US Coins

Making sense of retail versus wholesale coin pricing

This attractively toned 1936 Long Island Tercentenary half dollar graded Mint State 66 sold at a 2011 auction for $1,380, nearly four times the sight-unseen wholesale price and far in excess of retail price guides.

Images courtesy of HeritageAuctions.com.

Collectors are often confused about the difference between retail and wholesale pricing. Coin World’s Coin Values reports retail prices — the prices that collectors may expect to pay for coins when purchasing them from dealers.

We get these retail prices by looking at dealer fixed-price lists and confirming completed transactions, analyzing the results of public and online auctions, identifying trends in the wholesale markets and what dealers are buying, and listening to and responding to reader comments. Coin Values’ retail prices are for reasonably attractive, accurately graded and problem-free coins. Coins with “plus” grades, “stars” and Certified Acceptance Corp. stickers may trade for premiums.

Retail pricing differs from wholesale pricing in that retail pricing is always higher. Wholesale pricing represents dealer-to-dealer transactions, the prices that dealers pay one another for coins when building inventory or filling client inventories.

With the historical and artistic pleasures of coins notwithstanding, coin dealers are ultimately in business to make money. A markup is made from the wholesale level to the retail level, allowing dealers to be compensated for their efforts.

Price guides cater to either wholesale or retail markets. Wholesale price guides like the weekly Coin Dealer Newsletter (the Greysheet) typically represent sight-seen transactions, meaning that a dealer may return a coin if it is not up to his or her quality standards.

The weekly Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter (the Bluesheet) reports on prices for the sight-unseen market, where dealers place bids on dealer networks and agree to accept any coin meeting the type, date, grade, and certification service — typically Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corp. — regardless of the coin’s eye appeal. The sight-unseen market typically represents a “floor,” with the lowest prices coins are trading for in the market.

While an exceptionally beautifully toned coin may fetch multiples of its retail price when offered at auction, an example in the same grade with thick, unattractive toning or muted luster may sell for little more than sight-unseen bid.

Annual price guides like the Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book) and Coin World’s Guide to U.S. Coins report on retail prices for coins. The Handbook of United States Coins (the Blue Book) lists wholesale prices and gives readers an idea of what a dealer might pay for a coin.

Sadly for collectors, no magic formula exists that indicates what percentage of a coin’s retail price represents a wholesale price or what percentage of Coin Values prices a dealer will pay.

Some coins have tighter buy/sell spreads than others. For example, modern commemorative coins or Proof and Uncirculated Mint sets typically have relatively low spreads between wholesale and retail prices because they’re easy to sell. Other coins that may take more effort to sell and are not as interchangeable will have larger wholesale/retail spreads. ¦


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