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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Finding raw coin bargains

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.

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