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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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but not the holder

Viewers of this blog know that I support Proxibid as a top auction portal for coins. If you know numismatics, especially grading and values, you can score rare coins here for a fraction of the retail cost.

For about a year now, Proxibid has put in play some very important eBay-like rules. I wrote about that last year in this post.

As I have noted, these rules protect the bidder as does the Omaha-based company’s Unified User Agreement:

1. Coin lots cannot display a value greater than $2,500 unless certified by NGC, PCGS, ANACS or ICG.

2. Coins slabbed by these companies can be listed with numerical grades; coins holdered by other companies cannot.

3. The numerical grade cannot appear in the title, description or item details.

Some auctioneers still violate these rules, perhaps unintentionally. Bidders can use a Proxibid link to report the oversight.

Take a close look at the photo above. You can see the vast different in condition between a PCGS-holdered 1879-O Morgan dollar graded MS-66 and the one in the holder on the left with a Proxibid title that includes the numerical grade and the description “Beautiful coin.”

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but not in the holder, according to the UUA. The subjectivity of “beauty” is not the problem; the numerical grade is.

There may be another problem. Last month I questioned how many online auction portals hobbyists really need. I have noticed several Proxibid sellers also listing on HiBid.com and other portals that lack unified terms of service protecting the buyer.

Perhaps those sellers believe that if other portals do not share the same rules as Proxibid, why adhere to those rules at Proxibid. Of course, that is only speculation. The real lesson here concerns your ability to grade.

Grading is part art, part science. It is subjective, but only to a degree.

I encounter the same argument about “subjectivity” in my work as director of a journalism school. Truth, students say, is subjective. Not when truth is defined by fact. Unfortunately for me and other journalism educators, we’re operating in a post-fact era.

Facts do what we want them to.

And that’s what is troubling about numerical grades in lesser-known or even self-slabbed holders that suggest a potentially silver-melt coin is worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Unless the coin is holdered by a top grading company, use your numismatic knowledge to determine grade and value. If your knowledge is not fully developed, read numismatic publications like Coin World, join local coin clubs and attend coin shows.

The decision to crack down on hyped descriptions, often involving self-slabbed coins, came in light of a Texas federal court decision that awarded to a fraud victim’s estate almost $2 million. You can read about the decision here.

 

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