US Coins

Q. David Bowers to dealers: Be honest to customers

The Joys of Collecting column from the Feb. 20, 2017, Weekly issue of Coin World:

Last week I started my Wish List for 2017 with No. 1: Fix the coin grading system. Today there is no definition of standards. A coin graded Mint State 64 a year ago might be graded MS-65 by the same third-party service today. Who knows if your MS-65+ Barber half dollar is ugly or beautiful, or if an MS-63 example is nicer?

One idea is to create images of certain coins, as each has its own “fingerprint” — or arrangement of tiny marks, etc. Perhaps fingerprinting technology (of which I know nothing) now in place would help. In that way a given 1794 Liberty Cap cent of the rare Sheldon 48 variety could be imaged in a database as Very Fine 20, or whatever. Of course there would have to be a vetting committee. 

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This might be practical for rarities such as an S-48 cent, but hopeless for commemorative half dollars, or whatever.

As I recently mentioned in this column, I am building a collection of Vermont copper coins of the 1785 to 1788 years. Grades marked on holders have hardly any meaning at all (to verify, check for yourself online). I am studying each coin on its own merits. Of course, this is what I used to do as a leading dealer starting in the 1950s when there were no grading standards. Perhaps, the more things change the more they are the same.

Fix No. 2: Truth in advertising is a huge problem. There is no faster, surer way to kill the enthusiasm of a new collector than by selling him or her coins at multiples of the aftermarket value. Newspapers, television, and telemarketers offer coins that have hardly any resale market. Many consumers do not realize that for most modern Mint products sold at a premium, MS- or Proof 69 or -70 is the rule, not the exception! They are very common. Indeed, most such coins would be rarities in lower grades such as -65 or -66.

Neither the American Numismatic Association nor the Professional Numismatists Guild will take any active interest in this (based upon my inquiries). They will, however, react to specific complaints. The problem is that once someone pays $500 for a coin with a resale value of $100, and complains about it, they are already lost to the hobby. Gone forever.

The answer is the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Dealers: Describe and price coins to newcomers in the same way you would to a relative.

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