toned 1884-CC graded MS65+ by NGC in a GSA holder with a $688 buy-it-now price with the option of making a lower offer.

    The Proxibid example has three strikes against it: the high opening bid, the sub-standard photography, and the inconsistent slabbing company. There's no way for me to tell the true grade of the coin, and what appears to be toning can be assessed by a top-tier company as environmental damage.

    One last thing: If you really want an auction lot like this, wait until the session begins online. Sometimes Proxibid auctioneers open with an exaggerated price, wait to see if there are any takers, and then start with a low bid, trying to work up competition and higher hammer prices.