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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 'September 2016'

    Check Main Components of GSA Dollars

    September 25, 2016 8:07 AM by Michael Bugeja

    ​Increasingly in online auctions Morgan silver dollars, offered in the 1970s via Government Services Administration and otherwise known as GSA dollars, are being sold on Proxibid and eBay.

    They are a popular item as most hobbyists hope to have at least one in a collection. Thus, they are seldom good buys as bidding typically is strong. (More on that in a later post.)

    Each GSA dollar should come with three main components: a box, a certificate of authenticity, and the coin. Let's talk about each.

    The black box often is damaged. Auctioneers love stickers, and when they put them on the GSA box, they often are there for good. If you try to remove them, you may tear the flimsy black paper covering the cardboard box. That decreases the value, because the box also contains a greeting from President Richard Nixon on the inside cover. Also, the lid to the box should not be detached, but often is, again lowering price.

    The COA has serial numbers in blue. The first two numbers should match the year. Click the photo above and you will see the first two numbers are 85, matching the seller's description, for an 1885-CC dollar. Many sellers and buyers do not know this. You can easily find mismatched COAs and coins like this one selling on eBay. Be careful when bidding on these. Not all GSA dollars were high mint state. Those with significant bag marks had an additional card about condition. Some sellers send in their GSA coins for grading, keep the box and the COA, and replace the high-grade coin with the low-grade one, oblivious that the serial numbers do not match. Of course, sometimes the COAs are simply misplaced by sellers with several GSA coins.

    The coin itself is in a plastic holder. Not all GSA dollars are from Carson City. The label on the plastic holder must state that. If the photographs allow, check the holder for cracks, which also lessens value.

    The major slabbing companies holder GSA dollars. For a long time, PCGS simply put the term GSA on the label. In 2013, the company started holdering them in large plastic slabs that do not fit in the GSA box. You may like that, but I prefer NGC labels on my GSA dollars because the original holder still fits in the box.

    A few other GSA tidbits:

    1. The GSA also sold soft packs of dollars, like this one graded by NGC. These are highly collectible and go for premiums above the coin's value inside.

    2. You can find GSA dollars in original sealed boxes, like this one. Keep in mind "sealed" does not mean "unopened." Hobbyists have all manner of ways to open boxes. That said, I usually take sellers at their word.

    3. See this informative website for more information on GSA dollars including mintages of Carson City ones.

    Finally, do not overbid on GSA dollars. They are plentiful. Take time to assess each component as described here. If photos are lacking, email or message the seller about the condition of the box, holder or COA. And remember, you are buying the coin, not the packaging.


    Vintage Holders Sell for Thousands Online

    September 18, 2016 10:31 PM by Michael Bugeja

    Two of the most coveted vintage holders were auctioned  this weekend  on  Great Collections  and  eBay for a combined $7,189.99. The coins inside were worth less than $200.

    A 1946-D Half Dollar, graded MS65 in a vintage black NGC holder, sold for $3,740 (with buyer’s premium) on Great Collections. There were 56 bids.

    A "Sample" Regency PCGS holder with an uncirculated 1879-S Morgan Dollar sold for $3,449.99 on eBay. There were 34 bids

    The original NGC Black Slab was introduced in 1987, the year the company was founded.  (The company reintroduced a retro Black Slab in 2012 to celebrate its 25th Anniversary.)

    There are an estimated 35 to 200 of these original holders in individual collections. They rarely come on the market, and when they do, they go for exorbitant prices.  

    The Sample Regency slab was offered by Michael Kittle Coins. Kittle, a well-known numismatist who won the ANA Presidential Award in 2014, offered the rare holder through his eBay store.

    Kittle believes the PCGS Regency Sample Slab is unknown to collectors.

    “This was just a lucky find at the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Anaheim and was being sold by the dealer who had it made back in the 1990s,” Kittle stated. “When I put it in my case at that show, I immediately received several offers for the coin, and it got lots of attention.  Because I knew that no Regency sample had been known up until then, I really did not know what a fair retail price for the coin was.  And with so much interest in the piece I figured auctioning it would be the fairest thing to do for all involved.”

    Hours before the eBay auction ended, Kittle thought the coin would sell for at least $1,500. “How much higher than that would be just a wild guess,” he said, noting that NGC vintage Black Slabs sell for $3000 to $4000 with common coins in them. 

    Kittle added that collectors can usually find one of the NGC Black Slabs a few times each year. His PCGS Regency Sample Holder may be the first one offered in 20-plus years.

    The Regency holder is one of the oddest slabs ever produced, and is not immediately recognizable as a PCGS product.

    The holder measures about 5 inches by 3 inches in the middle, narrowing at the top and bottom. As an added attraction, the holder originally came with an emerald green drawstring pouch with a PCGS gold logo.

    “I’m not sure this one ever came with one of the green bags that typically came with the PCGS Regency Holders,” Kittle stated. “This ‘Sample’ version was made by one of the founding members of PCGS who worked with (PCGS founder) David Hall to get it made up at the time.”

    PCGS Sample Slabs are highly collectible. More than 120 sample slabs were on display earlier this year at the Florida United Numismatists convention and at the Long Beach Expo.

    You can visit Sampleslabs.com if interested in viewing some promotional holders over the years for NGC, PCGS and other companies. 

    A more complete catalog of holders can be found in David Schwager’s Sample Slabs. The book has detailed listings for 760 sample and related coin and currency holders. The 620-page catalog is available as a printed softcover or as a PDF and includes more than 900 photographs. See Schwager's website for ordering details.

    You also can find more about the NGC Black Slab and the PCGS Regency holder in my 2013 Coin World article


    Worst Buys in Online Auctions

    September 10, 2016 5:17 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Unfortunately, on Proxibid and eBay you can find these terrible buys--thin brass tokens being passed off as gold, world coins (mostly Mexican and no silver), and worthless gold flake.

    Despite its publicity about policing fake coins, eBay is one of the worst venues for fake California gold. The example in the photo above (click to expand) is in a Proxibid auction, one of more than a dozen similar lots. I report it; nothing gets done.

    These replicas have been short-changing hobbyists (literally) for decades. If you spot a bear on the reverse of a so-called California gold coin, or any other symbol or text without an indication of denomination, such as "dollar," "dol." or even "d," my advice is not to bid. (You can read more about fake California gold in my Home Hobbyist column in Coin World.)

    I reported this lot on Proxibid which has "replica" stamped on the back, but the description still reads California gold. Nothing in those descriptions are true. The brass replica is from China most likely, not gold and not a half dollar.

    World coins in bags on Proxibid most likely were purchased by the pound from a dealer, usually about $10 per bag, and the silver already taken out (if indeed there was any). Then the seller opens the bid at $10, giving you aluminum and copper coins often with the majority from Mexico.

    If you want world coins, see if you can buy them unsearched from a coin dealer.

    One of the worst buys in online auction are so-called vials of gold flake. Vials of gold flake typically hold no gold or low grade gold that disappears in an acid test or disintegrates to near nothing if melted.

    Gold can be shaved to micro thin layers. As I often state, this is not fool’s gold (pyrite) but fools do buy it thinking they are going to make money with a $10 bid. 

    Sellers of fake California gold, world coin bags, and gold flake should take their lots off the portals or at least describe them accurately. 


    Online Photos Require Both Obverse and Reverse

    September 2, 2016 6:14 PM by Michael Bugeja
    This seemingly gem 1891-S Morgan dollar may trigger the click and bid impulse on Proxibid ... until you view the reverse, which happily this seller provides with a sharp photo on the portal. (Click photo to enlarge.)

    So a coin that might have been worth more than $1,500, if reverse was in the same condition as obverse, suddenly plummets to ungradeworthy based on cleaning and ink (?) on the reverse. (The hairlines in the left and right field show the cleaning; the scrawls litter the reverse.)

    The coin's blazing luster may have more to due with Jewel Luster (a dip) than strike, because Morgan dollars rarely if ever retain the sheen of a freshly minted strike, especially if kept in an album, folder, envelope or cabinet. Nonetheless, if the reverse was in the same condition as the obverse here, I'd still bid and take my chances.

    Sad to say that some sellers on Proxibid still only provide obverse of coins. Even more do not include reverse if the coin is graded by a holdering company, despite that being of importance to ascertain overall quality, as a weak reverse strike or ugly toning could affect value.

    Here's an example, a 1953-S Franklin Half Dollar, with only an obverse photo. Yes, the chances are astronomical that the reverse would display full bell lines (FBL), making such a coin worth between $10,000-$20,000 at MS64-65, as only a scant 50 FBL 1953-S halves have been holdered by PCGS; but that is what makes coin hunting exciting and educational. (In the case of a 1953-S Franklin, such a coin would be worth $100 or more if some of the lines on the reverse bell are almost in tact.) As it stands, I cannot bid.

    This post affirms once more the hazards of bidding online--clicking too quickly, imagining the reverse is as pristine as the obverse; or bidding without viewing the reverse. And that applies only to coins whose photos are relatively crisp enough to ascertain condition. If you make a mistake bidding, such as clicking too quickly, you can retract that by telephoning Proxibid customer service. (On eBay, you can retract online as long as the auction is at least 12 hours from time of retraction.)

    The best advice is not to bid if you cannot be sure of the condition. And never believe what the seller or flip states about the condition of a coin unless it is slabbed by a top-tier company such as PCGS, NGC, ANACS or ICG.