Michael Bugeja

Online Coin Auctions

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.

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    Identify questionable practices in online auctions

    February 16, 2018 4:58 PM by
    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

    February 5, 2018 3:58 PM by

    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.

    Time to condemn the Tidy House coin swap

    January 29, 2018 5:06 PM by

    As my editors know, sometimes for the good of the hobby, especially concerning online auctions, I have to revisit an issue more than once to make the point about unethical practices that hurt coin collecting.

    I have done this repeatedly with fake California Gold coins, as you can see in this 2016 post and in this 2017 one .

    Today the continuing issue is swapped out coins in Tidy House holders.

    In this 2016 post, I depicted a Tidy House holder with a Peace dollar, asking viewers if they could tell why the silver dollar was not the original one placed in the promotional item distributed by a cleaning products company in the 1960s.

    I noted that the advertising description stated: “DID YOU KNOW ... that your uncirculated SILVER DOLLAR is the famous ‘MORGAN’ SILVER DOLLAR, named for its designer George T. Morgan"?

    The Peace dollar in the Tidy House holder was not the coin designed by Morgan but a dollar of a completely different design, by Anthony de Francisci.

    In this 2017 post , I identified other sellers putting Peace dollars in Tidy House holders, explaining the motive to do so. Peace dollars, I wrote, “do not tone well, when they do tone at all,” while Tidy House Morgan dollars, in contrast, in that original packaging, interact with those cardboard holders and typically tone.

    The toning is what makes “Tidy House dollars” so desirable.

    Putting an artificially toned Peace dollar, or one with weak toning, in the Tidy House holder is an unethical enticement to raise bids.

    As you can see in the description above, this Proxibid seller (whom I know and respect) made clear that the Peace dollar depicted in this lot had been swapped out.

    While I respect that, I do not think sellers should offer Tidy House holders with Peace dollars, period. It’s a matter of reputation. It also protects the hobby.

    Perhaps you disagree and can add your perspective in the comment section below.

    For the record, original Tidy House dollars should come with the envelope from the company, providing some reassurance that the coins haven’t been swapped out.

    Photoshopping whizzed coins

    January 25, 2018 4:34 PM by
    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

    January 19, 2018 3:02 PM by

    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

    January 10, 2018 4:54 PM by
    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!

    Missing Mint marks in online auctions

    December 29, 2017 3:18 PM by
    Sellers in online auctions, from eBay to HiBid.com, are notoriously difficult to contact, in as much as you typically have to navigate portal programming to ask a simple question. Emails and voice mail go unanswered.

    If the issue is serious enough, I search for the auction house’s telephone number and place a call. (In their service terms, some estate auction houses even state not to phone them on issues of shipping, handling or other fees.)

    While it is true that Proxibid has a “report the item” link, that is mostly for counterfeits. To its credit, the Omaha-based portal does have the best customer service staff in the business, with a person taking phone calls and contacting auctioneers for you when necessary.

    Some auctioneers are readily available via email, especially if you’re a frequent buyer or consignor. When I spot an error or oversight, such as a missing Mint mark or rare variety, I routinely contact them so that they can fix the description.

    That is not so easily done when a seller is difficult to get hold of, which occurs frequently on the HiBid portal. That platform has no central customer service staff like eBay or Proxibid do, and HiBid won’t take questions, even about counterfeits. (You can only contact them about technical issues, such as glitches in their online system.) That being the case, buyers have be careful bidding there, because you never know if an auctioneer is seeing maximum bids or allowing employees to bid up lots.

    Because of that, when I spy a description that is missing a Mint mark identification, as was the case for the description accompanying the 1922-D photo above, I often don’t take pains to contact the auctioneer. I simply place a bid. Sometimes I win a coin, as I did with a bid of $27.50 for the one depicted above, which was described as a common 1922 Peace Dollar when the reverse image shows a D Mint mark.

    The coin looks much better than the photo. I think it will grade Mint State 64.

    A 1922 Peace dollar has the highest mintage of any silver dollar, with 51,737,000 coins minted, and retails for about $50 in Choice Mint State. A 1922-D coin, in contrast, had a mintage of 15,063,000 pieces, and retails for about $150 in high Choice Mint State.

    The lesson here is twofold: If you’re an auctioneer, make an effort to engage with your Internet audience. If you’re a buyer, you’re under no obligation to contact a seller when an oversight is made in describing a desirable lot.

    Another swapped-out Tidy House Peace dollar

    December 21, 2017 1:56 PM by

    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

    December 8, 2017 4:08 PM by
    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

    November 30, 2017 4:49 PM by

    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

    November 13, 2017 3:29 PM by

    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

    October 27, 2017 4:43 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, 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

    October 20, 2017 4:17 PM by

    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

    October 10, 2017 12:27 PM by

    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.

    Shipping still an issue on Internet

    September 29, 2017 4:30 PM by

    Today we’re looking at shipping on HiBid.com, which hosts dozens of coins and currency auctions each week. The portal is a preferred site by estate auctioneers, primarily because they can set their own rules and respond directly to bidders without having to agree to a platform’s terms of service or go through its customer service, as may happen on Proxibid.

    Proxibid, still my favorite coin-buying platform, has a Unified User Agreement , patterned after eBay’s guidelines , and has excellent customer service from corporate headquarters in Omaha. If you have an issue, there is always someone there to help you, by phone.

    Moreover, on Proxibid, registered auctions typically have reasonable shipping options, although a few auctions charge exorbitant fees. Most sellers on the platform charge for USPS priority mail shipping with a small handling charge.

    Increasingly, however, when sellers migrate to HiBid.com, or open auction accounts there, shipping options suffer.

    Make no mistake, HiBid.com has many fine features, including lower buyer’s premiums, for the most part. And it’s not the platform’s fault if sellers do not want to ship small items, such as coins.

    But buyers must beware.

    Here are some auction terms from the Coins and Currency category of HiBid.com. I eliminated auction names but share their shipping notices as written (replete with ALL CAPS):

    • NO SHIPPING Please call to schedule your pick up. Pick up hours will be Thursday 8AM-5PM and Friday 8AM-2PM

    • Unless Agreed To Otherwise, PRIOR to Bidding, Auctioneer Will NOT Mail Coins, Direct Pick Up, Photo ID Required on Pick Up Dates.



    For Pete’s sake, don’t list your catalog on an Internet platform if you do not want to ship or even take calls about shipping.

    Recently I looked at a HiBid.com coin auction that featured several gold and expensive slabbed coins. Bids would be hundreds of dollars for many lots. I checked the shipping section in the service terms, which HiBid requires, but learned that the auction house did not ship.

    I emailed the house about this policy. Here was the response:

    “When you win an item we will send you an invoice and on the bottom of that invoice will be two shippers listed. It is your responsibility to contact them and have them picked up. We do not arrange shipping. If there is anything else I can do for you please let me know.”

    It seems the auction house doesn’t want to do much more than take bids over Internet.  

    Why should anyone bid hundreds of dollars on coins and then ask a third-party shipper to go to the auction house without a bill of sale? Moreover, if auctioneers do not arrange shipping, there is no telling whose coins you might get via that shipper. Finally, contacting the third-party shipper and giving that company your credit card information over the phone is yet another risk of doing business in this manner.

    Estate auctioneers are among the slowest to adapt to the Internet, where multitudes of coin buyers do business. That is why I recommend carefully reading terms of service, especially about shipping, before placing a bid on ANY platform, including Proxibid and eBay.

    You bought that coin … TWICE!

    September 15, 2017 2:34 PM by

    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

    September 7, 2017 4:41 PM by
    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

    September 7, 2017 3:57 PM by

    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

    August 22, 2017 4:32 PM by

    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

    August 22, 2017 3:34 PM by

    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.

    PVC in online coin auctions

    August 11, 2017 5:23 PM by
    Increasingly, older coin collections are going to auction, many of which are conducted online via Proxibid, HiBid and other portals. Often those coins were kept in soft vinyl flips that interact with metal to cause various states of corrosive damage.

    PVC is the abbreviation for polyvinyl chloride, a chemical composition. For flips to be pliable, manufacturers added a “plasticizer,” which emits gasses that trigger the corrosion, especially in the warm, dank environments where many collections have been stored.

    There are several states of PVC corrosion, which I have written about before.

    Some damage can be fixed, as in the coin depicted above, using conservation techniques as offered by Numismatic Conservation Services and PCGS Restoration Services. Coin dealers and experienced numismatists also know how to remove PVC contamination, but we don’t recommend doing that, especially if you are an inexperienced collector.

    The point in this post is learning to recognize and cherrypick PVC coins that can be restored, like this 1922-S that came in a vinyl flip offered by Weaver Signature Coin and Currency auction. I won it with a $49 bid. Currently it is in the process of being restored. I’ll let you know what grade it gets when I receive it after conservation.

    I bid on the coin because streaks can be eliminated with proper conservation techniques. When PVC is caked, or causes obvious pock marks in the metal, then you should bypass the coin.

    I believe the coin I won to be Mint State 64 (worth about $225) with a shot at MS-65 (worth $1,000+). The 1922-S, the second largest mintage in the series, typically suffers from weak strike and is a condition rarity, with MS-66 considered a super rarity by major holdering companies. So, I like my chances at conservation.

    If you’re interested in coin conservation, read Sue Maltby’s columns in Coin World.

    Dealing with non-dealer online sellers

    August 4, 2017 4:32 PM by

    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

    July 28, 2017 5:29 PM by

    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

    July 21, 2017 2:39 PM by

    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

    July 6, 2017 1:55 PM by
    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

    June 23, 2017 2:04 PM by

    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

    June 16, 2017 3:23 PM by
    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

    June 5, 2017 4:28 PM by
    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 4:18 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 4:42 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 5:46 PM by
    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)

    April 27, 2017 9:23 AM by

    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

    April 18, 2017 4:56 PM by
    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

    April 13, 2017 4:57 PM by

    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. 

    Shipping policies vary on HiBid.com

    April 4, 2017 11:29 AM by

    Unlike Proxibid and eBay, whose auctioneers typically ship, sellers on HiBid.com have a range of shipping policies—some acceptable and others, not so much. Never bid in this portal until you read shipping guidelines.

    Auctions by Wallace, which migrated recently from Proxibid to HiBid, has one of the best shipping policies. It combines all items for shipping, whereas some auctioneers charge extra fees for each lot (a practice of questionable value to the auctioneer, because it limits bids). Auctioneer Sheena Wallace knows this. Her shipping policy also includes in-house packing and shipping using U.S. Post Office priority mail boxes.

    Also, her packages with coins worth more than $200 go out with signature guarantees and insurance.

    “We keep shipping costs as low as possible,” she states.  

    Wallace typically ships within 48 hours. That also is important. You don’t want your items languishing in an auction house or on a shelf with a third-party shipper.

    Without naming the HiBid auctioneers, here is a sampling of shipping policies in the portal’s Coins and Currency category:

    ·         [We] do not provide shipping. If you are in need of a shipper in order to receive your purchases, we have compiled a list of shippers in our area below. Feel free to contact them directly to obtain quotes for the packaging and delivery of your items, or make your own arrangements.

    ·         Shipping is only available on a case by case basis. You must call [XXX-xxxx] prior to bidding, to obtain shipping permission. Note: It may take up to 3 weeks for us to pack and ship an item. All items must be shipped to the billing address of your credit card or funds must be wired. Please call to inquire.

    ·         THE BUYER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ORGANIZING AND PAYING FOR SHIPPING OF ALL PURCHASED ITEMS. Please contact our recommended shippers for quotes and any other shipping questions, or you may contact one of your own preferred shippers.  

    ·         Buyer to pay all shipping charges. Shipping will be added to the total cost of the item(s) (hammer price + buyer's premium + sales tax if applicable. Our third-party shippers do not invoice but contact you directly via phone or email for payment processing. Please contact them directly with any shipping questions, claims, or quotes.  

    ·         All items must be removed by 2:00 p.m. CST on 4/07/17. No assistance will be provided. Buyer will be responsible for loading, packing, or scheduling shipping.  

    Some final advice:

    Be wary if asked to contact local-area shippers to pick up your lots at an auction house. Essentially, you are being asked to invest your time and telephone fees to close the deal. Worse, you’ll be asked to provide your credit card information over the phone or via email. That comes with additional risk.

    In-house shipping is important when it comes to coins. If an auctioneer requires you to contact a third-party shipper, how do you know if your specific items (and not another bidder’s) will be picked up? And if you divulge your expensive won lots to that shipper, such as gold coins, you are placing your trust in the third-party’s employee and also divulging your home address.

    Both are risky.

    The best advice to HiBid auctioneers selling coins is to provide low-cost in-house shipping, combine purchases, require signature confirmation and ship within 48 hours. In the end, those online bids are worth it, especially if you are conducting a live auction with online bidding.

    Resist junk auctions

    March 30, 2017 2:45 PM by

    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

    March 21, 2017 12:54 PM by
    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

    March 16, 2017 2:44 PM by
    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.

    Fake California gold still floods online auctions

    March 6, 2017 3:46 PM by
    I keep reporting souvenir tokens as “counterfeit” or “misrepresented,” depending on the lot in question, but the items continue to be sold on Proxibid and eBay. I also email auctioneers and sellers, with no response.

    These tokens, usually brass or gold-plated, are routinely described in online auctions by the year, state, denomination and coin, as in the lot in the lower left of the photo above: “1852 ½ California gold coin.”

    Every single word of that description is wrong. The token was not manufactured in 1852. It is not a half dollar. It does not come from California but, most likely, from Asia or a U.S. tourist shop. It is not gold. It is not a “coin,” a word that suggests it was minted by the government for commerce.

    The reverse of an authentic California fractional gold coin has a denomination on it, such as 1/4, 1/2 and 1 DOLLAR. The word “dollar” is sometimes abbreviated as D. or DOL.

    Brass or plated replicas usually have an odd-looking bear on the reverse, just like the one with a current bid of $40 in the lower left of the photo. I suspect that lot will go for $50 to $100 by the time of the auction.

    I can buy the same ones at my local coin shop for $1 each.

    To learn more about small and token gold, visit Mike Locke’s California Gold website or read my “Home Hobbyist” Coin World column about it.

    In the meantime, my hope is that online auction portals do more than merely notify sellers about possible fake or misrepresented coins. Perhaps the best way to get the point across is to email the auctioneer, state your case and then do not bid anymore in his or her sessions.

    Smartphone glitz causes glitches

    February 28, 2017 1:45 PM by
    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

    February 22, 2017 2:58 PM by

    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.  

    Rainbow Toned Coins from Double Mint Sets

    February 17, 2017 8:56 AM by

    Each month, it seems, numismatic publications showcase rainbow-toned coins that sell for multiples of their values. In fact, Coin World just published a piece on an 1881-S Morgan dollar, graded MS66+ with toning resembling freckles, selling for a whopping $23,500!

    Freckled toning usually occurs when coins are imprinted with patterns from cloth or canvas containers, as many Morgan dollars were when stored in Treasury bags.

    Another source of incredible toning are paper and cardboard holders of double mint sets, sold by the US Mint during the years 1947-58.

    I won the above coin in an eBay auction, paying $222.50. A 1958-D Franklin Half at MS66 with Full Bell Lines (FBL) is valued at $170, according to the PCGS Price Guide. But I think the toning—marvelous shades of green, red, blue, orange, gold and yellow—is worth the premium, especially as the holder also is graced by a CAC sticker signifying quality. 

    You can find double mint sets on eBay and other auction portals. Often they go for high bids, so be prepared to pay a pretty penny, and you just may find such a cent like this one (offered at $1,198.99!) that also go for stellar prices. 

    But also beware. Some unscrupulous sellers take out the rainbowed coins from double mint sets and replace them with artificially toned coins. So if you’re bidding on double mint sets, make sure the toning patterns are similar on all coins in each paper-cardboard holder. 

    Or just bid as I did on coins holdered by PCGS, NGC, ANACS or ICG.

    Inequalities of lesser-known slabs

    February 7, 2017 4:50 PM by

    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

    February 6, 2017 11:06 AM by

    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

    January 26, 2017 11:06 AM by

    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. 

    Patriotic toned American Eagles slab at PCGS

    January 19, 2017 4:30 PM by

    Arguably, the American Silver Eagle is our country’s most emblematic design, combining the historic obverse by Adolph A. Weinman of the 1916 to 1947 half dollar with an eagle reverse by John Mercanti.

    The Weinman design features Lady Liberty, draped in the U.S. flag, striding toward the rising sun of a new day, depicting America’s emergence as a national power. Combined with the eagle and stars on the reverse, one can hardly imagine a more iconic image of our national pride.

    But I can, and that is the strange rainbow toning pattern that often occurs on American eagles, reminiscent of the Stars and Stripes.

    I have several such coins, all holdered by PCGS. It takes an expert eye to detect natural vs. artificial toning, but this pattern is difficult to fake. Anyone who has beheld the pattern understands the emotional impact the toning has, especially if you love liberty as so many hobbyists do.

    The above coin in TrueView was one of several flag-inspired toned Eagles that I wrote about last year in Coin World. The middle coin of the triptych in the image above, illustrating my previous column, graded MS-67.

    About the time that column posted, I sent a six-coin submission to PCGS, featuring five flag-like toning patterns. PCGS slabbed all of them. The certification numbers are 82974140-44. My favorite, not depicted here, is 82974142.

    I have other examples in my collection. My all-time favorite is this one, with a 30365021 cert.

    When submitting toned coins to PCGS, be sure to check out the excellent numismatic photography of Phil Arnold. Combined with PCGS’s digital albums, you can store your coins in a bank box and visit them online anywhere at any time, showing your treasures to friends and fellow hobbyists by way of your smartphone.

    I have several toned coins that were slabbed before PCGS created those albums, and I am waiting for a TrueView discount special so I can send them in for re-slabbing and photographing. 

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

    January 9, 2017 1:59 PM by

    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.


    Beware of Original Bank Rolls

    January 3, 2017 10:32 AM by

    On eBay, Proxibid and other auction portals, you often see tempting lots like this one, described as an uncirculated 1943 Steel Cent bank roll. 

    Never bid on these until you view both ends of the roll. If an end looks like the one depicted above, not tucked in and tightly encasing the coins, you are probably looking at a roll that has been opened and inspected. 

    Some collectors are so good at opening rolls they can inspect contents and then re-package the item as if it never had been opened.

    I’m not going to divulge how that is done. But it’s doable and dealers and long-time hobbyists know how that is accomplished.

    As a general rule, assume nothing is really “unopened.” That goes for mint and proof sets, too. (You can open and seal them easily---again, not for sharing here.)

    Some rolls obviously have been tampered with. To inspect contents, the person unwraps one end and then gently pushes out the coins from the opposite end.

    When it comes to steel cents, you can still find many such rolls online. There are dozens now on eBay, some with ends like the one depicted here and others, tightly wound.

    Because steel cents were a World War II novelty, many hobbyists collected them. They are relatively common in online estate auctions, typically selling for about $50-100.

    If you see a rare coin or even a small gold one in a cent bank roll—a common phenomenon on eBay—you can bet that the roll has been opened, inspected and most likely tampered with.

    In other words, don’t let your imagination run wild, or your credit card, for that matter. If something looks too good to be true, and it’s on Internet, you can be doubly sure there are better bargains elsewhere.

    ​Fake and/or questionable lots have consequences

    December 23, 2016 2:03 PM by


    One of the biggest risks of bidding on raw coins in online auctions is the presence of counterfeit coins in a venue in which auctioneers believe all sales are final.

    All sales are not final when it comes to counterfeits, but convincing sellers of that can be a long process, especially if you are bidding in a portal that lacks dispute resolutions or are dealing directly with an auction house.

    I have identified several fakes on Proxibid, for example, and have identified them in this blog.

    One post described a counterfeit 1799 Draped Bust Dollar. Another post described a counterfeit $10 Indian Head gold coin.

    In both of those cases, the coins were withdrawn from auctions.

    I reported the above 1911 $2 ½ Indian Head coin via Proxibid and asked that it be weighed for authenticity. At this writing, it was still being offered as authentic, without any weight verification. (Quarter eagles weigh 4.18 grams.)

    In 1908, the designs of the quarter and half eagle gold coins were minted below the field, a process known as “incuse,” or “punched in.” Take a close look at the incuse of the coin depicted above, left side, particularly the eagle’s wing, which looks crudely cut out.

    The coin hasn’t been taken down. I understand the reluctance, especially if the seller has to deal with a consignor who may not want to know about authenticity.

    Nonetheless, there are consequences when sellers do not verify that a coin is genuine. This auction had many other raw and rare coins that I would have bid on, had not this suspect coin appeared. It made me suspect other coins might be fake, so I did not bid at all.

    True, I am only one bidder. But other knowledgeable buyers are also viewing these lots. There is a general rule that experienced hobbyists follow: If one coin from a consignor is fake, chances are other coins the same consignor may be as well.

    Bidding on raw coins requires keen numismatic skills driven by a healthy dose of skepticism. For instance, I look for flaws and stop bidding as soon as I find one, as I wrote about in this CW post.   

    Never take a chance in an online auction that the seller’s description is accurate. Do research, read numismatic books and magazines, and buy graded coins from PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG until you can make informed decisions about uncertified lots.

    ​Ups and downs of online estate auctions

    December 19, 2016 11:11 AM by

    Regular viewers of my blog know that I often register for Proxibid estate auctions, understanding the risks and rewards of doing that. But when older PCGS and NGC slabs go on the block, as happened this month, I go on the offensive, trying to win at least one or two of those coins.

    Such was the case in the Dec. 10 auction by Metzger Property Services, an Indiana firm. There were green holder PCGS, older holder NGC and ANACS, and even double Mint sets, though I bid cautiously there and didn't win any. Some of the lots labeled “Mint sets” from the 1950s had Proof set envelopes, and others were sealed so you couldn’t see the coins.

    When in doubt online, don't bid. That's my motto.

    Lots featuring slabbed coins had photos of only the obverse, and the photos were shot on the horizontal. I rotated the sample photo above of an MS-64 1883-CC Morgan. Of course, the auctioneer had the same sticker habit that so many have and put one on over the certification number. I’ve written about that before here, in a post titled “ Stickers, Barcodes and Counterfeit Holders .”

    I did manage to win a few lots with bids close to retail, and when I received the coins in a timely manner — a credit, by the way, to Metzger Auction, as this is not always the case with Proxibid sellers — I was pleased to see the condition of the coins.

    I know that many Coin World readers continue to believe fervently in grade inflation, touting the good old rattler and fatty holder days when PCGS and NGC graded according to tougher standards. My theory is that early PCGS and NGC graders were inconsistent, under-grading many and over-grading some, with the others about right. But we’ll leave that topic for another day.

    The green holder PCGS coins from this auction were graded about right to a half or point higher, in my estimation.

    But the experience wasn’t all pleasant when I opened the large, padded USPS priority envelope. The auction company hadn’t put the holdered coins in cardboard first, so the slabs rattled around during transport. And if you collect PCGS coins, you know what happens when that happens: the slabs chip.

    There is nothing you can do when that happens with an estate auctioneer. All sales are final. But if I bid again on his auction, I'll give him a call about correct packing of numismatic items. So my three PCGS coins are re-submitted for new holders and, while there, reconsideration.

    I'll let you know what happens in a future column.

    How Many Online Auction Sites Do Hobbyists Need?

    December 12, 2016 10:34 AM by

    ​Beyond question, eBay offers more coin auctions than all of the other popular sites combined. But the site has drawbacks, chief among them, in my view, are competition, amateur sellers, inaccurate numismatic descriptions and lack of personal customer service. I only use eBay for coins I must have that rarely appear on other portals, such as Proxibid or Great Collections. 

    I have patronized Proxibid for many years because of estate auctions that often offer coins hidden from public view for a half century or more. The issue there, for many, have been high buyer fees, shipping charges (if the auction house even ships), and sub-par photography.

    But I also patronize trusted Proxibid sellers with whom I have done business. That list is too long to share here and not the point of this post. I am wondering how many coin auction portals hobbyists actually use because of these factors:

    • 1) Registration
    • 2) Use of credit cards on multiple platforms
    • 3) Digital access, including smartphones
    • 4) Terms of service
    • 5) Professional customer service
    • 6) Overspending on the hobby
    • 7) Record-keeping

    Filling out registrations can be a drag because of the various ways to use buyer identification, create passwords and log on to sites. Many demand credit cards to use their sites, and that makes me uncomfortable sharing bank data, as the more places your data appears, the greater the risk of their being stolen.

    Then there are technical glitches on some platforms that have not yet programmed for smart-phone use. Increasingly, hobbyists are using that device to place and increase bids. Some sites have complicated service terms combined with seller service terms. All those restrictions have to be taken into account before placing a bid.

    Then there is customer service. The best, again in my view, is Proxibid. You can access a representative quickly at most hours of the day and night. Moreover, if you spot a problem with a lot or lot description, you can report it via telephone or link that appears next to each item. That simply is not the case with other platforms requiring you to contact the seller who often is unavailable for bid retractions or other issues, such as notification of a counterfeit in his sale.

    It goes without saying that the more platforms you frequent, the more you might spend, as you see coins that at first blush look like a good deal but that later require ever higher bids. Keeping track of all this on your smartphone or computer on your personal email means more book-keeping for hobbyist and even tax purposes. Again I like Proxibid's database that allows you to see how much you have spent and what you have bought each year, going back several years.

    Because I had a few favorite sellers who moved to HiBid.com to avoid Proxibid fees, I have been using that site. That means additional service terms, less customer service and more bookkeeping on my part. Every time I use it, I like it less for those reasons. Perhaps you feel differently.

    As for auctioneers, they need to assess reasons such as I list here before migrating to alternative vendors and do one more exercise: Discover whether the bottom line is being met on alternate sites.

    For buyer and seller alike, in the end, the hobby is all business. 

    Patriotic Patterns on American Silver Eagles

    December 4, 2016 9:37 AM by
    AmericanSilver Eagles often tone in especially vivid colors, but you might be on thelookout for a pattern reminiscent of the stripes on the American flag. I bid onthree coins from different sellers last week and won these three with bidstotaling less than $225. When holdered by PCGS, they can bring hundreds, as thepatterns are unusual and appeal to the patriotic impulse in collectors.

    I discovered the patternabout two years ago on eBay, buying this 1992 coin raw. It slabbed at PCGS atMS68 ( certification 30365021 ) and ranks as one of my favorite coins. PCGS lists the value onlyat $20, because the company doesn’t appraise toning; but you can bet this wouldsell for hundreds if it went on the block.

    Silver Eagles tone inother interesting patterns. We see what we want to see in many coins. I seeangel wings in this 1993 MS68 Eagle ( cert26164112 ) and a cross in thisMS69 1986 Eagle ( cert 33558341 ).

    The most spectacularlytoned Silver Eagles often are found in older PCI slabs. I have written about this before for Coin World.  

    If you are interested inbidding on raw toned Silver Eagles, especially on eBay, check the sellers’items. If you see many toned uncertified coins with the same colors (usuallydark purples, reds and blues), you might want to refrain from bidding, as theseare probably artificially toned.

    Here's an example selling on eBay, with the seller accurately noting artificialtoning.

    The safest way, ofcourse, is to buy toned coins slabbed by PCGS or NGC, although you will bebidding with others and paying high prices for these beauties. You won’t beseeing any of mine soon, but you can view my PCGS showcase by clicking here.

    Beware eBay Bid Retractions and Sniper Programs

    November 26, 2016 10:46 AM by Michael Bugeja
    One of the risks bidding on eBay rather than portals with more vigilant customer service and rules, such as Proxibid, is the lethal combination of bid retractions and sniper programs. These computer applications bid at the final seconds of an auction, often just a few dollars more than the maximum of the underbidder.

    Sniper applications are not free. They get a fee or a percentage of the winning bid for every coin they snare in your name. One of the most popular on eBay is EZSniper .

    Let's make a clear distinction between fair use of sniper programs and unfair use. All a sniper program does is place a maximum bid at an opportune time. That means you don't have to be present to do this yourself from a computer or smartphone. Some eBay auctions end in the middle of the night, for instance. Your sniper will be there at 3:01 a.m. to do your bidding.

    But there is an unfair way to use snipers. The cheating buyer bids up a desired coin until he exceeds the maximum of the underbidder and becomes the high bidder. Now he knows the maximum bid of the underbidder, previously hidden from view.

    He turns to the sniper program and typically places a maximum that exceeds your formerly hidden high bid by a modest amount.  

    As you can see, unfair use of snipers involves a bid retraction. Then the cheating bidder lies to eBay about the retraction, usually stating that he put in the wrong amount. This is one of the ways that eBay allows retractions. 

    You often can tell if you are dealing with a cheat. When a retraction occurs, eBay provides you with data concerning how many bid retractions the person has had in the recent past. If you see many, you are probably a target and should retract.

    You can retract your high bid on eBay as long as the auction is more than 12 hours from conclusion.

    Real cheats retract seconds close to the 12th hour, which gives them one more advantage: By the time you are informed of the retraction, 12 hours before the end of the sale will have elapsed. Now you cannot change your bid, according to eBay rules.

    To discern that you're really a victim, wait until the auction ends and see who won the coin. If it is the same person who retracted, and you'll be able to tell that from his eBay handle disclosed with the earlier bid retraction, then you've been had.

    Another tactic, if you really want the coin before the auction ends, is to place another maximum bid and take your chances that your new bid is higher than the sniper's maximum.

    There is little can be done if you are a victim of a bid retraction and sniper program. You can call up eBay and complain and, if the buyer's tactics are frequent and egregious enough, the person's bidding might be restricted. But he can always re-register under a different email account and name. In the computer age, there often is a way around any digital rule.

    That's why it is important to know how the game is played, both fairly and unfairly. You'll learn about that here. 

    Submit Pricey Raw Coins for Authenticity

    November 20, 2016 4:59 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Earlier this month John Leonard Auction on Proxibid offered several multiple lots of ancient coins, including one of the rarest, a 66 A.D. Judea Shekel, struck during the first Hebrew-Roman war (66-70 A.D.). The coin has a distinct design, with a chalice on the obverse and three pomegranates on the reverse.

    It is one of the most desired ancient coins because of its history as the first Jewish coin struck in Jerusalem during the revolt against Roman occupation and oppression.

    You can find them on eBay selling as high as $19,750, as in this lot .  

    The problem with this coin are the hundreds of reproductions without the word "copy" on them. You can find these on eBay, too, selling for about $15, as in this lot

    I spotted the coin featured with others in this lot that listed the value between $80-100. Other buyers spotted it, too, and the lot eventually sold for a $1,600 bid with buyer's fee.

    John Leonard, one of the best auctioneers in the business, wrote that his company could not guarantee the authenticity of the coins. The coin in question was underweight at 10.89 grams. Authentic silver ones can weight close to 14 grams. Knowing that, I pulled out of the bidding.

    I'm not sure whether Leonard knew what he had before bidding went through the roof, as evidence by the low original estimate. But this is not the first time I have spotted expensive raw coins on Proxibid that very well could be reproductions or counterfeits. As such, in my opinion, auctioneers really have a responsibility to submit the coin to an expert or top slabbing company to ascertain its legitimacy.  

    While it is true that NGC does not guarantee ancient coins and grades them only on opinion, rejecting others it deems fake or reproductions, that opinion is worthwhile in cases like this. Consider the ramifications if this coin is submitted to NGC, which refuses to slab it because of questionable authenticity.

    Personally, I think the coin might be holdered, but bidding online without close-up inspection--no matter how good the photographs (and Leonard's photos are among the best on Proxibid)--is just too risky.

    Moreover, an ancient coin slabbed by NGC can be auctioned in major venues, including Heritage. Had this coin been holdered by NGC, the bidding might have gone through the roof.

    When Bidders Go to War

    November 12, 2016 10:36 AM by Michael Bugeja
    We have all heard of the term "bidding war," virtual music to the ears of sellers on auction portals Proxibid and eBay. The more buyers compete with each other for a coin, the more $$ dollar signs dance before the eyes of the auctioneer before he drops the hammer.

    The auctioneer will hold the digital hammer in suspense, too, letting the light go from green to cautionary yellow, all the while sending messages like "last call!" or "gotta go!"

    But he doesn't go. The light on the screen still flashes yellow ... and hovers there interminably. 

    And then the war continues as the bidders place higher maximums.

    I have just come back from such a war, bidding more than I would like on two lots and winning them from a newby on Proxibid with who believed he was destined to take every lot in the sale.

    Someone had to stop him, and I took on that role. 

    Yes, I overpaid for two coins--winning them at retail rather than auction prices; and that is OK. There was a lesson to be learned here: when to go to war, and when to avoid it.

    If you really need coins for your collection, and a bidder has overbid on every lot, you may have to pay retail or more for your desired lots while employing a strategy to get your rival to bid on coins you don't want--yes, don't want--so he doesn't have enough money in the end to go after the coin you do want.

    OK. Let's unpack that. The buyer in question was placing high bids on almost every lot in the auction. The bids started low, and when I bid on a lot, I was outbid. I kept bidding on the two lots that I wanted, and finally got winning bids, which the newby buyer quickly outbid. We're talking immediately. I bid again, and he outbid me once more.

    That's when you stop bidding on the lots you want and start triggering the same phenomenon on lots you don't want. He fell for the trap. Every time I bid on a lot I didn't want, he outbid me. I bid him to retail and then stopped, knowing he was going to amass a large tab if he kept responding this way.

    Then I waited for the auction to begin. I didn't bid anymore on the two lots that I had wanted. 

    When the live auction began, he was winning every lot and running up that humongous auction tab. When it came to my lots, I waited for the green light to turn yellow ... and then bid. He responded immediately, as newcomers often do, and I let the yellow light linger, knowing the auctioneer's cadences: "Last call. ... Gotta go."

    I bid again. This went two more times before the rival bidder let me win.

    I share this with you to let you know that when you bid in an online auction, you will encounter veterans who will max out your credit card if you try to win every lot in a sale. 

    Strategy is key in winning lots. If you don't have one, what you will have at the end of the month is a large credit card statement.   

    Fake $10 Gold Pulled from Proxibid Auction

    November 5, 2016 9:12 AM by Michael Bugeja
    ​The 1912-S $10 Indian Head Gold coin often is poorly struck and a condition rarity in Mint State 63 where it jumps in value from about $1,800 at MS62 to more than $5,000, explaining in part why counterfeiters often choose this year and mint mark in this particular series.

    Look at the fake coin to the left in the photo above and compare it to the real date coin on the right. You can see dozens of diagnostics that distinguish the counterfeit. Here are just a few:
    • Forehead, eyes, lips, nose and chin are different.
    • Nose of fake coin is doubled.
    • Date on the counterfeit uses wrong font, especially in the awkwardly made "2" in 1912.
    • Stars, feathers, ribbon and rim all wrong.
    In this case the counterfeit coin is so poorly made I wonder whether it was just a gold bullion rip-off with no real motive to pass itself off as authentic. 

    While most counterfeits are from China, this one probably is from the Middle East. As long as the gold content and weight were right, merchants there in decades past had no problem with the design being wrong.

    Fortunately in this case I knew the auctioneer and didn't have to make a convincing case about the coin being a counterfeit. The lot was removed. That said, you can see why buying coins online can be a risky venture. 

    This is why reading Coin World and other numismatic magazines, in addition to books, is vital when deciding to use credit cards in an online auction where typically "all sales are final."

    Of course, selling fake coins is an exception because of the US Hobby Protection Act . One of the clauses requires the word "copy" on any numismatic item. This fake coin lacked that designation, too, of course.

    If ever you win a counterfeit coin in an online auction, contact the auctioneer and ask for reimbursement. Failing that, go to the online portal's customer service and open a dispute.

    Jefferson Nickel Among High Sellers in Krueger Auction

    October 29, 2016 3:57 PM by Michael Bugeja
    The second highest yielding lot in Saturday's 700-lot Proxibid auction by Krueger and Krueger Coins was a 1942-D/Horizontal D variety Jefferson nickel, selling with a $3,000 bid and realizing $3,535 with buyer's premium.

    The highest selling lot was an 1800 Draped Bust Dollar, graded XF45 by NGC, selling for $3,250 or $3,818 with buyer's premium. Recent auction prices for similar Draped Bust dollars average about $4,000. The Krueger example was in an older NGC holder; however, the coin was a solid XF45 with any possible upgrade unlikely.  

    The 1942-D specimen with its misplaced D on the reverse is a scarce coin coveted by Jefferson Nickel collectors, especially with full steps. NGC rates this coin 5 steps. With golden toning, the lot sold for hundreds less than in recent auctions, according to PCGS CoinFacts.

    This variety is available in extra fine for about $250. In uncirculated grades, the coin is scarce, with only about 100 known examples.

    The Krueger sale also featured dozens of error coins along with seldom-seen rarities and exonumia, including a 1779 Rhode Island Pewter Ship Medal, holed, in a PCGS holder, which sold with a bid of $1,300, or $1,527 with buyer's premium. The holed example adds character and detracts greatly from the price, with extra fine examples going for thousands more. 

    Sales like this are important for the hobbyist because they offer collections from estates that typically contain finds unavailable at major houses, such as Heritage of GreatCollections.

    Kurt Krueger , long-time numismatist, runs his operation out of Iola, Wisconsin.

    Beware of claims in Internet auctions

    October 17, 2016 11:48 AM by Michael Bugeja
    Internet portals eBay and Proxibid have adopted rules for coins and currency meant to discourage hyped claims by auctioneers and sellers, but some know how to honor those rules and still post overly optimistic lot descriptions.

    Last year Proxibid adopted service terms based on eBay ones. For instance, coin and currency listings with a value more than $2,500 must be graded by a top grading company (PCGS, NGC, ANACS, ICG). The numerical grade cannot be included in the title, description, or item description.

    Click to expand the photo above. It adheres to the Proxibid policy. You’ll see a role of 1969-D cents and this title and description:

    •    1969D BU Linc 1c BU Scarce UnOpened Bank Roll 50 Gems
    •    "Extremely Scarce 40 year old never opened bank roll; end coins look MS66/67, huge GEM or Err/Variety potential; just look at these GEM values THOUSANDS PER COIN"

    I doubt many Coin World readers would believe all of the above because they are exposed to articles about value and grading in addition to coin and currency advertisements that also have to follow the magazine’s rules for descriptions.

    And yet the Proxibid title and description are true in some of its claims. You can believe the seller or my analysis (opinion):

    1.    The 1969-D is not scarce; its mintage tops 4 billion.
    2.    Bank rolls may look unopened, but veteran dealers and collectors know how to open them (I won't tell you here), emptying the coins, inspecting them and putting them back with a tidy re-roll of the paper.
    3.    The coins here do look gem, MS65; perhaps many would grade MS66. These look red-brown, though. At MS66, that’s an $8 coin, but few people would buy it unless it had rainbow toning. These don't.
    4.    At MS66 red, a 1969-D is worth about $25; at MS67, it is truly scarce with values over $1,000. In 40-plus years, PCGS has only graded 26 of them. In other words, your chances are slim.
    5.    There is error/variety potential; the description is right about that, as a 1969-D can lack designer’s initials “FG” (Frank Gasparro). PCGS has graded about 50 of those, with only 19 in various grades of red, typically selling for about $250 or so at auction, according to CoinFacts.
    6.    The phrase “THOUSANDS PER COIN,” well, may be an overstatement.

    The point here is that sellers can promote their lots any way they wish. They have that right, as long as it adheres to the portals service terms. This example does.

    So what that does that mean for you? If you bid online, you should know grading, values, condition rarities, varieties, and so much more. There are ways to do that: Read numismatic publications, attend coin shows, visit coin shops and join or found coin clubs. 

    Bid Cautiously on "Tidy House" Morgan Dollars

    October 8, 2016 10:06 AM by Michael Bugeja
    Click the photo above and see if you can tell why the "Tidy House" dollar is not the original one placed in the promotional item distributed by a cleaning products company in the 1960s?

    The advertising description 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 dollar in the Tidy House holder is a 1926 Peace Dollar, which was not designed by Morgan but by Anthony de Francisci.

    Tidy House dollars in original packaging sell for high premiums because the cardboard holder caused many of the Morgans to tone in brilliant colors. Most are common-date 1880s often from the New Orleans mint. The company reportedly stocked up on the dollars by purchasing $1,000 bags of Morgans from the US Treasury Department hoard.

    Toned Morgan dollars sell for high premiums. This Tidy House 1884-O , probably worth about $50, sold for three times as much recently on GreatCollections.

    The problem with Tidy House lots in online auctions is that many have already been switched out of the holder for slabbing, with other dollars of lesser value placed back in the holders. In the eBay example above, someone who acquired the Tidy House sample put a cleaned and retoned almost uncirculated Peace dollar in its place. That coin does have nice toning, but there also is a faint pin scratch across the cheek, rendering the coin's value to about $35-50.

    A few more facts about Tidy House silver coins. The best come with original advertisements . You can also find 1964 Tidy House half dollars commemorating the passing of John F. Kennedy. Those also can tone, but often not as spectacularly as Morgan dollars.

    Be careful bidding on any raw coins in online auctions, even ones that seem like bargains, as in the 1926 Peace example above. Two reasons why that sold on eBay for $150: any toned uncirculated Peace dollar is worth much more than most toned Morgans because Peace dollars rarely display rainbow colors. And the 1926 had scant mintage (1,939,000).

    Weaver Auction Offers Rare 1795 Half Dime

    October 1, 2016 7:05 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Rarely do you see a 1795 Flowing Hair Half Dime being sold on Proxibid; in fact, this is the first one I can remember, being offered presently by Weaver Signature Coin and Currency Auction and set to close on Tuesday evening.

    I have been bidding in Weaver auctions for more than six years and consider Dave and Cheryl Weaver's session among the best on the portal. One reason is that they answer questions I might have on coins in a timely and ethical manner.

    The half dime on the left is listed in the Oct. 4 auction. The one to its right was holdered by PCGS in roughly the same condition. (Click to expand photo.)

    When I first spotted this rare coin, I had two questions. There seemed to be a slight bend in the field from 6 o'clock to 9 o'clock. The Weavers checked and later verified I was correct about the minor bend.

    Because half dimes are so thin, weighing 1.35 grams, bends are common. They don't detract much from value.  

    Now take a look at the misplaced "B" in Liberty in the Weaver coin. This caught my attention along with the well-struck and sharply defined rims, usually the first to wear down, as in the PCGS example to the right of the photo above. 

    In Q. David Bowers' United States Coins by Design Types , he writes that coins in very fine and above are scarce and pricey. So this would be a find, selling for about $2,500-$3,500 even with a slight bend. 

    Bowers also notes that striking is inconsistent.

    Upon further research, I think this is a minor variety, otherwise known as LM-9.  The die designation comes from Russel Logan and John McCloskey's book, Federal Half Dimes 1792-1837 .

    As you can see, the "B" in the graded PCGS coin tilts as in the Weaver-offered coin.

    Those sharp rims still bother me, though. Technically, they should be as worn as in the PCGS example.

    When I asked the Weavers if the consignor would guarantee authenticity, I was told yes.

    Of course, to verify that the raw coin is genuine, the winning bidder would have to submit it to a major holdering company rather than a second- or bottom-tier one so that the coin's true diagnostics can be affirmed.

    It's only my opinion, and auctioneers can decide what to do in cases like these, but I would recommend in the future that all rare coins be sent to NGC or PCGS before being placed in auctions.

    I speak from experience. Over the years I have purchased more than a half dozen coins on Proxibid that came back from PCGS as fake. Fortunately, each seller took back the coin, according to Proxibid rules.  

    Check Main Components of GSA Dollars

    September 25, 2016 8:07 AM by Michael Bugeja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A few other GSA tidbits:

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

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

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

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

    Vintage Holders Sell for Thousands Online

    September 18, 2016 10:31 PM by Michael Bugeja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Worst Buys in Online Auctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Online Photos Require Both Obverse and Reverse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Rising Buyer Premiums on Proxibid

    August 28, 2016 12:47 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Proxibid coin auctions are a mainstay of my hobbyist experience. I have been able to get bargains there that I could never secure on rival portals, such as eBay. But the trend with some of my favorite auctioneers has been to continue raising fees on Internet buyers, and I believe we may have reached the tipping point in some auctions charging 23%--almost a quarter of the hammer price.

    Conversely, some sellers are able to keep rates as low as 8%.

    I understand the reasons for higher fees. Auctioneers have to pay credit card companies, Auction Payment Network (for secure transactions) and Proxibid hosting fees. Those fees alone justify an 8-10% premium. Then there are photography costs from equipment to freelance photographers. So add another 2% there. So if the house charges 15% buyer premiums, it is looking at 3-5% profit.

    Moreover, some of these estate auctioneers are doing simultaneous onsite sessions requiring rent space or other physical preparations and staff.

    Onsite sessions usually have lower buyer premiums, or none at all, which has always bothered me because all venues--online and onsite--come with expenses.

    One auctioneer charging 23%, the highest BP in the coin category on Proxibid, says the higher fees are needed to offset losses. "I lose 2%, on every transaction at that," he states, noting Proxibid fees went from 5 % to 6%. "I am trying to keep  my head above water. It boils down to overhead. It costs me just as much for advertising for small a auction as it does for a large auction."

    This auctioneer does charge onsite buyers a 10% fee for winning bids.

    Another auctioneer has limited buyer premiums to 8%. "We do not use the buyer's premium as a revenue stream," he says. "We use it to pay fees - credit card processing, Internet fees and shipping. The 8% covers that, in most cases."

    This auctioneer doesn't have simultaneous onsite sessions, using Proxibid for Internet only ones.

    The damage of any buyer premium over 18% concerns return customers. I bid low or not at all when the fee rises to 20%. And others who do not pay attention to higher fees, bidding as usual, then have to pay credit cards and lose a higher share of their hobbyist money.

    Chances are they won't be back.

    What's worse is that raw coins sold on Proxibid auctions are risky at best. Even with my numismatic acumen, I lose out on my lower bids more than half the time. Thankfully, every month I am able to score a big bargain so that keeps me bidding.

    If you sell on Proxibid, think about a tier system that starts at 20% for purchases of $100 or less; 17.5% for $100-500; and 15% for anything over $500. You can run specials for gold. The more buyers bid, the more money you make.

    Keep in mind these auctioneers also may charge consignors, so buyer fees are not the only revenue stream here.

    I still patronize with dozens of bids my favorite sellers who still charge 15%. I encourage you to look for them on Proxibid and see if they are featuring any coins you like.

    In any event, think about the problem with a 23% fee if a bidder wants to score a one once gold bullion with gold at $1,350 an ounce.  The bid would have to be $1,100 to reach the retail price. The net result of that would be the consignor not only loses $250 at retail but also more than $300.

    Now the consignor will not be a repeat client.

    Better for consignors and buyers to sell or purchase the gold at wholesalers online for a $1,390 fee.

    And that phenomenon should not only trouble auctioneers but Proxibid, too. If you keep raising fees, you'll end up with a domino effect and fewer auctions because, well, there are fewer buyers on the portal.

    Bidding on Ancients in Online Estate Auctions

    August 20, 2016 8:29 PM by Michael Bugeja

    In a recent online estate auction, I was fortunate to snare several ancient coins at good discount, primarily because the audience was less knowledgeable about the worth of some of these treasures.

    I won 12 ancients, including a Corinth stater and a rare Marc Antony and Octavia Cistophoric tetradrachm. (Later in his life Antony would divorce Octavia and pursue the famed Egyptian queen Cleopatra.)

    Both of these coins were extra fine and rare. I paid about $500 for the two, but on the market, they sell for hundreds more.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    These and other coins were sent to NGC for authentication, which is essential whenever you purchase raw coins online. 

    Here's an example of an NGC-slabbed Corinth stater selling for close to $3,000. Never pay that amount for an uncertified coin as there are counterfeits of ancients, too.

    Corinth is known for two things in modern society. The Apostle Paul made missions to the city and Pegasus metamorphosed from mythical beast to Western Civilization icon, usually associated with poetry.

    The winged stallion is one of the most recognizable figures from ancient myth.

    The stater that I won with a bid of $250 (or $295 with buyer's premium) also features the goddess of wisdom, Athena, on the reverse.

    Some hobbyists collect Corinth staters not only for their beauty but also for the different images of Pegasus and Athena. You can find dozens of them on this page of the ancient coin database wildwinds.com. 

    Watch for an expanded Home Hobbyist column in Coin World when NGC returns my ancients. 

    Let Holdering Companies Know Certification Issues

    August 14, 2016 6:34 PM by Michael Bugeja
    ​In an online auction on Proxibid, this rare coin was being offered, an 1875-CC $10 Liberty Gold Eagle, with a slim mintage of 7,715 pieces, making the coin desirable, even in low mint state. In fact, this coin is ultra rare in higher grades. For instance, this PCGS example at XF40 sold for more than $7050 in a Heritage Auction. 

    As a rule, I never look at price guides but utilize NGC and PCGS certification websites to make sure the coin is authentic. The sites also provide the latest auction prices.

    More than once I have checked certs only to find that a counterfeit was being offered in an estate auction because the holdering company photo differed from the auction one on the web. Here's an example

    As you can see from the photo above, the NGC database grade for the 1875-CC was deleted for some reason, and that had me worried. First off, the 1875-CC Gold Eagle is often counterfeited. The strike is typically soft, as this was; but at VG10, it was difficult to spot any characteristics to help me verify its authenticity. 

    I have found NGC to be particularly resourceful and helpful when issues arise in its online database.

    "We work really hard on maintaining the integrity of our certification database," says Scott Schechter, vice president. "We encourage collectors to verify certifications and notify us of anomalies. In cases where problems have been identified, such as counterfeits, a note to contact customer service will appear in lieu of grade when said coin is verified. That is a red flag."

    That wasn't the case with this coin. " Errant deletions and other data error can occur for a variety of reasons," Schechter stated. He consulted his database records, as every change is recorded, and was able to restore the certification

    "Checking certifications is good advice," he added. "We will always review a coin free of charge in our holder when a data error appears."

    On the bottom of every NGC coin certification, this notice appears: "If the information displayed above is incorrect or does not match the coin you are verifying, or if you believe that you have a counterfeit or tampered NGC holder, please contact ConsumerAwareness@ngccoin.com."

    This service is essential as is checking certifications of any lot online that you wish to bid on or purchase.

    Don't Overlook "Missing Halves" Mint Sets

    August 11, 2016 11:10 AM by Michael Bugeja

    ​Many hobbyists collect double mint sets, which the US Mint produced between 1947-58. The coins were housed in cardboard folders often with green flimsy paper glued to one side. The cardboard and paper often cause the coins inside to tone.

    I will save a full-blown column on these low-mintage sets for another day. Today we're looking at the remnants of sets with missing halves, which tend to tone in marvelous rainbows and which often are removed from sets and sent in for grading. Here's an example of the type of toning you can find on occasion, commanding premium prices when graded by a top-tier holdering company. (Bottom-tier slabs often house artificially colored coins.)

    But this doesn't mean that the other coins in the double mint set are not worth considering. First of all, you will have four or six silver quarters and silver dimes, depending on the year. That's about $20-30 of silver right there.

    But there is a big market for toned quarters, too, which sell particularly well on eBay.  Here's a 1958-D quarter of registry-set quality being offered for a whopping $12,508!

    There is somewhat of a market for the dimes and a better one for toned cents. But the real money to be made is in the nickel, and not because of toning. Nickels produced in the 1950s that have full steps can bring hundreds of dollars. For instance, a 1958 nickel with full steps is valued at $1,200 in a PCGS holder!

    The steps are on the reverse of the coin. Use a magnifier and see if you can see 5 or 6 steps. I have sent a few in for grading this month and will report on the outcome later.

    Paying for Coins Online

    July 29, 2016 7:15 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Buying and bidding on coins via the Internet is convenient, offering a wider array of options for the hobbyist collecting any denomination, date set or rarity. There are many payment options, too, and some of them are risky.

    Proxibid mainly uses the Auction Payment Network, but sellers do not have to subscribe to the service. APN is a safe way to bid, offering security options that other venues lack. When an auctioneer uses APN, the credit card on file with Proxibid is charged after each session. 

    However, not all Proxibid sellers use APN. Here's where it gets risky. Some sellers ask that you contact them via telephone or (yikes!) email with your credit card number, including expiration date and CVC code (the three numbers on the back of the card).

    Some bidders realize this too late because they failed to read the terms of service. Once you phone in or send your credit card information, there is no way to tell what the auctioneer will do with it. Perhaps the company stores it on a computer that other employees have access to, or worse, that can be hacked.

    As a rule, I never call in credit card information. If you learn about the payment option too late, call the auctioneer and ask if you can send a personal check or bank check. You'll likely wait longer for your coins as sellers must wait for checks to clear.

    Some Proxibid and most eBay sellers use PayPal, another secure way to send funds. PayPal likes to link directly to your bank account, and in that case, you're not getting reward points for using your credit card. Think about that. If you win a $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coin at $1,700 with buyer's fee, you just lost $17 or more.

    Also, if you link directly to your bank account, and something with the sale goes wrong, it may take up to 30 days for the funds to be credited to your bank or PayPal account.

    PayPal does allow you to link to your credit card if you want to claim reward points. There is no charge for this. Again, if a sale is canceled, you'll have to wait a month for accounts to be settled in your favor.

    Auctioneers hate charge-backs so do not use your card to do that unless you have a real dispute, such as purchase of a counterfeit coin. You can be looking at extra fees if you attempt to cancel a transaction due to buyer's remorse.

    Finally, always read the terms of service before deciding how to pay for your lots. You can save yourself time and, most important, money.  

    Bidding on Raw Coins in Online Auctions

    July 22, 2016 8:51 PM by Michael Bugeja
    ​My last post explained how to research coins slabbed by top grading companies, checking latest auction prices and factoring in buyer's fees and shipping. Bidding on uncertified coins is much riskier, and the research much more involved than looking up certification numbers and latest auction prices.

    One of the very best resources on the Web remains PCGS Photograde Online . There is even an informative video on the website that explains how to grade so that you can determine whether to submit to PCGS, considered one of the top two holdering companies with NGC.

    I don't recommend bidding on raw coins in Proxibid, eBay or other online venues unless you know how to grade and can tell condition issues like cleaning, alternation, environmental damage and more. Even if you can do that, you should only bid with auctioneers who provide sharp photographs and charge reasonable shipping and buyer's fees.

    Also, never believe the description on the flip. Consignors and auctioneers who represent them tend to inflate value--the reason, by the way, that third-party grading companies came into existence.

    Currently I am bidding in an online auction on Proxibid with a seller who knows how to grade and generally does a fine job in his descriptions. (He's better with silver dollars than copper, but that is only my assessment.) In any case he charges a reasonable 15% buyer's fee, ships inexpensively and is a seasoned numismatist. 

    In his current auction, he is selling a collection of Lincoln Wheat cents from an older collector. He is providing fine photos, as the 1931-D Cent above illustrates.

    Before bidding, I study his photos and descriptions, add my own analysis, look up the latest auction prices, factor in fees and place a low-ball bid (because anyone who bids on raw coins takes a risk). Also, this seller submits to PCGS, and if a coin is uncertified, he felt it was generally not worth the effort. (That's a tip, by the way--to be explained in a future post.)

    Nonetheless, Lincoln cents in almost uncirculated and uncirculated condition can be worth winning, especially semi key dates such as 1924-D (2,520,000 mintage) or 1931-D (4,480,000).

    Before placing bids, I keep a running journal with what the trusted auctioneer stated, my assessment of the grade, and potential value. Then I decide to bid or pass.

    Here's an excerpt from my journal:

    AUCTIONEER: 1909 cent. Near-gem to gem red unc. 

    BUGEJA: Red-brown, MS64

    VALUE: $48

    DECISION: No bid; not worth the effort

    *  *  *

    AUCTIONEER: 1909 VDB cent. A little dark over the profile,but we're calling this a near-gem unc.

    BUGEJA: Red-brown, low mint state, questionable color, carbon spot

    VALUE: $20

    DECISION: No bid

    *  *  *

    AUCTIONEER: 1910-S cent. AU, very near unc

    BUGEJA: Carbon spot, cheek AU53

    VALUE: $60

    DECISION: $11

    * * *

    I know this seems tedious, but it is the only safe way to bid online. Don't worry about losing coins or get lured into a bidding war. There are thousands of coins in online auction. Bid well, and you'll have the funds to win other lots without disappointment.

    Informed Buyers Do Research Before Bidding

    July 14, 2016 10:06 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Auctioneers have every right to set opening bids, buyer's fees and shipping costs, and if they set them high, they could lose regular customers ... or score retail prices from bidders who win lots without doing research.

    Expand the screenshot above and read the PCGS certification on the label of this Iowa Commemorative Half Dollar. 

    Note: Sometimes auctioneers put stickers there so you will not be able to check registrations. (Here is an irksome example of that on Proxibid.) If you really want the coin, call up the auctioneer and ask him to read you the certification. 

    You want to check certs rather than price lists because PCGS provides another link to CoinFacts (free now), which will tell you whether the coin sold in a previous auction. You'll also have access to more data.

    In this case, you begin your research by verifying the certification number on the label using PCGS's link for that . When you input the cert, you learn this 1946 Iowa Commemorative Half Dollar retails for $120 at MS64. To the right of that webpage is another link to CoinFacts  with recent auction prices. According to its data, this coin sells in auctions between $75-86.

    So if you place a minimum bid of $100--and nobody else places a bid--you will be "winning" the coin at retail, or what a coin shop would charge you. That's because the buyer's fee in this auction is 20%. Moreover, you would have to pay shipping and handling fees for this coin, increasing the price even more.

    Other top holdering companies, such as NGC, also verify certification on the label with current auction prices. Here is an NGC MS64 Iowa Commemorative valued at $130 by NGC. This coin sold on GreatCollections for $57.09 (or $62.80 with BP). 

    All these links are part of research. If you bid for coins online, you're doing so in competition with buyers like me who seldom place a retail bid unless I believe the coin is under-graded. If you don't take your time doing these steps, you'll quickly run out of hobbyist dollars. Never feel bad about underbidding if you have researched a coin. You actually won in many cases ... holding on to your own money. 

    Next time we will go through research steps with raw coins. Stay tuned.

    Cherrypicking the 1901 Morgan Double Die Reverse

    July 10, 2016 1:29 PM by Michael Bugeja
    During the past several years I have been able to identify in a few online auctions one of the rarest Morgan silver dollar varieties, or 1901 Doubled Die Reverse (DDR), also known as the VAM-3 Shifted Eagle.

    VAM is an acronym for Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis, numismatists who cataloged varieties in their Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars.

    The 1901 Morgan variety is considered one of the strongest double dies in the silver dollar series. A  misalignment of hub and die shifted the eagle and doubled the lower eagle wings, tail feathers, arrow shafts and arrowheads. As in the photo above (click to expand) you can see the dramatic doubling of the tail feathers--just as strong as the more popular and common 1878 Morgan 7 over 8 Tail Feathers.

    I first wrote about the 1901 DDR in a Home Hobbyist column . I won such a coin in a John Leonard auction with a bid of $240. He identified the variety in his Proxibid description. PCGS slabbed the coin EF40, worth $1,600. 

    On April 22, I spotted another 1901 DDR in an online Auction by Wallace session and won it with a bid of $275. It just graded EF45, worth $1,700. You can check the PCGS certification by clicking here.

    This is yet another example of how numismatic knowledge empowers bidders in online auctions. The 1901 Morgan in lower grades is fairly common. Not so the Shifted Eagle reverse. The 1901 DDR that just graded was not listed as such in the Wallace auction description. I knew it, and that gave an edge over other bidders.

    You can do the same now.

    Questionable Lot Was Dipped

    July 3, 2016 7:46 AM by Michael Bugeja
    Last week I wrote about the ability online to distinguish between polished, deep mirror, and questionable lots, promising to follow up when I received the questionable coin to see whether might slab or whether it was dipped to the point of being cleaned and ungradeworthy.

    I won the 1883-CC Morgan dollar with a bid of $160, or a realized price of $192, with 20% buyer's premium.

    The coin was cleaned and dipped, ungradeworthy, with a value of about $140. So I lost about $50.

    But not all was lost. I now have a comparison photo (click and expand the one above) to gauge the luster of any future lots from this seller. You can see from the dual photo above how lighting can make a dipped coin look uncirculated (left photo) and how natural light can show the flaws (right photo).

    If you think the disparity is so great that these cannot be the same coin, look at the minor scrape on the obverse under the "M" in "Unum."

    The example shows how photography online can fool an experienced buyer.

    I also will bid much more judiciously on raw coins from this seller. I have purchased dozens of coins from him when his buyer's premium was 15%. Like too many others on Proxibid, he is charging 20% now, and I expect more from auctions that do this, especially in the descriptions. If a coin is tampered with, just say it. Some auctioneers can't tell the difference between a lustrous silver coin and a dipped one. This dealer can and isn't doing that.

    In the end, this post affirms the lessons of my last one. If you are going to take a chance on a questionable coin, make sure it has some other value, in case the coin is dipped or cleaned. The Carson City mint mark saved me from a steeper loss. If the coin were an 1883-O Morgan, a common year, with a photo that made the condition seem MS65 or MS66--won with the same $160 bid at 20% BP--my loss would not be $50 but $170.

    Polished, Deep-Mirror and Questionable Lots

    June 25, 2016 7:17 PM by Michael Bugeja
    One of the challenges in online auctions hosted by Proxibid concerns sellers who do not describe the condition of a coin, relying on bidders to make that determination. I encountered that in a June 25 auction by Fox Valley Coins.

    Click and expand the photo above. The first coin is an 1882-CC Morgan, obviously polished; the second is a deep-mirror proof-like 1880-S Morgan; and the third is a questionable 1883-CC Morgan.

    Both Carson City dollars were included in the Fox Valley auction. No descriptions were provided. 

    People polish coins for various reasons and with various instruments. Some want to pass a coin off as proof-like, hide flaws, or remove tarnish or stains. Suffice to say they damage the coin, drastically decreasing its value. The 1882-CC coin depicted here sold for $140 with a 20% buyer's fee, or $168. In my view, it is worth no more than $50-75. 

    I won the 1883-CC questionable Morgan with a bid of $160, or a realized price of $192.

    The deep-mirror proof-like 1880-S was not in the Fox Valley auction and used only to show the difference between a polished coin and DMPL (pronounced "dimple."). The polished coin lacks luster, has bag marks and rim gashes on the upper cheek, below and to the left of the ear, and in the left field. It is not uncirculated. A true DMPL coin has to have mirrors that reflect 6 inches or more on both sides of the coin--a topic for another day.

    The questionable coin that I won is not polished; but it may have been dipped. I won't know for a week or more when I receive the coin. I took a chance because there is really no reason to tamper with true uncirculated Carson City dollars that mostly came out of surplus Treasury bags in the 1970s. They are beautiful enough without dipping.

    I'll let you know if my gamble paid off in a future post.

    Before bidding on a coin that may have been polished, study the luster to see if it has a painted-one shine rather than mirror-like surface. Look for damage or remnants of tarnish that may have prompted the owner to buff the coin with a Dremel or other machine. Take a chance on a questionable coin only if it has other aspects of value, such as a Carson City mint mark and/or low mintage.

    PCGS WTC Coins in Online Auctions

    June 21, 2016 7:53 AM by Michael Bugeja
    Some 15 years ago after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers, several vaults of silver, gold and rare coins were recovered and taken to PCGS for grading. A special American flag label was created, and thousands of coins released to the public for purchase.

    Although many denominations were slabbed, the most popular remains the American Silver Eagle, a symbol of strength with its ageless obverse design patterned after Adolph A. Weinman "Walking Liberty" half dollar. 

    Controversy arose initially about the purchasing of WTC coins in light of the catastrophe that claimed the lives of 2,996 people with thousands more injured and later diagnosed with illnesses from the dust and debris, especially police and firefighters who responded to the scene.

    Many hobbyists defend their desire to collect WTC-slabbed coins as a token to remember the tragedy or to own a piece of history. Others prefer to purchase a US Mint 10-year anniversary medal whose surcharges went to the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum. 

    That said, PCGS-slabbed WTC coins go for large premiums above their silver content. Many sell for about $100-$150 on Proxibid and about $150-$200 on eBay.

    In general, the coins should not contain any spotting or toning. Those that do go for less. Any PCGS slab marked MS69 rather than brilliant uncirculated also sell for higher premiums. Some from numbered sets (as in the photo above) also sell for slightly higher premiums, especially with a Number 1. 

    Good Photos Without Descriptions Also Mislead

    June 11, 2016 9:21 AM by Michael Bugeja
    You find situations like this occasionally on Proxibid, and when you do, you remember it, as I will with this won coin in a recent auction.

    Click the above photo and take a look at the left photo of a 1960 Franklin Half. All the auctioneer listed was the date and denomination. Curiously, he cropped the flip. 

    I always caution online bidders to disregard the oft-exaggerated descriptions on the flip which typically hype the grade and attributes of the coins. In this case, however, the description on the flip (see right coin photo, which I just took) would have helped. I never would have bid on the lot.

    If the coin in question was an MS65 or 66 uncirculated business strike 1960 Franklin half, its worth would be anywhere between $80 and $750 as opposed to $20-30 for a proof strike. Worse, look closely at the left field of the proof coin. It is impaired, rendering this coin as silver melt.

    There is no way to fight against this kind of situation except to be wary the next time bidding in a particular auction. I certainly won't bid anymore in this auction unless I can view the description, and then I would be placing low-balls because my trust in the seller has been undermined by this transaction.

    He probably didn't mean to mislead. Often auctioneers outsource photos. Because sellers have other duties, they sometimes take shortcuts on descriptions. So I am not accusing him here. What I am stating, however, is the end result was misleading and that has an impact on return customers.

    Also this example goes to show once more the risks of bidding online on uncertified coins, even if you possess the skill to know grade and condition. 

    Always Check Old Capital Holders for Gems

    June 4, 2016 6:54 PM by Michael Bugeja
    In an April 1, 2016 auction hosted by Proxibid, I bid $6 and won three steel cents in a Capital coin holder. My maximum bid was $30, but the competition wasn't keen for what many buyers believed were common cents.

    Smart buyers rely on common sense. They check out old Capital holders for gem coins inside the black or white plastic holders adorned with gold lettering. That was the case here.

    I scored a bargain and immediately sent the 1943-D to PCGS where it graded MS66 (although I was hoping for MS67).  

    Fortunately for me, auctioneer Sheena Wallace of Auctions by Wallace provides clear photos and several of them, too, on almost every lot. I could tell from the photo of the 1943-D obverse that I had discovered a hidden gem--literally. 

    Capital holders are manufactured by Capital Plastics, an Ohio company. It was founded in 1952. Early on the intent was to preserve medals from World War II but soon the company was making molds for all manner of coins.

    Often you find dozens of Capital holders in estate auctions whose collections were amassed before third-party grading companies became popular. Even in the 1980s and early 1990s many hobbyists still preferred uncertified coins that they could view raw on occasion. Capital holders have plastic screws that easily come off for such viewing.

    Of course, Capital holders are popular to this day. Often hobbyists store inferior coins in them, ones returned from grading companies or that contain flaws, but otherwise are desirable. The key to finding hidden gems is in the estate auction with older holders whose screws bear tell-tale signs of yellowing from decades of storage.

    Those are the ones I search for and others overlook.

    Research Value Before Accepting "Opening Bid"

    May 27, 2016 10:37 AM by Michael Bugeja
    Occasionally on Proxibid and eBay sellers open bids near or at the retail value of a coin, as seen in the example above, a 1960-D Franklin half dollar whose retail value is $23 according to NGC.

    By the time you add the buyer's premium, shipping, handling and other fees, you could be paying $35 for this coin, assuming that you win it with the opening bid and that no one else bids on the lot.

    The above-pictured lot (click to expand) is from Proxibid, but you can find the same phenomenon on eBay, as in this example for the same year, mint mark and NGC grade. 

    In my view, and you may hold a different one, starting bids that approximate retail values undermine the meaning of the word "auction." The excitement of an auction is the possibility of winning a lot below its actual retail value in a competitive environment, enhanced by the auctioneer's descriptions (oral or verbal), which often trigger bidding wars. The idea here is simple: the auctioneer wins when one bidder wants a coin more than another buyer, which may lead to sales above that actual value of the lot.

    That scenario in part is how true value is determined over time in price lists like Coin Values

    Sellers who open bids near or at retail value and call that value "an opening bid" misuse or misconstrue that auction term which, according to the National Auctioneers Association, means "the first bid offered by a bidder at an auction ." It is NOT the first bid determined by the auctioneer.

    There is another term for that, "reserved," which the NAA defines as "The minimum price that a seller is willing to accept for a property to be sold at auction."

    When you spot a coin that you desire, holdered by a top-tier company such as NGC  or PCGS, go to that company's website and type the certification number, as explained in one of my recent CW posts . You will find the value so that you can bid accordingly.  

    If you want to bid on an uncertified coin, use your grading prowess and check worth on Coin Values or PCGS CoinFacts , before placing a bid. 

    Again, it's only my practice, and you should feel free to establish your own, but when I see opening bids near or at retail values, I usually look for another online "auction" that contains the competitive attributes of that word. Otherwise, I just go to the local coin shop.

    Cameo Designation Requires Both Sides of Proof Coins

    May 21, 2016 11:35 AM by Michael Bugeja
    ​Originally, only the obverse side of this 1963 Franklin Proof coin above was shown in a Proxibid auction. The flip stated this was PR68, Deep Cameo. That's a $700 coin in a PCGS holder. 

    I saw some marks on the left field and above the last "T" in "Trust." But I still put the grade at PR66 or PR67 worth $130 or $210, respectively.

    However, I needed to see the reverse before placing a bid.

    The amateur bidder would go by the description here, taking the grade designation on faith; a journeyman bidder might see the marks on the fields and bid as if on a PR66 coin. But the experienced online bidder would contact the company, as I did, and request a photo of the reverse.

    The auctioneer complied, and as you can see, the reverse is not frosted; in fact, it is stained or perhaps has unattractive toning. I didn't even bid on the coin.

    The "Cameo" designation requires "frostiness" on both sides of the coin, although one side may be heavier than the other. For instance, a Deep Cameo obverse and a Cameo reverse would result in a Cameo designation. For the rare “Deep Cameo Proof” designation, devices have to be heavily frosted on both the obverse and the reverse with even, heavy contrast on all the devices.

    The lesson here is multi-fold:

    1. Disregard the description on the flip or by the auctioneer. You have to rely on your own numismatic knowledge. Take the time to look up designations such as "Cameo" on Franklin halves or "Deep Mirror Proof-like" on Morgan dollars.

    2. Do not bid on a suspected Cameo or Deep Cameo lot unless you have access to both sides of the coin. If only the obverse is shown on a PCGS or NGC holdered coin, you probably do not need both sides. You should ask to see the reverse on all other slabbed coins.

    3. If the seller refuses to show both sides of the coin after you request that, don't bid in another of his auctions.

    Finally, if the coin in question lives up to the Cameo or Deep Cameo designation on obverse and reverse, then look up recent auction prices on PCGS CoinFacts and bid accordingly.   

    Proxibid to Upgrade Search Functions, Options

    May 15, 2016 12:41 PM by Michael Bugeja

    ​As many viewers following this CW blog know, we often cover the auction portal Proxibid's "Coin and Currency" category, primarily because great buys and steep risks can be had there. If you plan to bid on coins in Proxibid, you had better know numismatics, including grading, condition problems, varieties, rarities, service terms and so much more.

    But the journey is worthwhile. If it's any indication, I buy on Proxibid and consign on eBay and GreatCollections.

    That says plenty.

    Newcomers to the site may not immediately get the hang on bidding on an auction portal. For that, they need some type of guidance, at least until they find auctioneers they can trust.

    Connect with Coin World: 

    A few years ago I and other Proxibidders advocated successfully for a rating system, to which the company agreed. The system was meant to support  its "badge" award program. Both, in my opinion, have not been as helpful as they should have been.

    For instance, it awarded its "Gold Ribbon" badge to sellers who routinely hyped damaged self-slabbed coins as being worth tens of thousands of dollars, using PCGS values; that, finally, has stopped in the wake of eBay-like listing policies adopted last year. And some sellers with ridiculous service terms, including high shipping rates and late delivery (or no delivery) shipping, or who allow auctioneer or maximum-bid viewing, routinely get 4 of 5 stars from buyers.

    Reason? Those bidding on Proxibid may not fully realize the tenets and tips of smart numismatic buying online.

    That said, there is one more thing the portal can do (which eBay already does) and that is list the number off buyers who follow a seller or list the seller as a favorite.

    And this may be in the offing. Proxibid has a semi-reliable search function. It's in the process of improving that. So when that occurs, the company says, it may be able to add a "favorite" tab for buyers.

    "Soon, Proxibid will launch an upgraded search engine, and once that is in place we will be able to implement features like saved search and the ability to tag favorite sellers," says Jason Nielsen, SVP of Operations for Proxibid. "We recognize the importance of offering a feature-rich product for buyers, and this is an area where we plan to invest."

    I have bid on Proxibid for a number of years as one of its earliest advocates. In fact, I lobbied for a "Coins and Currency" category and other improvements. True, the portal isn't perfect; but it listens to buyers, and that says something about its continued success.



    Stickers, Barcodes and Counterfeit Holders

    May 9, 2016 6:09 AM by Michael Bugeja

    On March 22, 2016, Coin World ran yet another article about counterfeits in fake holders. The problem has been occurring for years now. In 2011, I identified a counterfeit holder in an online auction by going to the PCGS verification page and typing the cert of a coin that just didn't look right. Sure enough, the PCGS certification had a photo that showed a sticker from the Certified Acceptance Corporation. The online fake coin lacked that sticker on the holder.

    Auctioneers love stickers of a different sort, as evidenced by the one in the photo above. They usually put a description or the lot number on a department store sticker and slap that on the holder, covering the certification number. This is especially vexing on PCGS and NGC coins, both of which have been the target of counterfeit coins in fake holders.

    In fact, I never bid on a certified coin unless I can check it on the PCGS or NGC verification links. 

    Connect with Coin World:  

    In a March online Proxibid session conducted by Auctions by Wallace, I noticed a few NGC and PCGS certs had stickers partially covering the certifications. That surprised me because this auction house knows the value of certification numbers. 

    But I wanted to bid on these coins, so I contacted Sheena Wallace about the stickers. I was in for another surprise, this time because of technology. "The problem we have is that when we upload the photos our system is so sensitive it reads the barcodes and the photos get all jumbled," Wallace noted. "It actually will lock up our auction software and I have to call the company to get it fixed.  Isn't technology grand?"

    Wallace corrected the problem and is sensitive to the reasons experienced bidders like me always check the certification, not only for fraud purposes but also for previous sales of the coin in question and other data that helps determine maximum bids.

    My advice is not to bid on coins when certification numbers are covered by auction house stickers. Email the auctioneer and ask for the certification data and then do a check with the appropriate holdering company. If the auction house fails to respond to your request, you may want to bid in another online session. There are plenty on Proxibid and eBay and you don't have to settle for unresponsible auctioneers.   

    Dings and Damage in Online Auctions

    April 30, 2016 9:43 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Click the photo above and expand it for a good look. The bump on the left is easy to see. That coin is not grade-worthy by PCGS, NGC, ANACS or ICG. The one on the right, with the ding, is.

    I give credit to the auctioneer who described the coin on the left. At least he made an attempt to call attention to a flaw, which is more than many sellers do. He understated the flaw somewhat, however: "Appears to be a slight rim ding on reverse. "

    It wasn't a ding. It was damage, and that led to this post. 

    Sometimes auctioneers (and collectors) forget what Morgan dollars have been through in the 138 years they have jostled in bank bags on the way to the vault or spilled in a jackpot on the casino floor. To the hobbyist, those large dollars--among the most popular buys in online auctions--are associated with places rather than journeys, specially the wild west (Carson City) and Comstock Silver Load (Nevada).

    But stop for a minute and imagine the jolts and jars those coins experienced before ending up in a light box where a photographer captured their condition digitally for the Proxibid or eBay session displayed on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

    Fact is, many uncertified Morgan dollars have either taken a beating in past use ... or hibernated in a bag. And chances are the ones that took a beating have a bump to show for it and the ones that hibernated have a ding.

    Dings are sometimes called "nicks," and while they won't necessarily keep a coin out of a first-rate holder, they can affect condition, depending on how deep or how many dings are evident.

    The coin with the bump in the above screenshot is an 1891-CC. And again, my hobbyist hat is off to the under-stating auctioneer because unlike some sellers, he provided a reverse image and then called attention to a condition issue.

    It has taken online auctioneers years to understand that they must provide obverse and reverse photos in online auctions, precisely because of flaws like this. 

    If the auctioneer doesn't provide a reverse image, you may not want to place a bid. 

    Sometimes Losing is Winning in Online Auctions

    April 24, 2016 3:02 PM by Michael Bugeja
    Above is a screenshot of how my maximum bids did in an online Proxibid auction held on Sunday, April 24. I bid on nine coins and lost every one. I was a bit disappointed that my maximum bid on one lot was matched by an onsite bid, resulting in my losing the coin. But overall, I was pleased to see I did not overpay for any coin the way that onsite bidders did.

    No Internet bidder won any of my preferred lots.

    I practice several important rules when bidding online. Previously I wrote about the "One Flaw Rule ," reminding me not to place a bid whenever I suspect a serious condition such as pin scratches or cleaning. These nine bids represented what I considered lots worthy enough for judicious bids.

    I seldom place a bid based on the retail price as listed in Coin World's Coin Values . Rather, I check the latest auction prices on PCGSCoinFacts and then use that as a guide for maximum bids, factoring the buyer's premium and shipping cost into that amount. 

    Take, for example, the 1877 Trade Dollar graded VF35 by ANACS, considered one step below PCGS holdered coins. At that grade, a similar coin in a PCGS slab sells for about $180 at auction. Recent auction prices with BP added ("realized price") for VF 1877 Trade Dollars in ANACS holders are in the $140-160 range.

    That informed my $100 maximum bid. The lot in question sold for $210, or $247.80 realized price--about $100 more than the typical auction sale for that lot.

    I didn't like the look of the 1890-CC PCGS Morgan, so I put a low-ball bid for it. The coin was graded MS61, but was heavily bagmarked. It sold for $560 realized price, about $40 more than retail value. Same result for the 1892-CC, which sold for about $25 above retail.

    The worst "buy" here was the 1882--CC MS62 by Dominion Grading, a company no longer in business but known to be an excellent grader. It's difficult to get a good buy on any Carson City dollar. This was, however, was a bad buy with a realized price of $318.60. That's about $100 over retail. Typical auction realized prices for a PCGS-holdered 1882-CC are about $180-200.

    It's fine to pay that amount if you really need or want a coin. Bidders who pay more than auction rates help drive prices upward, and that's important for the hobbyist like me. I just don't want to be doing it. You may want to be as cautious, too. Your auction dollar will go farther.

    Be Sure to Check COAs on GSA Dollars

    April 18, 2016 1:44 PM by Michael Bugeja

    ​When buying Morgan dollars encapsulated by the General Services Administration, the certificate of authenticity as well as the box and holder the product comes in are important to check before placing a bid.

    If the certificate is wrong, the owner most likely switched out a dollar from the original box. That's easy to do, and it usually happens when the coin owner sends in the GSA holder for encapsulation and is left with an empty box and COA. (True, some hobbyists send their GSA dollars to companies that affix a label to the original GSA holder; others, like me, dislike the GSA holders because they take up too much space and no longer fit in boxes housing other Morgans in a set.)

    At any rate, there is a way to tell if the Morgan and COA match--assuming the auction or seller has provided a photo of the certificate (and that is not always the case).

    The first two numbers in blue in the upper right corner should match the year of the coin in the holder and box. In the screenshot above, the dollar is an 1883-CC with a cert that begins with an "82," indicating the COA belonged to another coin.

    When I see this, I take a long look at the coin to see why it was switched out. If I spot a flaw, I don't bid.

    Here's why: Most GSA dollars are brilliant uncirculated, but some are badly bag-marked or even almost uncirculated. Those get a different certification insert without a number. Switch out that insert with another that indicates BU condition, and you have bid on a problem coin.

    Also, the GSA holder and box should be in good condition. GSA holders are known to scratch and crack. Also, the lid should attach to the box with a thin black paper, which often rips or detaches. Bid lower on those scratched, cracked holders and detached boxes, again assuming the auctioneer has included photos of the coin, box and COA.

    And that's the trouble with bidding online. Only a select few auctioneers on Proxibid and eBay show photos or describe the condition of the holder (obverse and reverse) and box (in tact or detached) and include the correct COA.

    If you are interested in reading more about GSA dollars, here is a nifty site recounting its history. You might also be interested in visiting the Carson City Coin Collectors of America site.

    GSA dollars are mostly from Carson City, but other mints are represented, too. See Coin World Values for more information about pricing.

    Questionably Graded Coins in Online Auction

    April 8, 2016 8:29 PM by Michael Bugeja
    The above screenshot (click to expand) shows what looks like an almost uncirculated Morgan graded MS65 by a relatively unknown holdering company. Owen McKee, an Iowa coin dealer with whom I have done business for years, questions the grade in his Proxibid description. 

    I like that about this auction. McKee's buyer premium may be high at 20%, but he offers hundreds of lots with something for everybody, and I've scored some nifty coins in his online sessions. I'll don't like paying premiums above 15%, but I do like auctioneers I can trust because of their numismatic knowledge.

    Actually, the slab and grade in the screenshot above is not extreme, as far as these things go. And grading is subjective ... to a point or two. But there are some companies that exaggerate grades in their labels to such extent that coin dealers like McKee have a difficult time not making a qualitative comment about the lots--lots he is selling for one of his consignors, by the way. (That says something.)

    McKee calls the grading of this 1898 Morgan , purportedly MS66, "atrocious." 

    You will have to decide whether to bid on these types of coins. I bid on raw or uncertified coins, using my grading judgment, and ones slabbed by PCGS, NGC, ICG, and ANACS. I will consider coins slabbed by the green or gold PCI and SEGS. But when I see lots in holders like the 1898 one, I navigate right on by.

    Well, that's not entirely correct if the date of a coin may contain a rare variety, such as a "tailbar" 1890-CC Morgan or "double-die reverse" 1901 Morgan . In the past, I have scored these varieties on bottom-tier slabs because the person holdering them did not recognize the rarity or include it on the label.

    But you get the point. Bid cautiously. Deal with auctioneers you trust, as I do Owen McKee.

    One more thing: If an online auctioneer ever assigns a high value, such as might be found in Coin Values or PCGS Price Guide, to a coin in one of these bottom-tier holders, you may want to reconsider bidding in that online session. Proxibid rules forbid assigning a value to these types of coins. When I see an auctioneer do this, I report the item--a feature that Proxibid has added to its online auctions.

    Also, eBay has had similar rules for coins for years now. You can read about their guidelines by clicking here

    Factor Opening Bids Before Placing One

    April 3, 2016 8:58 AM by Michael Bugeja
    ​True, an 1884-CC Morgan dollar ranks among the most popular lots in any online auction, and you can find dozens of these on Proxibid and hundreds on eBay. The coins come in first-, second- and bottom-tier holders as well as government holders from the General Services Administration. GSA dollars are particularly coveted.

    In the 1960s, the US Treasury discovered 3 million uncirculated Morgan dollars in sealed bags. In the 1970s, the dollars were sold to the public. The 1884-CC is the most common of the hoard. It had a mintage of 
    1,136,000 with 962,000, or   84.6% of the run, found in those bags. The majority of these grade MS64, according to PCGS CoinFacts.

    The coin above was offered in a recent Proxibid sale with an opening bid of $600, a 300% mark-up from recent auction prices as listed by PCGS CoinFacts. The coin sells retail for about $275. Add to that Proxibid opening bid a 15% buyer's fee plus shipping and handling--assuming you win the lot with the opening bid--and you're paying hundreds more than the coin is worth.

    You can buy a GSA MS65+ (or with some negotiation, an MS66) for that price on eBay. Here's an example, a rainbow-toned 1884-CC graded MS65+ by NGC in a GSA holder with a $688 buy-it-now price with the option of making a lower offer.

    The Proxibid example has three strikes against it: the high opening bid, the sub-standard photography, and the inconsistent slabbing company. There's no way for me to tell the true grade of the coin, and what appears to be toning can be assessed by a top-tier company as environmental damage.

    One last thing: If you really want an auction lot like this, wait until the session begins online. Sometimes Proxibid auctioneers open with an exaggerated price, wait to see if there are any takers, and then start with a low bid, trying to work up competition and higher hammer prices. 

    Many Uncertified "Raw" Coins Are Cleaned

    March 30, 2016 9:14 PM by Michael Bugeja
    The above photo illustrates the difference between hairlines from cleaning and slide marks from coin albums with plastic strip protectors. 

    Harshly cleaned coins are common in Proxibid and eBay auctions. This 1884 Morgan dollar (above photo, left) shows deep hairlines from cleaning with a metal pad, essentially ruining the coin. You can see the arc of the cleaning here, curving downward and across the cheek.

    (Click the photo to expand.)

    Other kinds of cleaning are more difficult to detect.

    Lightly cleaned coins still have hairlines from rubbing with a cloth rather than metal pad. Again, these hairlines are seldom straight as in a horizontal or vertical streak; they usually are uneven or curved, as in a rubbing pattern.

    Horizontal or vertical streaks often are so-called "slide marks" caused by coin albums with plastic slip protectors. Dansco albums, for instance, have  such protectors. When hobbyists are not careful and "slide" the protectors to take out coins, the dust on the plastic rubs against the metal and causes those straight lines.

    Slide marks may lower eye appeal, but coins with them still are grade-worthy. Harshly and lightly cleaned coins will not earn a grade from the top holdering companies (PCGS, NGC, ANACS, ICG).

    The most difficult cleaned coin to detect in online photos comes from dipping in a solution that strips a thin layer from the metal. NGC has an informative article  about dipping. 

    Many dealers are skilled in dipping to remove tarnish, but some hobbyists who try this--using a solution like Jewel Luster--strip away too much of the top layer. The coin ends up losing the luster (ironically), leaving a dull surface. 

    The problem with online photos of such coins is the flash of a camera often bestows a "false" luster (light shining on metal) that the coin actually lacks.

    To avoid spending top dollar for cleaned coins, consider ones only in top-tier holders  Or ask the seller whether the coin has been dipped or otherwise cleaned. Never bid on a coin with poor photos that prevent you from discerning true condition--no matter what the seller says about the lot or what the flip states about mint state or value. 

    Read Terms Before Bidding, Auctioneer Advises

    March 26, 2016 9:03 PM by Michael Bugeja

    You might not immediately make the connection about the significance of onsite previews in Internet coin auctions, says licensed auctioneer Sheena Wallace, who operates Auctions by Wallace in Barhamsville, Virginia.

    But that information is there if you read the terms of service, and its presence is a plus when it comes to coins. 

    "While it is not feasible for an online bidder in California, for example, to personally preview a sale in Virginia, it is important to know when the items are available to preview," Wallace says.  "Meaning, if an auction does not offer any preview ... they are more than likely over-hyping coins."

    Preview times at her company occur a few hours before selling begins.

    Auctions by Wallace is a full service company that holds auctions in its 7,200-square-foot facility. It also dual lists those auctions on Proxibid. I have been bidding on coins in her sessions for several years and have been pleased with Wallace's communication and dedication to coin sales.

    She is one of the relative few auctioneers on Proxibid that guarantee the authenticity of coins. Many state all sales are final, even for counterfeit or mis-identified replicas. 

    Her house charges a reasonable 15% buyer's premium. She charges a $1 handling fee plus postage and provides tracking via email so you know when the coins ship and where they are during transit.
    Shipping is part of customer service, and she wonders about Proxibid sellers who refuse to combine lots as small as coins.

    Here's a verbatim example from one Proxibid auction house:  "IMPORTANT- YOU MAY NOT COMBINE PURCHASES TO SAVE ON SHIPPING. Small items, Cards, Coins, Jewelry and Baseballs - $12.95."

    That's a ludicrous policy. If you win two American Silver Eagles in separate lots from this seller, you will pay $25.90 plus the winning bids and 19.75% buyer's premium. That will cost you more than $85.

    Nonetheless, buyers do need to understand the cost of shipping, Wallace says. "I have seen recently that one company only charges $5 shipping.  That is great but they are charging 21% BP so the buyer's are paying for the shipping through BP.  

    "Another company only charges $5 but passes on the cost for insurance and signature confirmations--so you really don't know how to estimate for shipping because they are hiding the costs in insurance especially if they are using a third party shipping company and/or insurance company."

    As we have mentioned before in my Online Coin Auction blog, reading terms of service is critical if you want the online bidding experience to pay off. Failing to read terms or worse, failing to pay for your items after the sale, can ruin what should be a win-win situation for seller and buyer.

    As for me, I won two silver commemoratives in a recent Wallace auction--a 1936 Wisconsin and 1936 Norfolk coin. They were sent within two days after the auction and arrived within the week. Better still, the Wisconsin coin is a knock-out. I hesitate to say it, but I think it will grade MS67. The Norfolk coin is toned a beautiful gold, and I think I have a shot at MS66.

    I'll report on those in a few months. They're on their way to PCGS.

    And I have Sheena Wallace to thank because I trust doing business with her. And that's the key, auctioneers: return business. The friendlier the terms of service, the greater the trust.

    Replica California Gold Sells on eBay

    March 23, 2016 6:57 AM by Michael Bugeja

    Earlier this month  we warned about fake and replica California fractional gold   selling on Proxibid, noting that the company eventually persuaded the auctioneers to take it down. The one pictured here sold after 37 bids on eBay for $205, despite my reporting the item four times to eBay, citing its rules, and once to the seller (without a response).

    The item was listed as 1/2 dollar "California Fractional Gold Coins" with the seller stating the two coins being offered were found in the proverbial estate lockbox. The seller added he is not a coin expert and so could not authenticate them.

    Those words are red flags in my book with any coin, especially when the seller seems to know the denomination and how to describe the lot numismatically. Of course, according to his disclaimer, he is not a coin expert and so couldn't authenticate the lot--an indication that he had an inkling about their authenticity.

    Connect with Coin World: 
    Every word of the description is most likely in error. It's not a 1/2 dollar, as the word dollar never appears. The replica is not from California and certainly isn't fractional gold (probably brass or gilt plated brass). And it is not a "coin," a word reserved for official mints.

    At best it is a replica. At worst, it is a counterfeit.

    What is most concerning about this, however, is not the seller but eBay, which made numismatic news om 2012 when it sent out this message:

    Based on this feedback, and after closely reviewing the coin experience on eBay, we have decided to update eBay's Stamps, currency, and coins policy to disallow replica coin listings on eBay.com, effective February 20. ... This update reflects standards across the coin industry and helps ensure compliance with applicable laws that require replica coins to be permanently marked with the word "copy." 

    Those who report replicas and fakes on the Coin and Currency category of eBay expect that it will take action. Four times this was done in the course of a week, and the item still sold.

    The good news is that this was the only replica being sold at the time on eBay. In the past, I could find several.

    California fractional gold is rare. One surefire way to insist on authenticity is to require the Breen-Gillio number as found in the book about the denomination, titled  California Pioneer Fractional Gold.

    What an Auction Bill Looks Like

    March 20, 2016 8:03 PM by Michael Bugeja

    Before I bid on any lot in a Proxibid auction, I take a careful look at the buyer's terms. This auction had a steep 20% premium, so my bids were going to be conservative. (Click the photo above to expand.)

    Newbies in online auctions often just consider the bid and not the premium when trying to win lots. The result is they max out their credit cards and drop out of the bidding game for months at a time.

    To sustain my buying and selling, I not only employ my "One Flaw Rule," rejecting any lot with a perceived flaw, as explained here earlier in the month. I also judge the grade carefully, in this case, on five Morgans--four raw ones and one potentially under-graded NGC one. I am conservative in my grading, too. If a lot looks like an MS64, I consider it MS63 or MS62.

    Connect with Coin World: 

    Judging the grade is difficult online. Often photos are subpar and that affects perception. Better to be conservative and lose the lot than optimistic and disappointed when the coin ... and the bill ...  arrive.

    Once I determine the grade, I consult with PCGS CoinFacts for auction values. I never use retail or when wholesale bids when buying online. The only reliable value is what people will pay for a coin in an auction, and that is often below retail and wholesale.

    But my conservatism continues. If the coin is raw, or if I intend to crack it out and resubmit it, I then factor in another $30 dollars for PCGS or NGC submission fees.

    The result is I do not often win many coins. I may bid on 50 lots and win 5. My intent is not to keep all the coins I win but to win with a low bid and then consign and sell near retail. I don't make any profit, typically, because I may keep a coin for my collection, tucked away in a bank box.

    In the end, I break even usually or slightly ahead, but it is a way to continue collecting coins without a large budget.

    These five were as I had assumed they would be by way of condition. The 1881 actually has a shot at MS65. The others may grade high, too. I had hoped the 1885-S would come in at MS64, but when I saw the coin, I think that may be s stretch. An MS63 looks more like it. Current auction values peg an MS64 at $500 and an MS63 at about $300.

    Finding Crossover Candidates

    March 16, 2016 7:13 PM by Michael Bugeja

    As the photo above shows, I won a PCI-holdered 1888-O Morgan dollar for $80 (with buyer's premium, $93.60) in a SilverTowne auction on Proxibid. The PCI grade was MS66, but this looked more like a gem MS65.

    Today I received the coin back in the PCGS holder. It graded MS65. Its value? $625.

    That's a tidy profit.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    Don't make the mistake, as many sellers on Proxibid and eBay do, believing that the older PCI-slabbed coins are close to first-tier grades as might be found in PCGS, NGC, ANACS or ICG. (We're not addressing the so-called new PCI but ones with green or yellow labels.)

    PCI was woefully inconsistent. Many of the coins marked MS66 are really MS64. But on occasion, you can find a PCI-holdered coin that might miss the mark by a point, as I did with the 1888-O. Some even can cross over at the same grade.

    PCGS and NGC have earned their reputation by being consistent, and if you study how those companies grade coins so that you can identify likely crossover candidates, you can build a great collection at a wholesale price.

    As always, however, my ability to do this took time. Over several years, I have been able to cherrypick premium quality coins in lesser holders and submit them as crossovers to PCGS. (NGC only considers crossovers from PCGS and no longer will look at coins in other holders, including ANACS and ICG.)

    The lesson here not only involves winning bids but the ability to grade. I recommend the third edition of Making the Grade: Comprehensive Grading Guide for US Coins.

    Identifying Fake California Gold

    March 13, 2016 9:22 AM by Michael Bugeja

    The photo above features a genuine California Fractional Gold piece with a US currency denomination on the reverse and a fake piece, or replica, on the right with a bear symbol, which is not from the 19th century, not gold and most assuredly not from California. It was listed in a Proxibid auction has "1855 Cal. Gold Token."

    At best, this should have been listed as a "plated gold or brass replica."

    If you spot a bear on the reverse, or any other symbol or text without an indication of denomination, such as "dollar," "dol." or even "d," my advice is not to bid more than $1. My local coin dealer sells them for that much, and he has a box of them.

    Connect with Coin World:  

    Three other Proxibid auctioneers are listing lots labeled "California Gold." James Peterson auction lists one correctly:  "SCARCE 1870 1/4 DOLLAR CALIFORNIA GOLD COIN FROM SAFE DEPOSIT."

    And then there are two lots offered by Weaver Auction, which carefully lists them as "2 California Gold Token Souvenirs: 1854 Octagonal, 1857 Round." I would not have listed the dates; however, I also had never seen these particular souvenirs before.

    To identify the tokens on the Weaver site, I consulted Mike Locke's California Gold guide. Go to the "California Gold Token Guide" link and scroll down  to "Wreath." You will see that these are collectible gilt brass tokens worth $15-45.

    Auctioneers need to check his site before identifying any token as gold, let along California fractional gold.

    Identifying real vs. fake or replica California gold is important because of value. Look at the photo above again. The genuine 1872/1 25-cent piece, MS65 prooflike, is worth about $800. The token on the right, about $1. If a bidder pays hundreds for a brass replica, and later learns about it, he or she may leave the hobby.  

    To learn more about how to detect fake California gold, view my Coin World article on the topic.

    "One Flaw Rule" in Online Coin Auctions

    March 9, 2016 5:13 AM by Michael Bugeja

    If you intend to bid in eBay or Proxibid auctions, you had best temper your enthusiasm to own a coin and adopt what I call "the one flaw rule."

    Before explaining that, I want to emphasize how hobbyist feelings get in the way of good sense when bidding on Internet. I know. I have been there. Occasionally, I still get carried away wishing to win a coin or snare a good bargain.

    When it comes to raw or uncertified coins, however, more often than not you will not win or get a bargain. You will lose money and enthusiasm. 

    Connect with Coin World:  

    Auctioneers on Internet portals rarely mention flaws in coins. They do this to sell problem coins especially. That impulse in the 1980s led to third-party holding companies such as NGC and PCGS.

    You have to be your own authenticator on Internet. 

    The "one flaw rule" will help you. Look closely at the online photos of a coin lot. Do not bid on any raw coin that only shows the obverse. You need to inspect the reverse, too.

    The 1878-CC coin above is a perfect example. The obverse looks fine. But the reverse has the cut or scratch. As soon as you spot that, leave the coin lot and look at other prospects. 

    Do not bid unless the perceived flaw is mentioned in the description.

    In this 1878-CC Morgan
    , also on Proxibid, the seller identifies the flaw on the reverse: "small scratch on rev." 

    Finally, keep in mind that you won't find that perfect coin or bargain every day on Internet. You may find it once a month, and that's plenty. So find the flaw and move on. You'll be glad you did!

    Know Shipping Policies Before You Bid

    March 5, 2016 3:14 PM by Michael Bugeja

    Shipping policies on eBay are better than what you might find on an auction portal like Proxibid or iCollector. For starters, eBay monitors shipping and rewards best practices.

    For instance, sellers automatically receive a 5-star shipping time rating if they expedite shipping or if tracking information is uploaded by the end of the next business day after payment is received.

    Proxibid has a rating system, too, for shipping. I can't make much sense of it because auctioneers with terrible shipping policies rarely receive a rating lower than four out of five stars. 

    Connect with Coin World:  

    Here's an example: "Shipping and handling fees are $60.00 per flat rate USPS box, which includes insurance, tracking, and priority 2-3 day shipping."

    Suppose you won a $25 Silver Eagle? That will cost you about $90.

    Auctioneers who only recently decided to use Internet portals are used to calling the shots on everything--from no charge-backs (even on counterfeit coins) to no shipping whatsoever, requiring buyers to find local businesses like UPS and make arrangements for pick-up.

    I do not bid in any Proxibid auction that requires me to contact third-party shippers who will want credit card information. As soon as the auctioneer passes the coins to the shipper (and who knows what happens to the lots then?), the auctioneer no longer is responsible for loss of items. 

    When bidding on coins in auction portals, watch out for padded extra charges and handling fees. Here's an auctioneer that charges 79 cents per lot with another fee at 35 cents per minute handling with $3 minimum.

    Another auctioneer says he'll do shipping a week after the auction. He charges a $5.00 per box packing fee plus the actual cost of shipping. It makes no sense to charge coin buyers per lot. Auctioneers should want bidders to win many! If anything, discount shipping for multiple lots. And charging for some packing supplies is suspicious, especially when coins are shipped wrapped in torn newspapers or scraps from US Post Office boxes (a violation) and free boxes from that local post office, too.

    These are problem shippers. But you'll also find several auctioneers on Proxibid who understand that shipping matters and who do a respectable job.

    Several Proxibid auctioneers, like this one, state: "Exact shipping cost will be charged.Sometimes additional postal services or insurance may be added to the invoice if need, based upon value, weight, size and destination."

    Some auctioneers charge a flat fee, $5-$8, and ship within 24 hours. 

    Those tend to be ones that have repeat business because, as Internet sellers know, customer service is paramount and shipping is the major component of that service.

    Counterfeits Taken Down on Proxibid

    March 2, 2016 5:46 AM by Michael Bugeja

    ​A purported 1799 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, which should have a large eagle reverse, appeared this month in a Proxibid auction. The fake has what appears to be a 1797 large eagle reverse. There are other suspicious diagnostics, but these stand out.

    I contacted Proxibid through its "Report the Item" link when I first encountered the counterfeit. The lot was listed only as "Silver Coin." Bidders had enough knowledge to know that early silver dollars are rare; but they seem to have had insufficient knowledge to tell genuine from counterfeit. When bidding exceeded the $500 mark, I contacted Proxibid again, and this time the lot was removed.

    I also spotted a fake California fractional gold lot in another auction whose seller I know. I sent her an email and a Coin World link and this lot, too, was taken down. This was a conscientious seller who happens to follow this blog, so everything went well. 

    Connect with Coin World:  

    This morning I found another fractional gold fake and reported this to Proxibid, too. 

    I realize that in the numismatic community we abhor counterfeit coins because when discovered, they so infuriate buyers that they often drop out of the hobby, particularly if the coin is a perceived rarity and they have paid hundreds or thousands to win it. 

    However, I also keep in mind that Proxibid is a technology company. Its job is to notify the auctioneer. If the auctioneer refuses to take down the lot, because they mistakenly believe all sales are final--tell that to the US Government when selling a fake--then the buyer has some leverage if the "Report the Item" is used.

    Selling counterfeits is against Proxibid user rules. 

    The lesson here is to learn about counterfeits by reading the work of CW's Michael Fahey and other experts. Knowledge not only is power in numismatics; it also is fraud insurance.

    Fox Valley Coin Show Features Big and Small Sellers

    February 27, 2016 9:34 PM by Michael Bugeja
    A 1838 Judd-85 Gobrecht restrike , graded PR65 in an NGC holder was the top selling coin in the Feb. 26 Fox Valley Coin auction, live in Chicago and online via Proxibid, with an onsite winning bid of $115,000, or $138,000 with buyer's premium.

    This is a No-Stars version on the reverse. It differs from the less rare Judd-84, which has a reeded edge. The Judd-85 has a plain edge.

    Fewer than a half dozen such coins are known, and the last sold for 
    $123,375 with BP at the 2013 Long Beach sale. 

    The second highest seller was the 1863 $5 PF64 DCAM with CAC sticker with a bid of $82,000, or $98,400 with BP. That, too, went to an onsite seller. PCGS lists the coin at $80,000 retail. The last time a similar coin sold was in 2005 for $69,000.

    One of the top-selling coins to an Internet bidder was  a 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter, PCGS Certified at MS64FH with a bid of $17,000 or $20,400 with BP. This is valued by PCGS at $24,000; but recent auction prices hover at the 20K mark. 

    Among the low-ball sellers was an 1830 France 5 Franc love token , going for a bid of $25, or $31 with BP.

    I managed to win a lot, a 1936 Delaware tercentenary silver commemorative with a bid of $180, or $216 with BP. The fields are exceptionally clean and I am hoping for an MS65 or 66. A 65 would retail at $335 and a 66 at $600.     

    Exciting Fox Valley Auction; But Bid Carefully!

    February 23, 2016 1:24 PM by Michael Bugeja

    One of the major regional auctions by Fox Valley Coins, the Greater Chicago Coin Show, will take place Friday, Feb. 26, at the Illinois Convention Center. You can bid on coins there or via Proxibid, which is carrying the catalog on its website.

    I have bid via Proxibid in many Fox Valley Coin auctions and think highly about the company, with some caveats for hobbyists who have not encountered its Internet catalog. First and foremost, if you have the numismatic skill, you can score some fantastic bargains. There are uncertified lots in every denomination, including the ever-popular Morgan dollar. Here is a scarce 1895-S with a current bid at this writing of $650. (Expect that to go for $1000+.)

    The auction has rare gold and silver coins holdered by the major companies, including these rarities:
    • 1838 Gobrecht Silver Dollar (J-85 Restrike) NGC PF65 with a mintage of 4-7 pieces and a current bid of $30,500
    • 1863 $5 Gold PR64DCAM PCGS with a CAC sticker, mintage 30, and a current bid of $23,000.
    There are also hundreds of more affordable coins, slabbed and uncertified. You need to know more about the latter.

    Fox Valley doesn't note flaws in its online descriptions. Its photos are good, but Internet pictures sometimes aren't the best when it comes to coins with natural luster ... or ones that have been dipped. You will have to excel at online numismatics to detect rim bumps, alterations, PVC damage and other problematic details.

    I want your online auction dollar to go as far as possible. So before placing an Internet bid, inspect the coin carefully for any flaws and, if you see one, bid accordingly. If you don't possess sufficient numismatic knowledge, at least not yet, then bid on certified lots by PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG.

    Also, understand that Fox Valley charges a 20% buyer's premium and factor that into any bid, along with shipping, because your credit card will be charged and you cannot reverse charges once you commit to a sale.



    Some Proxibid Auctioneers Still Violate Rules

    February 21, 2016 10:24 AM by Michael Bugeja

    Six months ago the auction portal Proxibid, which has a coins and currency category, amended its Unified User Agreement to align with eBay guidelines. This was good news for the hobbyist, and the company was to be commended, especially since its competitors were not mandating the same.

    Specifically, coin lots cannot display a value greater than $2,500 unless certified by NGC, PCGS, ANACS or ICG.
    Coins slabbed by these companies can be listed with numerical grades. While the portal allows coins by other holdering companies, the numerical grade cannot appear in the title, description or item details.

    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 by clicking here.

    I had been urging Proxibid to adopt eBay guidelines for several years. I indicated that the Texas fraud case could have larger ramifications on sellers who exaggerate values by noting numerical grades on self-slabbed and bottom-tier holders and associating those inflated grades with values as might be found in the Redbook or CW Coin Values guides.

    This week I revisited Proxibid to see how many auction companies were complying with the new rules. The good news is that long-time Proxibid sellers, including Weaver Coin and Currency Auction, Capitol Coin Auction, Leonard Coin Auction, SilverTowne Auction, Silver Trades, Star Coin and Currency, Auctions by Wallace, and several others have been honoring the new rules. So have several new companies recently selling on the portal.

    That alone has improved the buying experience on Proxibid. However, violations of the Unified User Agreement were frequent. Here is a small sampling of what I found:

    • Uncertified coins with estimates in the description as high as $125,000-$175,000.
    • Coins by bottom-tier slabs listed with numerical grades.
    • Values of raw coins with numerical grades listed in titles and descriptions.

    To be sure, the bidding playing field has improved on Proxibid since changing its listing rules. However, more work needs to be done.

    I see the challenges, of course. Some of these auctioneers violating Proxibid rules are also cross-listing their lots in other portals that do not require eBay-like regulations on coins and currency. Nonetheless, it is high time that Proxibid enforce its rules to enhance its brand of trust. The company took a gentle approach in the beginning, easing auctioneers into the guidelines; but action should be taken now out of fairness to the companies listing lots correctly.

    Otherwise the playing field will be uneven not only for the buyer but for some sellers, too.

    The risks and rewards of online coin auctions

    February 18, 2016 12:12 PM by
    Online coin auctions have dramatically changed the hobbyist culture and are likely to continue doing so for years to come. Increasingly, sales on auction portals like Proxibid and mega venues like eBay are outperforming sales via brick-and-mortar shops and regional coin shows. And for years now, major auction houses like Heritage and Stack’s Bowers Galleries have been hosting Internet sessions, knowing that sales will progress from desktop to laptop to smartphone. 

    GreatCollections, founded in 2010 by former Teletrade executive Ian Russell, was one of the first to realize where the hobby was headed and developed the technology to focus solely on sales via the World Wide Web. He built a nationally recognized brand with that knowledge.

    The phenomenon has changed how new hobbyists buy and sell “raw,” or uncertified coins. There are fabulous bargains to be had—coins won for a few dollars, worth hundreds when holdered—and hideous losses to be encountered that may just end your interest in collecting.

    This blog will help you discover the opportunities and avoid many of the risks. But be prepared. You will experience both. I have, so I know the journey.

    We’ll begin that journey today and, in subsequent posts, progress step-by-step toward expertise.

    And that is what it will take to succeed in online coin auctions. There is an irony here, however, that you need to acknowledge before we take that first step: You should be reading Coin World, especially the large monthly issues, and learn about grading, current values and everything else that veteran coin experts studied in the Baby Boomer heyday of the hobby.

    Some of those experts will tell you that Internet coin buying has eroded numismatic knowledge because slabbing companies like PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG do the legwork for you. True, they do; and you’ll pay for that legwork because nothing is free in society, especially knowledge.

    But if you want to build a world-class collection with a limited budget, there is no better venue for that than buying coins online, as long as you know how to grade, assess eye appeal, detect varieties, decode alterations, spot counterfeits, identify fraudsters, access market value, recognize doctored photography, avoid obnoxious sellers, honor terms of service, factor buying fees and, lest we forget, cope with shipping and credit card and PayPal issues.

    If you are up to the challenge, I cannot predict you will build that world-class collection. But I can promise you will become a numismatist in the modern meaning of that word.

    Thank you for following my Coin World blog. It’s an honor to serve you.