Online Coin Auctions
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.Visit one of our other blogs:
Resist junk auctions
Screenshot of typical junk auction on Proxibid.
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.