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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 'June 2016'

    Polished, Deep-Mirror and Questionable Lots

    June 25, 2016 7:17 PM by Michael Bugeja
    One of the challenges in online auctions hosted by Proxibid concerns sellers who do not describe the condition of a coin, relying on bidders to make that determination. I encountered that in a June 25 auction by Fox Valley Coins.

    Click and expand the photo above. The first coin is an 1882-CC Morgan, obviously polished; the second is a deep-mirror proof-like 1880-S Morgan; and the third is a questionable 1883-CC Morgan.

    Both Carson City dollars were included in the Fox Valley auction. No descriptions were provided. 

    People polish coins for various reasons and with various instruments. Some want to pass a coin off as proof-like, hide flaws, or remove tarnish or stains. Suffice to say they damage the coin, drastically decreasing its value. The 1882-CC coin depicted here sold for $140 with a 20% buyer's fee, or $168. In my view, it is worth no more than $50-75. 

    I won the 1883-CC questionable Morgan with a bid of $160, or a realized price of $192.

    The deep-mirror proof-like 1880-S was not in the Fox Valley auction and used only to show the difference between a polished coin and DMPL (pronounced "dimple."). The polished coin lacks luster, has bag marks and rim gashes on the upper cheek, below and to the left of the ear, and in the left field. It is not uncirculated. A true DMPL coin has to have mirrors that reflect 6 inches or more on both sides of the coin--a topic for another day.

    The questionable coin that I won is not polished; but it may have been dipped. I won't know for a week or more when I receive the coin. I took a chance because there is really no reason to tamper with true uncirculated Carson City dollars that mostly came out of surplus Treasury bags in the 1970s. They are beautiful enough without dipping.

    I'll let you know if my gamble paid off in a future post.

    Before bidding on a coin that may have been polished, study the luster to see if it has a painted-one shine rather than mirror-like surface. Look for damage or remnants of tarnish that may have prompted the owner to buff the coin with a Dremel or other machine. Take a chance on a questionable coin only if it has other aspects of value, such as a Carson City mint mark and/or low mintage.

    PCGS WTC Coins in Online Auctions

    June 21, 2016 7:53 AM by Michael Bugeja
    Some 15 years ago after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers, several vaults of silver, gold and rare coins were recovered and taken to PCGS for grading. A special American flag label was created, and thousands of coins released to the public for purchase.

    Although many denominations were slabbed, the most popular remains the American Silver Eagle, a symbol of strength with its ageless obverse design patterned after Adolph A. Weinman "Walking Liberty" half dollar. 

    Controversy arose initially about the purchasing of WTC coins in light of the catastrophe that claimed the lives of 2,996 people with thousands more injured and later diagnosed with illnesses from the dust and debris, especially police and firefighters who responded to the scene.

    Many hobbyists defend their desire to collect WTC-slabbed coins as a token to remember the tragedy or to own a piece of history. Others prefer to purchase a US Mint 10-year anniversary medal whose surcharges went to the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum. 

    That said, PCGS-slabbed WTC coins go for large premiums above their silver content. Many sell for about $100-$150 on Proxibid and about $150-$200 on eBay.

    In general, the coins should not contain any spotting or toning. Those that do go for less. Any PCGS slab marked MS69 rather than brilliant uncirculated also sell for higher premiums. Some from numbered sets (as in the photo above) also sell for slightly higher premiums, especially with a Number 1. 

    Good Photos Without Descriptions Also Mislead

    June 11, 2016 9:21 AM by Michael Bugeja
    You find situations like this occasionally on Proxibid, and when you do, you remember it, as I will with this won coin in a recent auction.

    Click the above photo and take a look at the left photo of a 1960 Franklin Half. All the auctioneer listed was the date and denomination. Curiously, he cropped the flip. 

    I always caution online bidders to disregard the oft-exaggerated descriptions on the flip which typically hype the grade and attributes of the coins. In this case, however, the description on the flip (see right coin photo, which I just took) would have helped. I never would have bid on the lot.

    If the coin in question was an MS65 or 66 uncirculated business strike 1960 Franklin half, its worth would be anywhere between $80 and $750 as opposed to $20-30 for a proof strike. Worse, look closely at the left field of the proof coin. It is impaired, rendering this coin as silver melt.

    There is no way to fight against this kind of situation except to be wary the next time bidding in a particular auction. I certainly won't bid anymore in this auction unless I can view the description, and then I would be placing low-balls because my trust in the seller has been undermined by this transaction.

    He probably didn't mean to mislead. Often auctioneers outsource photos. Because sellers have other duties, they sometimes take shortcuts on descriptions. So I am not accusing him here. What I am stating, however, is the end result was misleading and that has an impact on return customers.

    Also this example goes to show once more the risks of bidding online on uncertified coins, even if you possess the skill to know grade and condition. 

    Always Check Old Capital Holders for Gems

    June 4, 2016 6:54 PM by Michael Bugeja
    In an April 1, 2016 auction hosted by Proxibid, I bid $6 and won three steel cents in a Capital coin holder. My maximum bid was $30, but the competition wasn't keen for what many buyers believed were common cents.

    Smart buyers rely on common sense. They check out old Capital holders for gem coins inside the black or white plastic holders adorned with gold lettering. That was the case here.

    I scored a bargain and immediately sent the 1943-D to PCGS where it graded MS66 (although I was hoping for MS67).  

    Fortunately for me, auctioneer Sheena Wallace of Auctions by Wallace provides clear photos and several of them, too, on almost every lot. I could tell from the photo of the 1943-D obverse that I had discovered a hidden gem--literally. 

    Capital holders are manufactured by Capital Plastics, an Ohio company. It was founded in 1952. Early on the intent was to preserve medals from World War II but soon the company was making molds for all manner of coins.

    Often you find dozens of Capital holders in estate auctions whose collections were amassed before third-party grading companies became popular. Even in the 1980s and early 1990s many hobbyists still preferred uncertified coins that they could view raw on occasion. Capital holders have plastic screws that easily come off for such viewing.

    Of course, Capital holders are popular to this day. Often hobbyists store inferior coins in them, ones returned from grading companies or that contain flaws, but otherwise are desirable. The key to finding hidden gems is in the estate auction with older holders whose screws bear tell-tale signs of yellowing from decades of storage.

    Those are the ones I search for and others overlook.