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How to Sell an Estate Coin Collection and Keep Your Sanity

A jar of coins spilling overIf you’ve been named as an executor of an estate, you are no doubt feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of determining what is valuable and what is merely sentimental. As the estate executor you are probably dealing with trying to value and liquidate real estate, a home and its contents, jewelry, IRAs, investment accounts and more. It’s not uncommon to come across a coin collection when evaluating an estate; especially the estate of someone who lived through the Depression Era. It was quite common during that era for people to save large amounts of U.S. silver dimes, quarters, half dollars and silver dollars for their own personal collections. While by no means rare, these coins are valuable today because of their 90% silver content, as U.S. coinage is no longer comprised of silver. Coin collecting was also a popular hobby among “The Greatest Generation,” so it’s not uncommon to find rare and numismatic coins in an old coin collection. In addition, many estate collections also include gold, silver and platinum bullion coins. The value of bullion coins is derived from the underlying metal content as opposed to any collectible or numismatic value.

Needless to say, being responsible for the sale and liquidation of an estate coin collection, whether large or small, can seem like a very daunting task — especially if you’re unfamiliar with the field of numismatics. You no doubt have many questions swimming through your head: How long will it take to sort and inventory the coins? How will I know what’s valuable? How can I avoid being taken advantage of when I sell the collection? How do I find a reputable coin dealer?

We know that a coin collection is just a small part of the estate liquidation you are responsible for, however, it is worth your time to do a bit of research, learn about the coins in the collection and have a rough idea of the values to make sure you obtain the best price for the collection. We hope this article will answer most of your questions and provide you with the information that you need to sell an estate coin collection in the easiest and most profitable way possible.

Recommended Steps

There are many factors that determine a coin’s worth, and, unless you are an experienced coin collector/dealer yourself, you may not be familiar with these factors. Two coins that on the surface may appear to be exactly the same to a casual observer may have vastly different values when evaluated by an expert. Sometimes a minor difference, such as the year, where the coin was produced and/or condition of a coin can mean the difference of hundreds of dollars.

Step One – Assess and Organize

Yes, you could just bring the whole pile (or box, or bag) of jumbled coins to a coin dealer and have them go through the coins and request an estimate. However, to avoid wasting yours and the dealer’s time, it helps to know if you’re dealing with a coin collection from a serious collector, an accumulation of coins that were primarily saved or purchased for their underlying metal content, or both. It’s uncommon to find rare and valuable coins stored in coin tubes, bags, jars or boxes. Typically, more valuable or rare coins are somehow denoted or separated from common date coins. This may be in the form of a coin album, individual cardboard coin holders or certified coins from a reputable third-party grading service. Professionally graded or certified coins are sealed in hard acrylic cases and assigned a letter and number grade. It’s worthwhile to undertake the process of carefully going through the entire collection to determine the type of collection you’ve been tasked with and which outlet may be best to liquidate your collection.

Whatever you do, do not clean the coins. This is a common mistake many non-collectors make when they inherit coins but cleaning a coin will permanently alter its surface and decrease its value. Regardless of the type of coin (bullion, collectible, or numismatic), you will always get more money when you sell coins that are unaltered.

How to Organize Your Coins

Organize the collection into similar coins, sets and paper currency. Generally, this is done by denomination and type of coin. So, for example, gather all the loose dimes together, all the loose quarters together, all the loose dollars together, all the proof or mint sets together, etc. Once you’ve separated the coins by denomination, further organize the coins by type for each denomination coin. For example, for a collection of silver dollars, separate them into smaller groups of Trade silver dollars, Morgan silver dollars and Peace silver coins. Also group together any bullion (gold, silver, platinum and palladium coins, bars and rounds). Foreign coins composed of precious metals should be separated from U.S. coins. Identify and organize any paper currency. Any coins that are already housed in cases or albums should be left intact, as some of these coins may be lower mintage or key date coins; making it easier for your coin dealer to identify and individually price these coins.

To keep the coins safe as you sort them (if they are not already stored securely), you can use plastic coin tubes for large amounts of coins of the same denomination, coin folders or albums for organizing a run of coins (consecutive dates of the same type of coin). Use individual coin holders for rare or valuable coins or a coin storage box to keep them safe. While 2×2 holders can help to keep your more valuable coins well preserved, be careful when using mylar coin flips, as they can cause hairline scratches on the surface of your coins, which can reduce the coin’s value. It’s also important that the coin flips you’re using are made of inert materials as opposed to PVC, which can break down over time and adhere to your coins. Coin tubes, 2×2 holders, coin albums, and other coin collecting supplies can be found at Amazon.com or at your local hobby store.

Step Two – Evaluate

Before you contact a coin dealer for a quote, you’ll want to obtain a coin resource guide to give you an approximate idea of what each coin is worth and which coins are particularly valuable. “The Official Blue Book: A Handbook of U.S. Coins,” is a popular resource and is widely used by coin dealers to help determine wholesale pricing on most U.S. coins. Another good resource is the “Blue Sheet” from Coin Dealer Newsletter. Expect to receive offers at a reasonable discount from these price guides. Wikipedia.com may also be helpful to obtain the mintage of many of the U.S. minted coins in your collection. Our “Rare Coin Guide” is also a good resource to identify lower mintage and potentially more valuable coins. Lastly, our blog includes some valuable resources and helpful hints. While not set in stone, typically coins with mintages of one million or less have some collectible or numismatic value. One quick note regarding price guides; they provide a snapshot in time of estimated prices and may or may not accurately reflect the current demand and value of your coins.

Next, using your price guides, go through each group of coins and identify any rare or potentially valuable coins. Once you’ve separated the more valuable coins, obtain an approximate count, or in the case of an extremely large collection, the approximate weight of the remaining common date coins. A coin dealer will need to know the general size and composition of your collection to determine both the potential value and the amount of time it will require to evaluate your collection. It’s very helpful when contacting coin dealers if you can say, for example, “I have an estate collection of about 600 coins which includes 80 buffalo nickels, 200 silver quarters, 300 silver dollars, 5 one ounce gold coins, 5 half ounce gold coins, 5 one ounce .999 silver rounds, 2 proof silver coin sets, 3 commemorative silver dollar sets, and a handful of silver coins that I think might be really valuable.” At the appointment, the coin dealer will thoroughly evaluate your collection, itemize your coins and currency and individually price any rare, key date or uncirculated coins.

If you have an especially large collection (thousands of coins), or don’t have the time or resources available to look up individual coins, consider at least grouping and setting aside the following coins, which are more likely to have some collectible or precious metals value:

  • Pennies minted in 1909 and earlier (including Indian Head pennies, Flying Eagle cents and Large cents)
  • Nickels minted in 1938 and earlier (including Buffalo nickels, Liberty nickels and Shield nickels)
  • Dimes minted in 1964 & earlier (these are 90% silver coins)
  • Quarters minted in 1964 & earlier (these are 90% silver coins)
  • Half dollars minted from 1965 – 1970 (these are 40% silver coins)
  • Half dollars minted in 1964 & earlier (these are 90% silver coins)
  • Silver dollars minted in 1935 & earlier (these are 90% silver and may have rare dates)
  • Assembled albums, packages, folders and coin sets
  • Any gold, silver, platinum or palladium coins, bars and rounds
  • Any certified or professionally graded coins
  • Old U.S. large notes, individual bank-issued, state-issued and Confederate bills or paper currency

If you suspect that a coin is particularly rare or valuable, you may want to consider having the coin professionally graded or certified. A coin’s mintage and grade are primary factors that determine its value, and most grading companies will charge you based on the estimated value of the coin. The expense to have coins authenticated, graded and slabbed (placed in a sonically sealed plastic case) is anywhere from $25 to $60 per coin. This doesn’t include handling fees and shipping and insurance expenses to and from the third-party grading service. Keep in mind that most third-party grading companies, such as PCGS and NGC usually require a subscription or membership, which can run upwards of $100. Additionally, it may take several weeks to have your coin returned to you, which could add unnecessary time and expense to your task of liquidating the collection.

Step Three – Selling the Estate Collection

There are several ways to go about actually selling your coin collection. The best way to sell a collection will be based on your circumstances and the time frame that you’re provided to complete the task. Oftentimes, court orders or pressure from the heirs will require you to liquidate the collection by a certain date, so your options may be limited.

The most common and profitable ways to sell coins include:

  • Selling to a coin dealer
  • Using an auction service
  • Selling coins online through an auction

Let’s examine each option in more detail.

Coin Dealers

If you want to sell the collection as quickly as possible, and at competitive rates, your best option may be to sell your collection to a local coin dealer. As mentioned above, you should expect to receive a reasonable offer relative to published prices in the “Blue Sheet” or “Blue Book” for U.S. coins, but, you may want to consider obtaining estimates from two or more coin dealers to make sure you’re getting the best deal out there. Be sure to check the coin dealer’s standing with the Better Business Bureau, their professional designations or affiliations and their online ratings to confirm that you’re dealing with a reputable individual or company.

If you need to obtain multiple estimates from different dealers, but don’t have the time or ability to travel to each dealer, consider making an itemized list (using Word, Excel or something similar) of the coins in the collection that you can email to coin dealers to obtain a general quote. Most dealers will provide pricing information with the understanding that adjustments may need to be made upon physical inspection of the coins. To make such a list, group the coins as listed above and then enter the quantity and general condition of each coin. For pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars, you don’t need to list every single coin unless you’ve identified it as a rare or key date coin. For example, all dimes minted in 1964 and earlier can be grouped together on the list without listing each individual date. Similarly, all quarters minted prior to 1965 can be grouped together, etc. For gold, silver, platinum and palladium coins, list each coin by the mint or producer, type, and the size or denomination, such as one ounce, quarter ounce, etc).

Auction Houses

Auction houses may be a good option if you’re selling a large collection of rare and valuable coins. Typically, auction houses require that the collection be valued at $10,000 or more. This option may allow you to realize slightly higher prices for individual coins over selling the collection to a coin dealer; however, keep in mind that your final payout will be reduced after factoring in auction house fees, commissions, which are typically in the 20% range, and the time and expense to ship the collection to the auction house.

eBay

eBay and other online auction sites are a popular way to sell coins today. This allows you to expand your potential customer base; however, taking individual pictures of the items and posting them online can be a timely process. Additionally, the listing, final auction and paypal fees can reduce the final selling price by 12% or more. You also need to take into consideration your responsibility of packing and shipping the items, paying for shipping and insurance expenses, communicating with bidders, and possibly dealing with returns.

Learn More

Regardless of which method you ultimately choose to sell the collection, do your best to learn about the coins beforehand, including identifying low mintage coins and estimating values. Organize the coins by type and year, research reputable dealers or auction houses and consider which is most important to you: realizing the highest potential price for the coins (net of fees) or expediting the process, while still realizing competitive prices.

The experts at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers can assist you in evaluating and determining the value of your estate coin collection. Call us at 404-236-9744 to schedule an appointment for a free, no obligation appraisal, or contact us for a mail-in appraisal with Atlanta’s most transparent gold and coin dealers.

Tony Davis is the owner of Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, a full service Atlanta based coin and bullion dealer specializing in buying, selling and appraising coins and coin collections of all types and sizes. Tony frequently writes on various economic and numismatic related topics affecting the coin and bullion markets and has been published on some of the industry’s leading websites, including Coin Week, the American Numismatic Association, Coin Collector, Coinflation and Coin Auctions Help, just to name a few. Visit Atlanta Gold & Coin’s website at http://atlantagoldandcoin.com to obtain additional information on the products, services and educational resources offered by his company. Tony can be reached at sales@atlantagoldandcoin.com or at 404-236-9744. Be sure to "like" Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers on Facebook , follow them on Twitter, or subscribe to their RSS feed to receive the latest news, tips and expert advice on old, rare, collectible and bullion coins.