• Michael Bugeja

    Online Coin Auctions

    Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood and professor of journalism, guides new and beginning collectors through fun-packed and enriching experiences in "Home Hobbyist."

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    • Identify questionable practices in online auctions

      Feb 16, 2018, 16:58 PM by
      If considering bidding online, read service terms carefully (and check them again periodically). Identify favorite sellers, ignoring others with questionable practices and patronizing ones with decent practices.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      I have been bidding on the internet portal Proxibid for more than seven years, but increasingly have noticed fewer decent auctions there with good potential buys.

      How do I define “decent”? A buyer’s fee of 15 percent or less, with no opening bids, desirable consignments and reasonable shipping. I can tolerate buyer’s fees approaching 18 percent. Anything over that must be accompanied by sharp coin photography, great customer service, alluring consignments and inexpensive shipping.

      I still recommend Proxibid for buyers without extensive numismatic knowledge because of its excellent customer service department and Unified User Agreement that holds buyer and seller alike accountable.

      I used to bid on a dozen or more Proxibid auctions per month. Now I patronize only a handful. My motive is to find raw coins and holder and consign them, sharing what I learn with you. I break even most of the time, bidding in Weaver Coin and Currency Auctions, Silver City, Rolling M, Capitol Coin, McKee Coins, Hampton House, Blue Diamond and a few occasional others.

      Of the 100 or so hosted sessions at Proxibid, several by the same company at any given time, I am seeing these questionable practices:

      • ·        Auctioneer or employee bidding.
      • ·        Auctioneers seeing maximum bids.
      • ·        High shipping and handling fees.
      • ·        Lots listed with retail opening bids.
      • ·        Poor numismatic photography.
      • ·        Buyer's fees above 20 percent.

      I do not bid in auctions that allow the auctioneer or employee, seller or agent to place bids. Thankfully, Proxibid requires them to post a notice, assuming you read the terms of service.

      I also do not bid anymore on auctions that see maximum bids. That’s just not fair nor in the spirit of an auction. Again, Proxibid also requires a notice be posted about that practice in a company’s terms of service.

      And then there is shipping. One auction company that schedules several sessions per month on Proxibid charges a minimum of about $60 per coin shipment. Another company charges a high handling fee of $12.95 per item with a 19.75 percent buyer’s premium.

      Even one of my previous favorite sellers has increased his buyer’s premium to 21 percent; I can understand that if his margins are too low and Proxibid fees too high (in his opinion). But now he also typically opens each lot at wholesale “Coin Dealer Newsletter Greysheet” values. With buyer’s fees added on, totals reach retail values. If you’re charging high premiums, open lots at zero or $1.

      And then there are several sellers that charge 15 percent buyer’s fee with no opening bids and reasonable shipping. But you waste time bidding on their lots, only to see they were sold “onsite.” If so, those buyers must also be consignors because those very lots later appear in auction by the same company.

      I’ll do a future post on “no-reserve auctions that aren’t.”

      The lesson here is to read service terms carefully (and check them again periodically) and identify favorite sellers on Proxibid, ignoring others with questionable practices and patronizing ones with decent practices.

    • 1922 Peace dollar in MS-66 sells for almost $9K

      Feb 5, 2018, 15:58 PM by
      For some reason, 1922 Peace dollars tone — and sell — well.

      Original image by Legend Rare Coins, provided by Michael Bugeja.

      On Jan. 25, 2018, this 1922 Peace Dollar with rainbow toning sold with an $8,812.50 bid, more than $8,400 above its $400 retail price, according to PCGS.

      Peace dollars do not tone the way Morgan dollars do, in fantastic rainbow and circus colors. So any Peace dollar that contains rainbow toning, like the one that sold for almost $9,000 at Legend’s Regency Auction XXV, is sure to attract bids.

      Before the auction, Legend estimated the value at $750 to $850, writing:

      “You have likely NEVER seen a Peace dollar of any date toned like this! At the top of the obverse a narrow band of rainbow iridescence then blends to wider bands of violet, gold and light blue. The luster is about as brilliant as can be expected for a 22 Peace and the strike sharp and complete throughout. …” 

      Impurities in silver can trigger patina. Some 270 million Morgan dollars were melted according to tenets of the 1918 Pittman Act, with about 11 million melted silver dollars used to generate U.S. coinage, including Peace dollars. Perhaps that mixture had something to do with general lack of toning in the 1921 to 1935 series. 

      But as an observer of online auctions, I can tell you that, for the Peace dollar, the issue most likely to tone well is from 1922. I have seen several, though not as spectacular as the Legend coin. I even own a toned MS-65 1922 example, which you can view here. 

      You can usually find toned Peace dollars in online estate sales, especially if those coins were kept in albums. I just won two 1922 coins and one 1923 in such an auction for less than $200, and PCGS just slabbed them at MS-63 and MS-64. Though not as lovely as the Legend specimen or my gem 1922 coin, these surely will bring a premium when I consign them in auction, especially since they will have TrueView imaging — a good investment if you keep your coins in a bank box like I do.

    • Photoshopping whizzed coins

      Jan 25, 2018, 16:34 PM by
      Poor numismatic photography or alteration of photos remains an online bidding risk, as this whizzed 1880-O Morgan dollar, photoshopped and offered as Uncirculated, demonstrates. Once a potential condition rarity, its surfaces were "improved," degrading any value to that of its silver content alone.
      Someone with too much time on their hands or with little numismatic knowledge decided to insert a brush into a drill and “whizz” an Almost Uncirculated coin to make it look Mint State.

      Take a close look at the photo on the left. It’s difficult to tell that this coin was doctored. The fields look clean and there is ample luster. Now compare it to the photo on the right, and you can see the effects of dipping (or chemical alteration) combined with whizzing.

      I can verify that this coin was doctored in such fashion because I was the unlucky buyer. I paid less than $60 for the coin, but in my opinion, its value is silver melt.

      This is yet another example of how risky it is to bid online, unless you know what you are doing, and even then, as with this example, there is a steep downside.

      If I had seen this coin at a show, or shop, I would not have given it a second glance and would have told the seller to mark it as doctored. But you cannot do that in online auctions. All sales are final, no matter what the seller says about the coin.

      In this case, the seller—an estate auctioneer—was courteous enough to call me at home after I informed him that the coin had been whizzed. He explained that he could not verify grades but would take back the coin anyway, if I wanted, as I was a first-time buyer on his site.

      I explained that I knew the auction rules and would not return the coin, primarily because it probably would be re-introduced as Uncirculated, only to go to another disappointed hobbyist.

      As for the numismatics of the topic, the 1880-O Morgan is allusive in Mint State. It has a mintage of 5,305,000 and is a condition rarity: prices at MS-63 are in the $400s but at MS-64, more than $1,400.

      There are bargains out there on this date and mint, but obviously, mine wasn’t one. 

    • Grading key to big online wins

      Jan 19, 2018, 15:02 PM by
      Any serious Morgan aficionado knows not only that the 1889-O is a condition rarity in high Mint State but also must know how to grade, to determine what the coin in high Mint State grades looks like.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      In October 2017, I reported in this post on an uncertified 1889-O Morgan dollar I won with a $330 realized bid on the portal Proxibid. With only a tenth of the 11,875,000 examples of the coin struck that year surviving today, few such coins are preserved in the relatively high Mint State that this particular coin appeared to be in.

      I predicted that this coin would grade as Mint State 64 or MS-65. As you can see from the PCGS certification number, the dollar graded MS-64+, making it worth $1,250 retail.

      In Uncirculated grades, prices go up dramatically, from about $300 in MS-62 to more than $4,000 in MS-65.

      The coin fell short of gem condition because of a typical weak strike and a faint scuff mark on the obverse at about 10 o’clock. The reverse is an easy MS-65, but PCGS pays more attention to the obverse in Morgan dollars, so a clean field was necessary for the premium grade.

      To score big in online auctions, you have to know grading standards, not only for specific coins, but also grading criteria of your preferred holdering company.

      PCGS, for example, defines MS-64 or Proof 64 as suitable for a coin with an “average or better strike with scattered marks or hairlines, though none severe,” while coins earning an MS- or PR-65 grade will have “above average strike with minor marks or hairlines, mostly out of focal areas.”

      My scuff was in a focal area, explaining the 64+.

      You also should know that big wins such as this happen infrequently. In the whole of last year, with my bidding on hundreds of coins (mostly failing to win, as I never bid above current auction prices, available on PCGS CoinFacts), I can claim only a dozen or so such numismatic prizes. Those were offset by bad bets on coins, typically caused by poor photography by sellers.

      It goes without saying that the best way to ascertain condition is to hold the coin, in person, by the rim in good lighting at a coin shop or show.

      Thus, bid wisely!

    • The $50-bid rule

      Jan 10, 2018, 16:54 PM by
      Rules may be "made to be broken," but sometimes breaking one reminds you just why you made the rule in the first place. Hopefully you don't lose too much in the process.

      Original image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Recently I violated my $50-bid rule, which cautions against placing a bid in an online auction on any coin worth less than that minimum amount.

      Essentially, the rule eliminates most common-date Uncirculated Peace dollars and lowball Morgan dollars, and a host of other denominations, especially cents.

      Here’s the reasoning behind the rule: If you win one item, you’re going to pay fees to receive it, including buyer’s premium and shipping. Some auctions require as much as $25 minimum to ship, and a few even more than that, charging for their “labor” and packing materials, even though the materials they use are free via the U.S. Postal Service.

      So if the lot is worth $25, and you win it, you’re going to pay double what you could for the same coin if you purchased it for its retail price at a local or online coin shop.

      Every now and then, though, I am tempted to break that rule. I did that this month with a modest $20 bid in a Hibid.com auction, winning the 1903 Indian Head cent depicted above. I bid on this along with several other high-priced lots, losing the latter and winning only this one coin.

      I broke my rule because the description read “toned coin,” with the photo showing what looked like magenta hues. The photo wasn’t great, but I have seen that toning on Uncirculated cents before when they have been kept in envelopes, so I thought the risk was worth breaking the rule.

      It wasn’t. The coin is cleaned and Almost Uncirculated, not Mint State, and the toning is dull. The lot is worth about $3 (if that).

      Thankfully, the auctioneer only charged $3 for mailing. I know some auctioneers that would have charged a much larger amount. Still, my loss was more than $20 my bid plus fees.

      Rules are meant for breaking. That is true. When you create a rule, you do so because you have learned from experience about bad buys. When you break that rule, you’re reminded why you created it in the first place.

      It’s all about continuing numismatic education!

    • Another swapped-out Tidy House Peace dollar

      Dec 21, 2017, 13:56 PM by
      This 1923-D Peace dollar was offered recently in an online auction, displayed in packaging that identifies the former occupant as a Morgan dollar. See enlarged text in next image.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Last year I blogged here about a toned Peace dollar in a Tidy House cardboard holder and cautioned viewers to be careful about swapped-out coins, in this case, replacing a Morgan dollar.

      The Tidy House advertising states: "DID YOU KNOW ... that your uncirculated SILVER DOLLAR is the famous "MORGAN" SILVER DOLLAR, named for its designer George T. Morgan?"

      As you can see, the coin being auctioned in the Tidy House holder above is a 1923-D Peace dollar, which was not designed by Morgan but by Anthony de Francisci.

      Peace dollars do not tone well, when they do tone at all. Tidy House Morgan dollars, in their original packaging, interact with those cardboard holders, causing many to tone in spectacular colors. Most of these dollars are common-date 1880s coins, often from the New Orleans mint. 

      In the 1960s, Tidy House got its coins from U.S. Mint, purchasing $1,000 Morgan dollar bags at cost for an advertising premium.

      Tidy House also had promotions for the 1964 Kennedy half dollar, and those also tone well. Unethical sellers take out those toned halves, too, and replace them with untoned or damaged ones for resale.

      Why would someone tamper with a Tidy House coin package? The motive may be money. They can take out the colorful Morgan and replace it with an artificially or questionably toned Peace dollar. They keep or sell the toned Morgan and count on hobbyists being willing to pay high prices for a potentially rainbow-toned Peace dollar, because they are so scarce.

      Coin World often covers toned Peace dollars that sell above their condition value, as when a 1926 toned example at MS-65 sold for $1,292.50 at a Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ 2015 Baltimore Expo auction.

      When I wrote about swapped-out Tidy House coins in 2016, the example I featured was also a 1926 Peace dollar. This time it is a 1923-D example.

      To be fair, I do not know if the Peace dollar depicted above is artificially toned. But it’s questionable. On the bright side, perhaps a collector took out the Morgan and replaced it with a Peace dollar and the cardboard genuinely interacted with it over a number of years.

      Someone will take the bait, I’m sure. I’m also sure that I won’t bid on it.

    • Slabbing and consigning Littleton sets

      Dec 8, 2017, 16:08 PM by
      Depicted at top is an image of a coin, now graded, from the Littleton set presented below, showcasing rainbow toning. The graded coin is the coin at left in the set.

      Images provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Last month I wrote about “Swapped Out Littleton New Orleans Morgan Sets,” noting how desirable original sets are, primarily because of the toning that typically occurs when the silver interacts with the velvet casing. In that column I cautioned online buyers to make sure that the coins were toned and Uncirculated, because unscrupulous collectors take out the toned coins, replacing them with inferior circulated ones dated 1883-O, 1884-O and 1885-O.

      I provided a photo of such a tampered set.

      You can purchase original sets from the Littleton company for $345, but you also can find good buys in Internet auctions.

      The photo above shows an original set on the bottom and a recently holdered coin from that set, graded Mint State 63 by PCGS.

      I won the set with a $140 bid, or $165 with shipping and buyer’s premium. The coins were beautifully toned. All three graded a very conservative MS-63, although the 1883-O depicted in the photo here looks MS-64+ or even MS-65, in my view.

      I was disappointed in the PCGS grades. It looked like a quick job without much deliberation, which sometimes happens. Clearly, the 1883-O was much finer with fewer marks than the 1884-O and 1885-O. In retrospect, I should have cracked it out and resubmitted. But I wanted to get the coins to market.

      If you think that is the opinion of a hobbyist, the market decided who was right, PCGS grades notwithstanding. Consigned to eBay, the 1883-O coin sold for $100, the 1884-O for $67.85, and the 1885-O for $77.

      It could have been a bigger payday if the grades were MS-64, but you have to take into account slabbing fees. So in the end, my $160 Littleton set, with holdering and mailing fees added, came to about $200.

      After paying my eBay consignment fees, my net profit was a meager $15.

      But at least several hobbyists got great coins at bargain online prices. 

    • Ignoring some online auctions

      Nov 30, 2017, 16:49 PM by
      Read terms of service before bidding, or pay the piper (auctioneer).

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Dozens of coin auctions are available each week on Proxibid, HiBid.com, eBay and other portals, which I visit almost every day, to see the selections available via Internet.

      But I routinely ignore several of those auctions.

      For example, seldom, if ever, will I patronize auctions on Proxibid that warn with these disclaimers:

      PLEASE READ: At the request of the auction company, this auction permits bids to be placed by the auctioneer, an employee of the auctioneer, or the seller or an agent on the seller’s behalf. While Proxibid’s Unified User Agreement prohibits this behavior, in accordance with UCC 2-328, this auction is permitted to engage in this activity by providing this clear disclosure to you, the bidder.

      PLEASE READ: This auction company has requested and been granted access to see all bids placed including any maximum pre-bids. This auction is permitted to engage in this activity by providing this clear disclosure to you, the bidder.

      You never know if the auctioneer is running up a bid primarily because he sees your maximum and is allowed to shill bid. At least Proxibid tells you that in the terms of service for each seller. HiBid.com does not. That’s a risk you take if patronizing online auctions on that portal. I routinely question auctioneers about what they see and do during online sessions. They don’t like that. But that’s too bad.

      And I rarely bid aggressively on online auctions that charge a 20 percent buyer’s premium. These auctioneers will never learn. Consider the math: 15 percent of $1,000 is $150; 20 percent of $700 is $140. Your chances of sparking a bidding war at 20 percent are considerably less.

      And I have a bone to pick with coin dealer auctions that charge 20 percent premiums but do not provide descriptions of what is cleaned or otherwise damaged. Say what? You charge 20 percent, and I know you. I know you can grade and provide a reliable numismatic description, but you’re not doing that. What could be your motive? Perhaps that hobbyists will bid according to their skill level, and you’re hoping they will overbid for a problem lot?

      I say it’s better to bid on Heritage, Great Collections, Legend, or Stacks. At least they tell you what you’re getting for your money.

      Then there is shipping. A few Proxibid sellers have outrageous shipping charges. One warns that you’ll pay a “minimum approximately $60.00” for a small package. Another warns in all capital letters: “IMPORTANT- YOU MAY NOT COMBINE PURCHASES TO SAVE ON SHIPPING; HOWEVER, SOME ITEMS MAY BE SHIPPED TO YOU IN THE SAME MAILING PACKAGE.”

      I won’t bother looking at their catalogs.

      Some Internet auctions on HiBid.com do not ship and will not allow bidders to contract with a third-party shipper. No shipping. Period. When I inquired why, the auctioneer emailed, “Too many mail scams out there.”

      Why, then, are you selling on an Internet portal if you cannot ship, “no exceptions?”!

      Another HiBid.com seller requires wire transfers, with the buyer paying both banks. Nope.

      Then there are coin dealer auctions that never sell lots below wholesale gray sheet. They claim an onsite buyer bought the lot, but then will recycle the same coin in a future auction. Nice. I only bid here if I really want the coin.

      I have several favorite auction companies that sell on Proxibid and HiBid.com. I won’t share those with you. But they have this in common:

      1. A buyer’s premium below 20%.

      2. Reasonable or inexpensive shipping.

      3. Accurate numismatic descriptions.

      4. Real auctions where maximum bids are not seen and shill bidding is not allowed.

      Always check the buyer ratings on eBay before bidding. 

    • Risky online buys: boxed Proof sets

      Nov 13, 2017, 15:29 PM by
      This box set lacks the dime and has been tampered with.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      I like to bid on 1950 to 1955 Proof sets packaged in boxes, as the photo above attempts to depict. You can find them regularly in online auctions on such portals as Proxibid, HiBid.com and eBay.

      The set’s coins, each thinly wrapped in cellophane, as depicted above, often sport vivid toning within the cardboard that houses them.

      Every now and then, though, I come across a box that has been tampered with, as was the case with this 1950 set (depicted above), won with a bid of $495 plus 15% buyer’s fee.

      When I got the box, I was disappointed. The contents had been tampered with. The most expensive coin, the half dollar, which when slabbed can be worth hundreds of dollars, had been replaced with a lesser Proof half that had a pin scratch. Same with the quarter.

      How could that be, you ask? Someone used a razor to slit the cellophane, took out the original half dollar and then put the impaired one in its place.

      The quarter had the same damage and slit cellophane.

      Worse, as you can see (or more likely, can’t see) from the auction screenshot above —look closely there—the dime was missing. This is one of the drawbacks of online bidding. You can only discern so much from non-numismatic photos and must go by descriptions. Even so, when a coin product has been tampered with and you cannot see it but win it, all sales are final.

      That said, the cent was spectacular, and I collect rainbow Proof cents.

      So I telephoned the auction company, PPI, out of New Jersey, and explained the situation. I did not blame the consignor. These sets have been kicking around for decades, and it would have been unfair to level such a charge.

      And I have done business with PPI before and respect the company, which contacted the consignor, who had another 1950 box set, which I offered to buy, for $450, providing there was no buyer’s fee and the company shipped to my location for free.

      This was agreed upon, and I soon should get the replacement set.

      The lesson here is difficult. It was so easy to miss the missing dime from the photo, and who would have guessed that someone would have slit and replaced two Proof coins?

      The upside, however, is the auction company. I buy only from ethical, trusted dealers. PPI falls into that category.

      I’ll report on the new set when I receive it.

    • Swapped-out coins in Littleton sets

      Oct 27, 2017, 16:43 PM by
      Over the years, the Littleton Coin Company has sold many sets of silver dollars, with one of the most popular being the New Orleans Silver Collection. Of the two sets depicted above, one is a swapped-out set (background), while the other is the real deal.

      Original images provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Over the years, the Littleton Coin Company has sold many sets of silver dollars, with one of the most popular being the New Orleans Silver Collection, depicted above.

      While you can still order these sets from the company for $345, hobbyists typically seek older versions of the assembled Uncirculated sets, for the rich toning that occurs from the silver coins residing in the velvet-like casing.

      Of the two sets depicted above, the one at top is a swapped-out set, and the one below, which I recently won in an online auction with a bid of $140, is the real deal.

      It doesn’t take a numismatic detective to figure out what occurred in the top set, offered in a HiBid.com online auction. Someone removed the beautifully toned coins and replaced them with lower grade untoned dollar coins with the same common dates: 1883-O, 1884-O and 1885-O.

      This type of swapping occurs frequently with coin sets, especially Double Mint sets (1947-1958), which we discussed in a previous post. The cardboard holders from the U.S. Mint also are known to tone those coins in rich hues. Unscrupulous sellers take out those toned coins and replace them with untoned, typically dipped ones, full of luster and deception.

      To be sure, sellers have a right to swap out coins that they own. But bidders also need to know what to be on the lookout for, especially since few online auctions will state that originally housed coins have been replaced.

      The point of this post is two-fold: Be wary whenever placing a bid, and look for older Littleton sets with rainbowed coins in the three-slot holder.

      As for me, I will be sending mine in for holdering and may report on the results in a future Coin World blog post.

    • Scoring big in online auctions — maybe

      Oct 20, 2017, 16:17 PM by
      A winning $330 realized bid on this 1889-O Morgan dollar may have been worth risking. Of the coin's generous mintage of 11,875,000, only about a tenth survived, and most circulated. That makes gem examples, like this one seems to be, difficult to locate, and pricey when certified.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      I won this gem-looking coin in an Oct. 9 auction by Hampton House, selling through the online portal Proxibid. I risked $330 ($300 bid with 10% buyer’s premium) because it looked like it would qualify to be graded Mint State 64 or MS-65.

      I just received the coin in the mail. In hand, it looks exactly like the photo, so I am hoping my bid pays off. I have sent it to PCGS for slabbing and will let you know in a future column when I receive the grade.

      The 1889-O Morgan dollar has a generous mintage of 11,875,000. Only about a tenth of that has survived, with many lost to the melting pot, pursuant to the 1918 Pittman Act. The real reason for scarcity in high grades is that millions were released to the general population, so, in all grades up to About Uncirculated, the coin is available for a modest price.

      In Uncirculated grades, prices go up dramatically, from about $300 in MS-62 to more than $4,000 in MS-65.

      I feel my coin has a shot at gem, but may be graded MS-64 because of its weak strike, although the weak strike is typical for the New Orleans Mint’s coins of that year.

      As is typical with Morgan dollars, the reverse is a clear MS-65. But the overall grade usually depends on the condition of the obverse. In this coin, there are a few scant bag marks in the left obverse field, but those are negligible. So, I am hoping for a superior grade.

      This is why online bidding on raw coins requires numismatic expertise, as developed by those who read Coin World, both its print and Internet features. Many bidders do not know about the scarcity of the 1889-O Morgan dollar, and those who do may not be willing to bid high as I did, as I have faith in my numismatic ability.

    • 1890-CC Morgan, Tailbar $1 usually an online bargain

      Oct 10, 2017, 12:27 PM by
      This 1890-CC Morgan, Tailbar dollar with a deep die gouge demands a premium.

      Original image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Hobbyists who can rely on their own advanced knowledge of numismatics often can score big in online coin auctions, primarily because they know varieties that demand premiums, including among 1890-CC Morgan dollars.

      Internet bidding may seem as if all is new; but the age-old maxim that “knowledge is power” still rules and translates to acquisition power when you’re hoping to score quality coins at a discount for your collection.

      Case in point: The 1890-CCMorgan has the highest recorded mintage of any dollar in the Carson City Mint series, with 2,309,041 coins struck. However, almost half of that total — or more than a million coins — was melted under the 1918 Pittman Act.

      Much of the remaining mintage was released into circulation, so lower-grade examples are plentiful, selling for about $100 or less for a Very Good 10 or Fine 12.

      The coin with the reverse depicted above grades About Fine or thereabouts, but its value is much more than the average 1890-CC Morgan dollar because of a prominent die gouge, an indentation possibly caused by damage from a tool, on the reverse die that struck it.

      Hobbyists call the result on the 1890-CC dollar coin a “tailbar” because a bar seems to extend from the right tail feathers of the eagle.

      If you bid $100 on this coin, you would double your money at Fine 12. Find one in About Uncirculated 58, almost Uncirculated, and you could be looking at a $1,000 coin.

      Varieties challenge many collectors. This particular variety is also known as 1890-CC VAM-4, discovered in 1951. The term VAM comes from the last-name initials of Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis, authors of The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars.

      One closing point about the 1890-CC Tailbar coin and online bidding: Several Hibid.com auctioneers still do not post photos of reverses, so that would rule out finding and bidding on such bargains from those sellers, not only of this variety but also a host of others.

    • You bought that coin … TWICE!

      Sep 15, 2017, 14:34 PM by
      Winning back a coin from a different seller, months after you consigned it elsewhere, is a particular kind of experience — numismatic déjà vu.

      Original image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      I collect toned silver American Eagles. Avidly. In fact, I have one of the finest collections assembled, some 50 coins, many of which I have posted on the PCGS showcase site. Photos are important because, while I keep my collections at the local bank, this way, I get to visit them regularly.

      Click here for the public view.

      I also consign my doubles on Proxibid and eBay. That’s when I get into trouble.

      For instance, I consigned a rainbowed 1998 silver American Eagle to Great Toning, whose seller lists on eBay. It was bought and then relisted a few weeks later by another eBay seller. I saw it online, didn’t make the connection that I once owned it, and—you guessed it—got it again.

      So back it went to Great Toning and to another seller.

      Buying back your own coins rather defeats the purpose of consigning. And it gets expensive, too, with fees and shipping.

      The experience just happened again!

      The silver American Eagle depicted above is back on Proxibid with one of my favorite sellers. A few months ago, I consigned the coin. Bought back the coin. And now I am consigning again.

      In the event that you consign a coin and accidentally bid on and win it, you are obligated to pay both buyer and seller fees in addition to shipping. And of course, you should never bid on your own coins intentionally, because that is prohibited by many sellers and online auctions.

      In the end, winning back a coin from a different seller — months after you consigned it elsewhere — is a particular kind of experience. I call it numismatic déjà vu.

    • Bad online auction buys

      Sep 7, 2017, 16:41 PM by
      Why bid on these questionable lots?

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Every week, I see lots that virtually guarantee a bidder will lose money by placing almost any bid. I’ve written before on excessive opening bids, hyped lots in self-slabbed holders and fake California gold.

      You can find all of these regularly on Proxibid, eBay and HiBid.

      In today’s post, I will share bad auction buys that do not necessarily fall into those categories.

      Click and expand the above photo of silver quarters, Bison currency, no-date nickels and a gold flake vial.

      Take a close look at those quarters, purportedly silver. They very well might be, but then you’ll pay shipping and buyer’s premiums and be tasked with removing paste and paper. In general, if you want to buy silver, consider reputable dealers such as Apmex and buy in bulk for a few dollars over the spot price at time of order.

      Always put silver in a bank box if you are considering a bulk order. Home insurance usually doesn’t cover precious metals.

      The 1901 $10 Bison note, a coveted piece of currency, also is depicted in the photo above. This example has been put through the wringer, literally. It appears to have been saturated with water, probably in a flood, and has ink stains, wrinkles and rust. Yes, you might be able to snare this for $100-$150 rather than paying between $800-$1,000 for an authenticated one in Very Fine condition. But when you show this note to others, especially non-hobbyists, they will exclaim, “What happened to it?”

      General rule: Avoid damaged coins and currency that prompts that question. When the damage is greater than the design, however beautiful, the lot usually is not worth a bid. Save up and buy the one you really want in presentable condition.

      Then we have no-date buffalo nickels. The ones in the photo also have PVC damage from being stored in soft vinyl flips. Why bid on these when you can get buffalo nickels with dates for a few dollars at any coin shop or antiques store?

      I’ve written before about rip-off vials of gold flake that typically hold no gold or low-grade gold flaked so thinly that the metal disappears in an acid test or disintegrates to near nothing if melted.

      But increasingly I am seeing these vials in online auctions. Often, they are offered for $8 per vial while containing only about 20 cents of low-grade gold. That’s a nifty profit for the seller and a bad buy for you.

      The best advice is to bid on lots you really want, save if you cannot afford them at the moment, and remember that other auctions are coming online daily with desirable coins and currency.

    • Descriptions, certifications sometimes baffle

      Sep 7, 2017, 15:57 PM by
      This one lot caused a lot of online consternation.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      As a rule, I check out service terms of online auctions as well as certifications from major holdering companies, to guard against fake holders and counterfeit coins. I also can use PCGS CoinFacts and NGC Price Guide auction values to help me make a reasonable bid.

      This 1861 gold $2½ quarter eagle in a HiBid auction above caught my attention because of the description: “Confederate Era.” In my view, that phrase was unnecessary, but the lot was posted shortly after the recent uproar about Confederate statues. Yes, it is true 1861 happened during the Civil War —  but I would have preferred that term rather than the phrase used, especially since this gold coin was minted in Philadelphia.

      Nonetheless, a fact is a fact, and so I restrained the impulse to send a note to the auctioneer.

      This auction uses flat bids, which means you enter a bid indicating how much you’re willing to pay. For example, say I entered $600 for this coin: It doesn’t matter if the last bid was $500 with no one else willing to go higher. I would pay $600, flat. This type of bidding moves the auction along quickly, and some buyers even prefer it.

      Before placing a bid, I went to the NGC certification page and typed in the numbers. NGC certification has an added component, now. You not only have to put in the cert, hyphen and numbers, as in 608498-002; you also have to put in the grade, MS61. That’s taking more time than I like, but I do it as a matter of personal policy. I trust NGC.

      The coin was graded by NGC, but the price guide value was not available. (I notified NGC about this, so the value might have been added by the time you read this. NGC is always open to amending situations like this, which I appreciate.)

      However, because the NGC value was not available, I went to PCGS CoinFacts and found that this particular coin has a “new” and “old” reverse. The NGC label doesn’t indicate that, but PCGS  Coinfacts states: The Old Reverse has an OVAL “O,” while the New Reverse has a ROUND “O.”

      OK. I went back to the Hibid photo of the reverse, which was too blurry for me to distinguish old from new.

      I didn’t bid.

      Sometimes the online auction experience can cause consternation. May your bidding be more enjoyable.

    • Beware of ‘removed from jewelry’ gold

      Aug 22, 2017, 16:32 PM by
      This 1859 $3 gold coin has telltale jewelry marks, reducing its value.

      Images provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Recently this desirable coin with a mintage of only 15,558 pieces was offered in a HiBid.com auction with a description on the flip about being “extremely rare” but without the phrase “removed from jewelry.”

      You can see where the bezel or band was soldered to the coin, at six o’clock on the obverse and twelve o’clock on the reverse.

      Without those marks, in very fine condition, the coin would retail for about $1,150. But you can subtract about $525 from that amount because of the damaged state of this coin. That’s how much a similar coin sold for in a David Lawrence auction.

      When I spotted the flaw, I contacted the auctioneer, and she corrected the description to note that it was removed from jewelry.

      It sold for $380 in an Auctions by Wallace session. Actually, that’s a fair price, perhaps even a good bargain, given the low mintage.

      A similar flaw involving jewelry is more difficult to spot. It typically entails a hole through which a gold necklace once was strung. Some owners of such coins fill and smooth the hole so that the coin looks like it never had been damaged.

      Most numismatists can easily spot that repair, but with questionable photos and descriptions in some online auctions, a hobbyist can fall for the ruse, sending in the coin for holdering, only to get back a slab that states, “Hole/Plug,” as for this 1859 $3 coin that then sold for $423 in a 2015 Heritage auction.

      Because of the specter of counterfeits, which abound among $3 gold coins, I recommend bidding on only those slabbed by reputable companies, such as PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG.  

    • Pay attention to charges in online auctions

      Aug 22, 2017, 15:34 PM by
      This round can cost you much more than the single ounce of silver that it contains and is truly worth: Whether you read them or not, you'll have to pay what you agree to according to the auctioneer's terms.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      At this writing, an ounce of silver was worth $16.12.

      The Morgan Dollar round (notice it’s not a coin, but is a bullion piece that imitates the Morgan dollar’s design) in this Proxibid auction has an opening bid of $30, almost double the value of its precious metal.

      That’s not all. Assuming you bid on this item and that the auctioneer didn’t bid you higher, as he or she legally can do by having notified you about that possibility in the terms of service, you would still have to pay much more than $30.  

      This particular auction company charges a 20 percent online buyer’s premium, so you’d be paying $36 for this item.

      However, shipping is going to cost you $15, about as much as the item’s intrinsic value.

      I’ve read this firm’s shipping terms several times and am unsure whether this company actually charges a $60 handling fee for small items such as coins. I would have to contact the company’s customer service to ask about that. But at this point, there’s no point in even asking, because already the price is excessive.

      Yet the auction company estimates the retail value at $45 to $55.

      If you agree to the company’s terms, without reading them, you are establishing a contract and are liable for all charges.

      The terms do allow you to return the item, but minus the buyer’s premium. You would have to pay for shipping costs, too.

      You can buy the same bullion round at APMEX for $18.97. You’ll see much more data about your purchase, too, including the current silver price and specifics about the round.

      To be clear, the auction company can set whatever terms it wants. This post is not about that. The goal is to remind you: When bidding in online auctions, read the service terms carefully and use the Internet, as I did, to see if you can purchase the item for less money elsewhere.

    • Dealing with non-dealer online sellers

      Aug 4, 2017, 16:32 PM by
      Probably not the best way to display a coin.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Take a close look at the photo above and you’ll see an estate auctioneer displaying the rim of a coin with pliers. He did this with the entire coin consignment, probably leaving marks on the surface metal of every coin.

      You see this kind of thing often on Internet portals where estate auctioneers display their lots along with their general unfamiliarity with numismatics.

      You can decipher the seller’s level of inexperience when he or she:

      1. 1. Posts only photos of the obverse.
      2. 2. Includes the date in the description but not the mint mark.
      3. 3. Proclaims common date 19th century U.S. coins are rare, and opens bidding at double or triple retail values.
      4. 4. Calls all coins with luster, including polished ones, “gem.”
      5. 5. Cites values from PCGS Price Guide or Coin World Coin Values for self-slabbed silver-melt material that is hyped as gem (Mint State 65) or super gem (MS-66 to MS-68).
      6. 6. Touts Chinese brass replicas as authentic California Fractional Gold.
      7. 7. Calls Peace dollars “liberty dollars” and Walking Liberty half dollars “Silver Eagles” (or vice versa).
      8. 8. Requires buyers to find their own third-party shippers.
      9. 9. Charges state taxes even though he is shipping from his state to yours.
      10. 10. Ships coins without proper packing, loose in large envelopes, where they are pummeled by the U.S. mail.

      I’ve been buying coins online for about a decade and experienced each one of those top 10 malpractices. In the past I would try to rehabilitate sellers by sending emails about proper ways to display, describe and to ship lots. I no longer try to educate them. I just avoid them.

      You should, too.

      Remember, there are thousands of coins in hundreds of online auctions each day on Proxibid, Hibid.com, eBay and major houses such as Heritage, GreatCollections, Stack’s Bowers and Legend Numismatics.

      You’re free to bid how and where you like, of course. But you also should know the risks. 

    • Cracks in Redfield holders

      Jul 28, 2017, 17:29 PM by
      Image of this Redfield holder shows obvious cracks. They are not always this visible on both sides, and the uncracked side may be the only one featured in an online auction lot. Surprise. But you can get some nice toning.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Occasionally in online auctions you will find Morgan and Peace silver dollars in original Redfield/Paramount holders from the 407,000-coin hoard found behind a false wall in the basement of Reno, Nev., investor LaVere Redfield.

      The holders and coins, often toned because of the chemical properties of the insert, command a premium. In 1976, Steve Markoff of A-Mark Coin Corp. bought the hoard for $7.3 million and contracted with Paramount International Coin Corp. as the major distributor.

      Coins typically were slabbed in two grades, Mint State 65 and MS-60, with red or black holders, respectively. The highest premiums are put on slabs with the Redfield name on the insert. Coins with only “Paramount” on the insert earn smaller premiums but are still desirable.

      Cracks are common in these holders. Some holders are heavily damaged, as the image above shows.

      Other cracks may be difficult to spo. To make matters worse, some sellers on eBay and Proxibid show photos of only the obverse, so you can get a coin with a reverse crack like this one only to discover it when you receive it in the mail. As all sales usually are final in online auctions, there is little you can do.

      But there is also an upside to cracks, as they allow the coins inside the holders to tone even more than what the Redfield/Paramount insert usually causes.

      With that in mind, you might bid on a Redfield/Paramount coin with a holder crack merely to get a beautifully toned coin, which also commands a premium. I bid on cracked holders like these for the coins inside, so the bonus for me is two-fold: a toned coin at a discount price.

      You can still send a Redfield/Paramount coin to a top-grading company, asking that the Redfield/Paramount provenance appear on the service’s new label. 

    • Filed rims are hard to spot

      Jul 21, 2017, 14:39 PM by
      Spotting the hint of glare that indicates a filed rim above the T of UNITED in this image would be even tougher if you were also peering past email and advertising pop-ups.

      Original image courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      One of the dangers of bidding in online auctions is the reliance on photographs. It is one thing to inspect a coin in your hand at a show or shop and another to view it online, with all the distractions that occur in an age of social media and insistent email and texts. This is why I seldom use a mobile phone when bidding online.

      I use a desk-top screen and shut off all social media, phone and other applications. I always enlarge the photo to look for flaws.

      I usually inspect coins in a clockwise manner, starting at the rim, where you can spot rim bumps, dings, bends, bezel marks and, as in this coin, the dreaded file marks.

      Filed rims are unfortunate. A file here and there might add up with silver content from a coin sneak. In other eras, the file was a test mark to see if the coin, indeed, was silver.

      In the past year, I have missed two filed rims in my bidding. The auctioneers didn’t mention it, and I didn’t catch it. In one case, I made the mistake of relying too much on an expert seller who writes insightful descriptions about each lot. He missed it, too.

      I accept the blame for not looking closely enough at the rims.

      When you get a filed rim, you might not want to holder the coin. Graders at PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG are sure to catch it, and you will have wasted more money.

      In the end, the typical filed rim does not detract much from a coin with good strike and luster, so you might keep it in your collection.

      But if you do spot it after a sale, you can leave feedback on Proxibid or eBay about the overlooked flaw. Some eBay sellers take returns. Auctioneers on Proxibid and HiBid rarely do so, however.

    • Proper response on fake fractional gold

      Jul 6, 2017, 13:55 PM by
      Although there were 18 bids on this brass-plated replica, the auctioneer showed integrity in pulling the lot after being informed that the offering was incorrectly described.

      Original image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Upon seeing this fake fractional gold piece in Power Auction on Hibid.com, I emailed auctioneer Dave Gregory, stating: “This is a $1 plated modern souvenir replica. Not gold. Not from California. Not anything in the description.”

      Typically, I expect my notices to go unheeded, especially on fake fractional gold. The temptation is to keep the high bids on replicas you can buy at the local coin shop for about $1 each. Authentic California fractional gold sells in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

      The problem with these lots is multifold, and I have blogged and written about it extensively for Coin World. See this recent posting about fake gold flooding online auctions. For a longer Coin World article, click here.

      To summarize, genuine California small denomination gold coins were struck from 1852 to 1882, typically in denominations of quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar. The reverse is the key. Authentic pieces have the inscription DOLLAR or abbreviation D. or DOL.

      A second kind, California gold tokens, were privately minted on gold planchets until around 1871 and usually depict a miner or other Western scene on the reverse.

      A third kind, California jeweler’s charms, are made of gold and were sold as souvenirs of the West typically in the 1930s.

      Replica brass or plated disks are a fourth kind, depicted in the photo above. The disks, manufactured in China for the most part, do not carry the word COPY and are in violation of the Hobby Protection Act.

      As soon as Gregory read my email, he wrote: “Thanks for the catch, I'll correct it and contact the bidders for bid retractions.”

      This auctioneer did more than retract a lot. He established the kind of online trust that results in repeat business.

      Online auctions should require sellers to list the “BG identification number” for small denomination gold coins. The “BG” refers to Walter Breen and Ron Gillio, authors of California Pioneer Fraction Gold. It’s a pricey book. An inexpensive and educational way to identify these coins is to refer to PCGS CoinFacts and wade through the hundreds of listings until you can identify the lot in question.  

    • Beware of replaced coins in Double Mint sets

      Jun 23, 2017, 14:04 PM by
      Two eBay screenshots show suspect and authentic 1948 Double Mint sets. Would you be able to identify which is which?

      Original images provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Last year I blogged about being on the lookout for missing half dollars in Double Mint sets, which the U.S. Mint produced between 1947 and 1958. I reported how coins in those sets were housed in cardboard folders often with green flimsy paper that caused the coins inside to tone.

      I also promised to write about other ethical issues concerning Double Mint sets at a later date. I will do that here, but want to summarize content about missing halves.

      Some collectors remove one pair of half dollars without reporting that in descriptions, relying on the buyer to know what should be in original sets. That’s not as simple as it sounds. In 1955 and 1956, no half dollars were struck at Denver because of lack of demand for the denomination. The San Francisco Mint closed in 1955, reopening a decade later.

      For these reasons, you will legitimately find only two half dollars in Double Mint sets from 1955 and 1956.

      A bigger issue concerning Double Mint sets involves unscrupulous sellers removing toned half dollars and other coins from those sets and replacing them with dipped or lower grade ones minted in the same year. 

      Often those suspect sets come with original U.S. Mint and U.S. Post Office envelopes, for which many hobbyists pay a premium. Those envelopes are no barrier to lesser value coins being inserted in the cardboard folders, fooling the inexperienced buyer.

      True, all coins do not tone in Double Mint sets. But more often they do, because of the chemical interaction of the cardboard and paper. As these are pricey sets, often exceeding $1,000 for the years 1947 through 1952, you want to secure an unmistakably original, toned set.

      Look at the photo above from 1948 sets.

      One panel shows untoned coins and the other, toned ones. Each set was offered on eBay for $1,500+. If I wanted to buy such a set, I not only would go for the toned coins, I also would check recent prices on the Internet. PCGS Price Guide pegs the retail value of such a set at $1,300.

      As always, be skeptical and buy cautiously when bidding online.

    • Distrust deep mirrors in lesser holders

      Jun 16, 2017, 15:23 PM by
      Compare surface reflectivity between Proxibid and Heritage examples.

      Images supplied by Michael Bugeja.

      Many hobbyists pay high premiums for deep mirror prooflike (DMPL) Morgan dollars because of their eye appeal and affordability, as genuine Proof examples typically exceed most budgets.

      For example, an 1888-S coin with a mintage of only 657,000 is a semi-key in the series, with DMPLs going for about $1,000 in Mint State 63. An 1888 Proof coin graded PR-63 with a mintage of a mere 800 (and estimated survival rates of about 235 in all grades) goes for about $3,000, with cameo counterparts selling for thousands more.

      In the past I have written about how to tell deep mirror from polished Morgans. A true DMPL coin is likely to have bag marks because they occur easily against the glasslike surface, whereas no such marks are evident on a polished coin. Also, DMPLs should have mirrors that reflect 6 inches or more on both sides of the coin.

      Look at the 1888-S in the photo above in the National Numismatic Certification holder. It seems devoid of any mirrorlike effect, although the reverse of the coin might pass for prooflike, reflecting about two inches. Compare it to the Heritage coin in the PCGS holder. You can see the mirror in the latter but not in the NNC holder.

      Admittedly, it is difficult to tell deep mirror coins in online auctions. But this particular Proxibid auctioneer, Weaver Signature Coin and Currency Auction, takes sharp photos that rank among the best on the portal. So I can judge the NNC coin lacks the required mirror qualities of a true DMPL.

      Again we encounter the argument that grading is subjective. What passes for DMPL at one holdering company might fall short at another. That’s fine. However, if you choose to bid on a coin in a lesser-known holder, you should not value the coin at prices listed for PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG, generally considered to be the best grading companies.

      PCGS- and NGC-graded coins often sell sight unseen because of the grading consistency and standards of those companies.

      Bidding online is a risky venture, especially when consignors list raw coins as DMPL. If you are viewing inferior photos or have not dealt with the seller before, my advice is to go with major auction houses and bid in online auctions hosted by Heritage, Stacks Bowers, Legend, Goldberg and GreatCollections.


    • Ask online sellers questions before placing bids

      Jun 5, 2017, 16:28 PM by
      Is that a carbon spot or damage? A trustworthy seller will provide the answer.

      Images provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Earlier this year I profiled one of my favorite Proxibid sellers, Brad Lisembee, who operates Capitol Coin Auction out of Evansville, Indiana. In that blog post, I explained how much I valued his descriptions because he knows coins and how to grade them.

      I’ll reference Brad again here because I asked a very specific question about the 1913 Buffalo nickel depicted above that had wonderful rainbow toning.

      I put a circle around the spot on the coin, using Brad’s original Proxibid photo to the left of the PCGS TrueView photo.

      You can see that Brad takes photos as sharp as the professional ones offered by PCGS.

      I wanted to bid on this coin and slab it with TrueView and then consign the holdered coin to an eBay seller who specializes in rainbow lots. I do this occasionally to help fund my hobby, relying on my numismatic knowledge to win raw coins and place them with the right seller for a small profit.

      I liked this nickel, but I was wary about that spot. So I wrote Brad and inquired about it.

      This is the main point of this post. You should be able to ask questions and get truthful replies from your favorite sellers. That’s why you patronize them. If sellers refuse to answer your questions in online venues like eBay and Proxibid, drop them. If they don’t know coins, find ones who do.

      “There's a dark spot between the braid and feather that looks like a minor gouge,” I emailed Brad. “Can you check? I'd like to get this slabbed if I win and worry that this is damage.”

      Brad inspected the coin and verified that it was a carbon spot and not a gouge, which would have meant the coin would not earn a numerical grade at PCGS. A carbon spot, on the other hand, would lower the grade of the coin but not prevent it from earning one.

      As you can see, Brad was correct. The 1913 Indian Head 5-cent coin in question is the Type I, with the bison on a raised mound, which had a large mintage of 30,992,000. Concerns about FIVE CENTS wearing off triggered a design alteration. So Type II was created with the denomination on a plain and recessed for added protection.

      Generally, a Type II 1913 Buffalo nickel is rarer, especially in higher grades. But when it comes to toning, bidders look to the rainbow rather than the mintage.

      This coin graded Mint State 64, worth $80 retail. I won the coin with a $45 bid. With slabbing fees and TrueView, my cost is about $65. I think it will sell on eBay for $100 or more.

    • Overbidding mistakes: they happen, you learn

      May 25, 2017, 16:18 PM by
      I always wanted a Wells Fargo gold coin, and several were slabbed in old green PCGS holders at high grades. I finally got one, and it is now safely tucked in my bank box. But there is a story here from which you might learn … at my expense.

      One came up on auction from a seller I trusted, and so I placed a high bid, thinking no one would match it and I just might steal the coin in an online estate venue where many gold buyers treat collectible coins like bullion. They look up the bullion price and bid retail.

      I admit I checked auction and eBay values for the coin pictured above and bid $2,250.

      I made two errors. Gold does fluctuate in value, and you have to take that into account when checking sale prices on Coin Values or Heritage Archives. I admit, in this case, I didn’t do that. I just looked at retail value and did a quick check on eBay, seeing recent sales of the No Motto Wells Fargo Saint Gauden’s coin above $3,000. Here’s an example.

      The 1908 No Motto Saint is a fairly common coin with a mintage of 4,271,551; but the Wells Fargo hoard provenance and the old green holder add a premium. The 9,900 coins found in one of the company’s Las Vegas banks were spectacular coins, with PCGS grading 101 of them as Mint State 68 and 10 at MS-69. See David Hall’s description in PCGS CoinFacts.

      Here’s the second mistake: I didn’t check coin retailers like APMEX where a similar coin at the same grade in the coveted old green holder retailed at $2,295 (by check) and $2,390 (by PayPal).

      Well, you guessed it. Someone at the online auction wanted the coin almost as much as I did and probably had the same strategy in mind, but I won it with my top bid. Now add the 18% buyer’s fee, and the price of my coin totals $2,655.

      In other words, by not checking bulk and wholesale coin dealers before placing my bid, I lost $360.

      This is what happens when you make a mistake (or two) in online bidding. Learn from mine. 

    • Consignor hype and online auctions

      May 18, 2017, 16:42 PM by
      Sometimes I marvel at values that consignors assign to coins that they (a) don’t know how to grade, (b) try to pass off as rare, and (c) get auctioneers to list as estate “finds.”

      The only discoveries in this Proxibid auction, where this and other damaged coins appeared last month, were the incredibly exaggerated values written on stickers placed on self-slabs.

      Proxibid does not allow sellers to list values in descriptions or titles of lots unless they are encapsulated by PCGS, NGC, ICG and ANACS. But photos often contain consignor values, such as that found on this coin.

      You can find the same phenomenon on eBay, HiBid and other auction portals.

      If you are an experienced coin enthusiast, you may find these embellishments humorous, but novice buyers (or family and friends purchasing items as gifts for hobbyists) often overpay, thinking they scored a bargain, only to be told the truth sooner or later.

      Coin dealers go through these sad disclosures regularly and then are accused of trying to “steal” these sorry coins from duped owners.

      The net result is that those who eventually realize that they overpaid for damaged coins inevitably lose interest in collecting.

      Click here to see what an authentic 1896-O Morgan looks like. Compare to the damaged coin in the above photo.

      A Mint State 64 1896-O Morgan dollar truly is worth about $42,000. PCGS has holdered only 29 of them, with another graded MS-65 and two as MS-66. It is very common in low grades but a condition rarity in any Mint State grade.


    • Finding raw coin bargains

      May 4, 2017, 17:46 PM by
      This 1901-S Morgan dollar was won with a $410 bid.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      It takes a lot of skill, patience and acumen to score big on raw coins in online auctions, primarily because so many of the coins in those lots are cleaned or have other problems preventing them from being holdered by top companies.

      I won the 1901-S Morgan dollar coin pictured with a $410 bid plus 15 percent buyer’s fee, for a total price of $471.50. If I add my slabbing fees, the overall cost is about $500.

      I sent it to PCGS and it graded Mint State 62, worth $725 retail. Recent auction prices at that grade are about $600-625, so the effort was worthwhile.

      But what, specifically, does it take to win such a coin in online auctions?

      First, you have to trust the seller. I won this in a Feb. 17, 2017, Hibid.com session conducted by Auctions by Wallace. Sheena Wallace is one of the best auctioneers in the business. I have been bidding in her auctions for several years and whenever I have a question about condition, she consults with a local numismatist and gets me an answer.

      Second, you need to see clear photos. You can tell from the auction photo above that Ms. Wallace provides excellent pictures so you can identify any flaws.

      Third, you must check auction prices for the coin on PCGS CoinFacts or other venue. You must never bid retail on a coin by guessing the grade, even when viewing clear photos of obverse and reverse. I bid $410 on this coin because that is what MS-60 coins go for in auctions on eBay, GreatCollections and Heritage.

      I knew the coin was Mint State, but I also detected some marks along the chin. But I needed this coin for my collection, so I placed an informed bid and won it.

      Uncirculated 1901-S Morgan dollars are rare finds in raw state. The mintage of 2,284,000 is low, making it a semi-key. Value rises dramatically in MS-64, with recent auction prices well above $1,500.

    • Beware of shill bidding (both legal and illegal)

      Apr 27, 2017, 09:23 AM by
      This screenshot shows the same bidder initials alongside every placed bid — a sign that someone is seeing maximum bids and bidding up lots.

      Screen shot provided by Michael Bugeja.

      Whenever you see the same initials or user identification appearing alongside your bid, as in the photo above, you should be wary. Shill bidding—legal or illegal—may be occurring.

      Shill bidding is a practice whereby the seller or seller’s agent bids up lots, possibly so that they reach an unnamed reserve, or just to encourage ever-higher bids.

      Shill bidding is not allowed on eBay. It happens, though, easily enough, through different computers on different routers or Internet servers. (Shills don’t want to have the same IP address as the seller.) A friend, or even the seller, on one computer will bid up a lot to the point where he or she sees your maximum bid — then retracts — and then bids up again when you do.

      This method sometimes fails when done too close to the end of an eBay auction, because eBay doesn’t allow retractions when a sale is closing. Essentially, when this happens, the seller has won back his or her own coin. Then, you as “under-bidder,” will get a message asking if you want “a second chance” to win the lot.

      Keep in mind “second chance” offers on eBay are almost always legitimate; we’re talking about the few suspicious sellers here. Suspicions arise if you experience the same bidder always increasing his bids right after you do and then retracting, etc.

      Proxibid demands that sellers post a notice if they see maximum bids or are bidding themselves. There is a law that allows this: UCC-3-228, from the Uniform Commercial Code. This law deals exclusively with auctions and auctioneering. Essentially, the law allows shill bidding if a notice is posted in the terms of service.

      Sometimes a few sellers do not post the notice, but you’ll see the same initials or user ID bidding up your maximums. When I see this, I contact Proxibid, and the seller has to post the required notice in his or her terms.

      Even if the law allows shill bidding, it is unethical to do so. Here are alternatives: Start with a high opening bid that covers the reserve, or simply list that the lot has a reserve.

      Unfortunately, on HiBid.com, a popular auctioneer-centered platform, you may have to contact the seller if you suspect shill bidding. Unlike eBay and Proxibid, HiBid doesn’t have seller-buyer rules and regulations.

    • Best private online coin auction seller

      Apr 18, 2017, 16:56 PM by
      Few private online coin auction sellers write as expert descriptions and include such quality photos as Brad Lisembee does. You can learn much about grading merely by visiting his Capitol Coin Auctions listings, and he has two sales upcoming, April 20 and May 4 on Proxibid.

      Image courtesy Michael Bugeja.

      Brad Lisembee, owner of Capitol Coin Auctions, Evansville, Ind., is one of the best sellers—if not the best—in online coin estate auctions. Apart from numismatists in large houses such as Heritage Auction and Stacks Bowers Rare Coins, few small-company sellers or coin dealers take the time to write accurate descriptions with highly detailed photos that often are superior to anything on the web.

      Take a look at the lot featured above in one of Lisembee’s upcoming auctions on Proxibid. He writes: “Brilliant and lustrous. Very choice to near-gem. This is a scarce variety. There were Type 2 reverses made from 1956 through 1964, and the Cherrypicker's Guide shows the 1963 as the most valuable ($150 in MS63 and $250 in MS65).”

      He would give a numerical grade for this coin, but that goes against Proxibid rules for raw coins (which I applaud because of seller grade inflation). So Lisembee uses the correct terms “very choice to near gem” which would translate to Mint State 63 to MS-64. He notes this particular coin is a scarce variety and gives information from the Cherrypicker’s Guide, an essential book in every numismatist’s library. Then he cites values conservatively.

      You don’t find this often on Proxibid or Hibid.com. In fact, most sellers there overlook flaws, varieties and accurate grading. (Because of Proxibid rules, hyped descriptions are not nearly as common anymore.)

      Lisembee does much more than this numismatically. He is extraordinarily honest.

      When he gets an estate collection, Lisembee uses his numismatic skills to decide which raw coins he will send to PCGS. Many sellers do this. But few write a description on the remaining coins—these in a Capital holder—like this lot:

      “These are the coins that are left in the set that we did not send to PCGS. They are still nice uncs, housed in a nice Capital holder in the original box. Dates include: 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1945-D, 1945-S, 1946, 1946-D, 1946-S, 1947, and 1947-D. Several are gem quality.”

      Consider this lot on a key date 1938-D Walking Half Dollar. He writes: “VF, couple of thin obverse scratches.” Many sellers do not mention pin scratches and other flaws, such as cleaning or corrosion.

      Lisembee also takes pains to describe each item in a bulk lot, no matter how obscure, as in this assortment of tokens

      “Includes: scarce early Boy Scouts token (holed) with the swastika emblem; 1935 New Mexico one mill tax token; play token (generic); Good for one fare - Atlanta, GA Power Company; Apothecaries Weight, 2 Drams; James Monroe token; 1959 Presque Isle Centennial wooden nickel; Green River Whiskey token; smashed coin; Good for 5 cents in Trade - Tower Tavern 537 Ann Street, Hartford, CT; Cascarets Laxative token; Pontiac ‘Chief of the Sixes’ General Motors token; Good for 5 cent Cigar token; counterstamped G.E. White token; 1931 International Harvester token ‘Centennial of the Reaper’; Good for 5 cents in Trade, H. L. Tarr & Co, Auburn, Maine; and 1939 New York World's Fair token.”

      You can learn much about grading merely by visiting one of his auctions, viewing his photographs and reading his descriptions. The next Capitol Coin auctions are scheduled April 20 and May 4 on Proxibid.

    • ICG spelling error on label

      Apr 13, 2017, 16:57 PM by
      The coin looks perfectly graded and attributed, but “seperated” is a misspelling.

      Image courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      In the past I have had to return coins to grading companies because of errors on labels — typically a missing Mint mark — but this time, I’m happy to keep the 2000 cent with a “wide AM” reverse and an error on the label, because of the misspelled word.

      As many viewers know, I also teach journalism at Iowa State University, and the word misspelled — which should be “separated”—is one of the most consistently misspelled words in news stories. In fact, the Telegraph reports a 2010 study that established the error’s frequency under a headline that reads “‘Separate’ is most commonly misspelt word.”

      On a side note, you’ll notice that the British newspaper spells “misspelled” as “misspelt.” That’s because, while “misspelled” is the American preference, British English has the option to use either version of the word.

      Back to coins: Each of the grading companies has procedures to return mislabeled coins at no charge for a new, accurate label. ICG specifically states that coins can be re-holdered for any reason with no charge for damaged slabs. Misspellings, of course, aren’t listed. 

      The “wide AM reverse” cent at Mint State 67 red is worth between $50 and $70 according to various price guides, but don’t count on getting that in major auctions. Recent sale prices are at $25 or less.

      But I’ll put this in an auction with a note to my seller asking him to showcase the misspelling “seperate.” There is a small but dedicated online market for mislabeled coins.

      This one reminds us that labels come with errors and varieties, just like coins. 

    • Resist junk auctions

      Mar 30, 2017, 14:45 PM by
      Screenshot of typical junk auction on Proxibid.

      Image provided by Michael Bugeja.

      You can lose a lot of money bidding in online coin auctions, especially if you do not know how to grade — a topic we have covered before. But one of the biggest money wasters is patronizing junk auctions, which typically offer poor-condition Wheat cents, copper-nickel Eisenhower dollars, State quarter collections (some plated with “gold”) and face-value low-ball Mint sets.

      To be sure, coin junk saturates eBay, but after a while, sellers there realize the cost of listing a brown, Fine, cleaned 1909 V.D.B. cent that sells below or near the shipping cost. Here’s an example.

      Junk auctions appear regularly on Proxibid and HiBid.

      Often, estate auctioneers are clueless when it comes to selling coins. (Example: They don’t list Mint marks — a surefire way to identify a clueless auctioneer.) They may not realize that a long-time collector found his low-grade Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes and Walking halves in the 1950s and 1960s on a paper route and that photographing each lot for online bidding is not going to bring much by way of commission.

      Then there are coin dealers trying to unload crates of near-face-value Mint sets from the 1980s and 1990s. You’ll see a lot of these. For example, a 1995 Mint set retails for under $4 with $1.72 worth of coins inside. But win that lot for $4 at auction and pay buyer’s fee and $5 shipping, and that sets you back plenty.

      In the past some bidders thought they could scam the Proxibid seller by bidding 1 cent on such a lot. Sometimes they would do this for 100 or more junk lots and then win some of those, only to discover that the terms of service state that U.S. coins cannot be sold for less than face value and that all winning bids must meet a $5 threshold.

      Big-time loss there after buyer’s fee and shipping.

      Many Proxibid auctioneers don’t allow this anymore. They simply put all opening bids at $5, even when the retail value falls under that.

      Another big risk is buying American Eagle silver dollars at $25 a pop, when the silver spot value is $17 or $18. Add buyer’s fees and shipping, and you could have bought two Eagles at a coin show or shop for the price of that one purchased online.

      I have nothing against buying junk. It keeps us in the hobby. I do have problems with over-bidding online, because sooner or later that depletes the funds you should have at your disposal for coin collecting. 


    • Proxibid and Hibid photo comparison

      Mar 21, 2017, 12:54 PM by
      This dual screenshot tells it all: a photo of coins vs. no coins.

      Images courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      Some blog posts do not need a lot of words to describe the problem with online bidding in coin auctions. This screenshot is worth a thousand words; I sent about 50 words to Proxibid in its “report the item” link without effecting any change in the lot that lacked photos of the coins inside the depicted album.

      The competing auction on HiBid shows seven photos of all coins inside a similar album.

      Which do you think would get my bid?

      I’m a collector of Jefferson nickels. In this post you can read about how I comb through albums looking for the 5 or 6 full steps on the reverse of these nickels as they often bring high premiums and now can be found raw only in albums like these.

      Usually you can snare a set for about $80, including the 1942-45 war nickels composed of 35% silver, 56% copper, 9% manganese.

      In other words, an uncirculated set is a great buy.

      I’ve hidden the name of the Proxibid auctioneer because outing that is not the point of this post. Suffice to say that I rarely bid in this auction anymore because this seller often omits reverses of coins and usually takes photos of the album or mint or GSA box and not the coin.

      I am putting the focus on Proxibid, however. Its “report the item” link essentially does little anymore. I have patronized Proxibid for a long time, but increasingly I am bidding on trusted sellers on HiBid because, by and large, they respond to inquiries.

      HiBid auctioneers who do not respond to queries are immediately crossed off my buying list.

      Make no mistake: There are plenty of inconsiderate sellers on HiBid. And that platform lacks a Unified User Agreement, which Proxibid has and on which I count, paying an extra premium. But if Proxibid cannot require the basics, such as demanding that auctioneers selling coins, well, actually post a photo of those coins, then I will pay the HiBid 8% buyer’s premium in this case rather than the Proxibid 15%.

      I also understand that Proxibid wants to keep its auctioneers as clients on the portal. But if bidders like me, a longtime fan of Proxibid — which is the best platform still for coins and currency — are migrating to HiBid, well, then, someone may want to enforce basic requirements.

      I recommend that Proxibid take seriously its “report the item” messages and act more on behalf of the bidder or, in this case, require the deleting of the lot in question.

    • ‘No Reserve’ v. ‘Opening Bids’: Don’t be fooled

      Mar 16, 2017, 14:44 PM by
      With the 18% buyer’s fee, these coins, which were advertised as having "no reserve" but had high "opening bids," actually are selling close to and over what their retail price would be. These are not bargains.

      Images courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      When browsing auctions of online portals such as Proxibid or HiBid, don’t let the promotional words “no reserve” in ads for an Internet session fool you into believing you may get coins below retail.

      Take a close look at the photo above. I have listed the retail prices of opening bids in this slate of coins from Proxibid. Most egregious is the 1941-S Lincoln cent, MS-63 brown, which has a retail value of 6 cents and an opening bid of $100.

      Another unfortunate example is the opening bid of $75 for a Roosevelt dime graded Proof 67 whose retail value is about $45.

      Other examples from this sequence of lots are close to retail at the hammer price, assuming no one else bids on the lot; with the 18% buyer’s premium, they, too, are selling at, close to, or above retail.

      Why do online auctioneers do this? In their defense, sometimes consignors demand certain reserves for coins, and nothing kills interest faster than the words “Reserve Not Met.” Often, when a bidder sees this, he or she just goes on to the next lot or auction.

      So charging at or above retail to meet a hidden reserve is one way to counter that effect.

      Also, if lots do not sell at the high opening bids, then Proxibid doesn’t charge for a percentage of the sale price.

      The worst sessions to bid on, in my view, are auctions that tout “no reserve” and then open with retail bids. Those really are not auctions; they are online coin shops masquerading as auctions.

      Then again, these types of high opening-bid lots often attract the uninformed newbie who doesn’t know the difference between opening bids, reserves, auction values (as documented by PCGS and NGC on their websites), and retail prices.

      And we’re only talking about coins slabbed by top companies, such as PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG.

      Pay no attention to grades assigned to raw coins or ones in lesser slabs. Those are often inflated on coins with problems, such as cleaning or tampering.

      Before I place a bid on a top-holdered coin on Proxibid or HiBid, I check the certification and then the latest auction prices. I factor buyer’s premium and shipping and then place my bids 10% below the latest auction values.

      Because I mostly patronize PCGS, I go to PCGS Certification to see whether the coin is genuine and if so, from there, hit the link that goes to PCGS CoinFacts for the latest auction values.

      You can do the same on the NGC site. Check an NGC certified coin’s certification here, and from there you can go to their values site as well.

    • Smartphone glitz causes glitches

      Feb 28, 2017, 13:45 PM by
      This is what an attempt to place a bid using a Samsung Galaxy 4 looks like.

      Image courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      Increasing use of smartphones is beginning to undermine numismatic bidding platforms too slow to adapt to the vagaries of mobile technology. The issue is digitally complex. New phones incorporate the latest apps with an array of functions. All that glitz causes glitches, frustrating online bidders.

      In the past, Internet bidding was done via desktops in the home. That no longer is the case. Many hobbyists are advancing in years, but more are also using mobile phones for pleasure and business.

      In fact, one study shows three-fourths of people over age 50 use smartphones and more than half over age 65.

      Those demographics include coin hobbyists, too. According to data related to U.S. Mint products, younger customers are fewer in number than in the past, while the core consumer group is age 65 and older.

      Proxibid has told me it is working on improving its mobile technology. It had best move quickly, as other platforms, such as HiBid.com, have easier smartphone functions. I still prefer Proxibid for its security and customer service, but soon those advantages may cease to retain customers using smartphones for much of their online business.

      The issue with Proxibid concerns its program. It asks users whether they want the desktop or mobile view when bidding on coins. The mobile view has fewer glitches, but fewer options, such as monitoring past pre- and winning bids.

      Any company that asks ”desktop or mobile view?” hasn’t kept up with technical progress.

      The photo above shows what can happen when trying to bid on a lot using a smartphone in “desktop view.” The technology still should have worked. I tried to use the vertical and horizontal functions on my Samsung Galaxy 4 to increase my bid, but when I hit the bidding tab, Proxibid thought I wanted an enlarged view of the lot.

      So then I had to log out, go to my email alert that informed me that I was outbid, hit the link again, log in again, switch to mobile view, etc.

      To be honest, my reaction was: Enough of this; I’ll bid again when I return to my desktop at home.

      The issue that fewer folks will be using or buying desktops, while more will be relying on smartphones as their main computer. We’re also seeing this in consumer purchases, with more last year being made via smartphone than computer.

      The newest smartphones also are doubling as home computers. 

    • ?Distracting auctioneer brands ‘brand’ photos

      Feb 22, 2017, 14:58 PM by
      Watermarks like this one may promote an auction brand, but for potential bidders, they also hide a coin's condition.

      The photo above (click to expand) displays the new “best practice” of promoting an auctioneer’s company without a care to how that distracts from the condition of a coin.

      To begin with, this picture of a 1903-S $5 gold coin isn’t sharp enough to pass for numismatic photography. It’s too blurry on the fine details, probably because the auctioneer took the photo without a light box.

      Online sellers have no excuse anymore for shoddy photography. Even a good smartphone can take a photo better than the one above.

      However, compounding the situation is the watermark. The slash mark between the words “Service” and “General” — as in “Service/General” — looks like a pin scratch, which at first I thought it was, only to realize it was text, not a flaw.

      So I bid $25 above the gold melt value, factoring in the buyer’s premium and shipping. I don’t expect to win the coin, of course.

      This is no way to market coins, and yet I am seeing this “brand” practice on Proxibid as well as HiBid.com. Here’s an example from Proxibid, although the watermark is smaller and less distracting than the one above.

      Top eBay, Proxibid and HiBid sellers with excellent photography know that bidders who win coins often use those photos in digital albums, so there is another drawback to the distracting watermarks.

      I have even seen those auction company watermarks on images of PCGS and NGC slabbed coins, destroying the value of the premiums that the seller paid when holdering the lots.  

    • Inequalities of lesser-known slabs

      Feb 7, 2017, 16:50 PM by
      This author's advice: Do not bid based on grades unless coins are holdered by a top tier firm with a good market reputation, such as PCGS, NGC, ANACS or ICG. For example, the 1882-S "MS-68 DMPL" Morgan dollar coin privately slabbed in the photo at left above is no gem of a coin. It is cleaned, stained, finger-printed and maybe About Uncirculated 58, but no deep mirror. In other words, it is basically silver melt.

      Images courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      Because of ever-increasing buyer’s premiums in top auction portals like Proxibid and iCollector, online bidders are migrating to portals like HiBid.com where few rules exist governing what auctioneers can say about lots.

      In other words, bid at your own risk.

      I’ve been bidding on auctions in HiBid.com, to test the portal, and am finding lots in lesser-known holders, often chuckling at grades such as the 1882-S so-called MS-68 DMPL Morgan dollar coin in the photo above (click to expand). Okay, yes, grading is subjective. But this is no gem of a coin, in my opinion. I would grade it as cleaned, stained, finger-printed About Uncirculated 58, no deep mirror. In other words, basically silver melt.

      There are no Mint State 68 DMPL coins for this date. Compare the one pictured above with a PCGS MS66 DMPL.

      The 1885 MS-66 Morgan holdered by Numistrust Corporation is a different story. You can find good coins in holders by this company. Often they are a tad overgraded (1 to 3 points or so) and sometimes a cleaned or dipped coin is not cited on the label. In the past, though, I have broken out MS-66 coins in Numistrust slabs that actually go on to be graded gem by PCGS.

      This 1885 Morgan looks gem. But because I am bidding online and cannot see the coin in person under good lighting, my bid here would be for MS-64, or about $45.

      Step back and see why I bid $45 on a potentially $75-150 coin. With buyer’s premium and shipping, I will end up paying an additional $20. If I lose the coin to another bidder, so be it. The $45 bid makes sense. Anything higher is a gamble akin to going to a casino.

      Your experience may be different, but I never saw an accurately graded NES coin according to my own standards, based on what you might find at PCGS or NGC. But on occasion, I have bid on NES key-date or scarce coins, knowing that they most likely have problems.

      The 1884-CC Morgan in the photo above is definitely not MS-67. It has issues on the cheek and neck with a small stain or distracting tone in the upper right field. What concerns me is the luster (or lack thereof). Again, it is somewhat difficult to tell in online photos, but this coin looks dipped when compared to the luster of the 1885 Morgan discussed earlier.

      When unsure of luster on a coin, keep in mind that the same photographer is likely snapping pictures of the coins in an auction. So that is a basis of comparison.

      Why then place any bid at all on this NES coin? A cleaned 1884-CC Morgan is still valuable. Most came out of bank bags in U.S. Treasury hoards discovered more than 50 years ago. So if this coin was MS-62 or -63 in its undipped heyday, it would have been worth about $225, or $160 in auction values (typically about 25% less than retail).

      Cleaned and dipped, such a coin would sell for about $100. Taking that into account, with shipping and buyer’s premium, I can bid about $70 for this coin.

      The lesson here once again is about grading, not bargains. In online venues like HiBid where auctioneers typically state all sales being final, a hobbyist has to be an expert grader before bidding on coins in lesser-known holders.

      If you are still learning how to grade, only bid on coins in top-tier holders (PCGS, NGC, ANACS, ICG).   

    • ?Toned Peace Dollars

      Feb 6, 2017, 11:06 AM by
      This beautifully toned Peace dollar was won with an $80 bid on Proxibid.

      Images courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      Whenever the topic of toned Peace dollars comes up in numismatic conversations, someone usually remembers this famous quote by PCGS co-founder David Hall:

      “I am of the very strong opinion that any 1921 Peace dollar...indeed any Peace dollar...that has any rainbow colors (blue, red, green, etc.) is absolutely artificially toned. While not very scientific, my approach to toning on coins is to remember the colors I saw in the 1960s and 1970s and if a new look appears, it's artificial to me. …”

      You can see the quote in context by clicking here.

      Indeed, the vast majority — almost all, in fact — of Peace dollars slabbed by PCGS and NGC are white, gray, or spottily streaked or tarnished. But you can find some beautifully toned coins if you look hard enough, and, when you do, a major grading company just might slab the Peace dollar if the toning appears natural.

      Why don’t Peace dollars tone like Morgans? Some believe the silver used for Morgans had impurities that Peace dollars lack, thereby resulting in rainbow patina. Fact is, rainbow toned Peace dollars are rare, but you should still look for them online.

      Albums sometimes tone Peace dollars, and if you search long enough, you might identify one on Proxibid or eBay. 

      It goes without question that any Peace dollar with rainbow toning will bring substantially higher premiums, if the coin appears in a top-tier holder.

      I won the uncertified 1922 Peace dollar pictured above with an $80 bid. It slabbed Mint State 65 at PCGS, worth $130. But I would wager that this coin would bring $500 to $1,000 if consigned to a major auction house.

      Coin World last year ran an article on a 1934-D Peace dollar with rainbow toning that sold for $7,975. Typically, it would sell in MS-65 for about $1,200.

      The demand for toned Peace dollars is so great that even ones graded “questionable color” by PCGS go for high prices. That is why I invest in TrueView photography, which also helps sales, especially if the toning has a natural look to it.

      For a recent example of such a coin, click here or enter the PCGS certification number, 82683875.

    • Old-holder crossovers

      Jan 26, 2017, 11:06 AM by
      This ANACS Very Fine 35 1889-CC Morgan $1 crossed over at VF-20 when submitted to the Professional Coin Grading Service.

      Images courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

      The conventional wisdom holds that modern-day third-party grading is inflated. I have always been suspicious about that conjecture because it is based on individual anecdote. I have always held that grading in the latter 1980s was, instead, inconsistent. There are over- and undergraded coins, with the rest graded to today’s standards.

      Sometimes it seems all that we remember are today's over-graded coins. Most undergraded pieces have been resubmitted to the major holdering companies, leaving slim pickings for hobbyists.

      Case in point: As you can see from the photo above, an 1889-CC Morgan graded VF35 in an old ANACS holder crossed over to PCGS with a minus 15 points, decreasing value from about $1,500 to $850.

      I still made a profit, as I scored the ANACS coin for about $600.

      When I got it, I saw that it was overgraded, but I took my chances anyway, hoping for a VF30. Here’s an example of what that looks like in a PCGS holder. Such a coin is worth about $1,000 according to recent auction prices.

      Still, I felt sure my coin would grade at least VF-25.


      When the coin was returned graded even lower than that, I conceded that PCGS was probably correct, preferring the more conservative grade. The coin does have significant wear.

      I won’t crack it open and resubmit.

      I share this as an example of not believing the conventional wisdom about old-holder grading. Small ANACS holders contain some of the earliest graded coins, and those often are overgraded.

      If you keep in mind that inconsistency is part of the subjective grading process, you won’t get your hopes up when the grading is down. 

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

      Jan 9, 2017, 13:59 PM by
      Do not judge coins by claimed numerical grade alone. Self-graded postings proclaiming grade in head violate rules of website and often defy accepted grade parameters.

      Images provided by Michael Bugeja.

      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.