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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


The following table lists answers to common questions many beginners have on the topic of coin collecting.
 
Table of Contents
How much is my coin worth?
Where can I sell my coin?
Should I clean my coin?
How can I find a coin club in my area?
How do I start collecting coins?
What are some of the different ways to collect coins?
How do I house my collection?
 

How much is my coin worth?
Tough question without seeing the coin. The value of a coin is dependent on two primary factors: 1) demand versus scarcity, and 2) condition. Most coins people come across are not very scarce, so condition plays a very important role. Most beginners (and quite a few experienced collectors) tend to over grade their coins; this is a natural optimistic tendency, and one that can be overcome with discipline and experience. One website that has a price list for US coins is CoinClub. Remember, this listing (or any other) is simply a guide to value. If you're a seller and looking for a buyer, you can probably expect to get a bit less than this. For lower priced coins (say under $100), the discount is pretty stiff (maybe as much as 50%); for higher priced coins you might only give up 10% or so. It all depends on the coin, how badly the person you're talking to wants it, and your negotiating skills.

Local coin clubs and coin stores are also an excellent source of information on coin values. The club members will be flattered that you're consulting them, and are likely to be more impartial in their estimations, even if they may not have the pricing experience of dealers.

Another excellent way to get a good idea of the true price you coin should bring upon sale is to search eBay for the same coin in similar condition. If you can find it there, look at the closed auction results to see what people are really willing to pay for that piece. Be careful to pay close attention to the condition, and any varieties or mint marks that may be different from the coin you have. Just a minor difference can give you the wrong information.

Here's a few books your local library may have that will also help to determine coin values:

A Guide Book of United States Coins—R.S. Yeoman. Known as "the Red Book", this is an annual publication that's considered a hobby standard for US coins. They have retail pricing, but because of the logistics of print publishing they're often quite a bit out of date (a year or so).
Standard Catalog of World Coins—C.L. Krause and C. Mishler. Just as the Red Book is the standard for US coins, this publication (it looks like a thick telephone book) is the standard for world coins. It has an identification guide to help you attribute your coin, as well as approximate retail values. Since this is not published annually, the prices are generally out of date; though world coin prices are nowhere near as volatile as US coin prices.
The Cherrypicker's Guide to Rare Die Varieties—B. Fivaz and J.T. Stanton. This book specializes in a very narrowly-collected area: die varieties. The book covers general values for coins struck from doubled dies, repunched mint marks, and other unusual die conditions that some people highly prize.

 

Where can I sell my coin?
The short answer is: to anyone who will buy it. But I know that's not really what you want to hear. The long answer has three areas, and you should remember that there's generally a trade-off between the ease of sale and the amount you can expect to receive:

Auction—As a seller, you'll generally do best by putting the coin up for auction on eBay or some other popular auction site. If you get a good scan or digital photo of the coin, put it up with no reserve and a low starting bid (like 99 cents), you can pretty much count on getting good action...and that equals the most efficient market you can hope for. The drawbacks are: you have to get a digital picture; you have to take someone's check; need I say it...POSTOFFICE LINES, and other shipping headaches. Then there's the pain of someone deciding they really didn't want it, or they never send you a check, or...I could go on and on, but you get the idea. You end up suffering a little more in exchange for what is only possibly the best price.

Dealer—most dealers will make an offer on your coin, but if they aren't actively seeking that particular one, the offer will likely be very low. Of course, this is the most painless way to sell it; you just walk in with the coin and out with the cash. Some dealers will run auctions (these are good for dealers known for a specific specialty, like certain tokens or coin varieties) or take your coin on consignment. Some dealers run a "Bid Board", a kind of auction where people write their bids on a paper attached to the coin (which is usually hung on the wall along with hundreds of other coins). The bid board ends at a specific time, and the highest recorded bid gets the coin. Not as immediate as an outright sale, but usually a better price than what the dealer would have given you.

Private Collector—like selling to a dealer, this approach can have rather spotty success. If the collector especially wants the specific coin you have, you may do rather well, but since there's little competition (after all, you're only face to face with the one person) you're not likely to get top dollar. Of course, if what you have is a very narrowly collected specialty (like Canadian bank tokens of the 1830's), this may be a preferable approach. Places to find private collectors include: local coin clubs, newspaper ads (some of them place "buy" ads in the local classifieds), and referral by others in the hobby.

Should I clean my coin?
no. No. NO. NO. NO. Now that I got that out of my system, I can tell you that, though there are times and circumstances when cleaning is appropriate, 99% of the time (seriously) it will result in loss of value to the coin. When in doubt (and you should almost always be in doubt)—don't touch it! But, since you probably aren't listening very closely, or perhaps you're the stubborn type, here's some approaches to cleaning and descriptions of what you can expect as results:

Soap and water—not a bad approach for removing light oils, loosely held dirt, and other surface contaminants from circulated coins (i.e. already worn). Use hot water, VERY LITTLE detergent, allow to soak (without RUBBING—bad, bad, bad), and gently scrub with a worn out toothbrush. What you can expect...if you're not careful or just unlucky, you'll get minor scratches on the coin and lose value; a collector will see them, and discount what you would have received if the coin had been unharmed. If you're lucky and careful, you'll just remove the dirt and oil and have a clean coin without removing or altering (too much) the natural toning or patina of the metal.
Acetone or Isopropyl Alcohol—good for removing oils (from fingers, etc.) So long as you don't rub, this is probably the safest cleaning method, especially for brand new ("uncirculated") coins.
"Dip"—also known as "Tarnex" or other brand name liquid silver cleaners. Even if highly diluted, this will remove part of the surface of the coin. And repeated applications to newly minted coins will result in their eventual dulling and loss of value. Unless you're willing to lose value and aggravate collectors you better stay away from this option. Some collectors will pay a substantial premium for naturally toned coins, and this stuff strips it off completely. Also, in the hand's of the inexperienced, this often results in unattractive spotting.
Baking soda—goodness gracious, are you MAD?! You might as well take a power grinder to the poor thing, ggrrrrriiiiiindddddding value away. If you've already done this, don't feel too bad, lots of people have made this mistake...an expensive one if the coin was worth anything when you started. Hang your head in shame and promise never to do it again.

Want to read up on this? See if you can find a copy of Cleaning and Preservation of Coins and Medals, by Gerhard Welter, reprinted by Stanford Durst and available for sale at this link.

 

How can I find a coin club in my area?
There's several answers to this, but the comforting thing is: they want you to find them. Here's the best approaches:

ANA—The American Numismatic Association maintains an extensive listing of member coin clubs in different areas, and is probably the most reliable resource. Look on the ANA website to find a coin club in your area.
Internet—there's lots of search engines and coin club listings, but my favorite way to find something on the internet is to use the metasearch engine, "Dogpile". Try entering: "MyTown coin club" (with the name of your town in place of "MyTown") either with or without surrounding quote marks, and I'll bet you find something. Some of the popular coin club lists include: www.coinclubs.com, and www.goldsheetlinks.com.
Your local paper—clubs will often have an ad in the classifieds of your local paper. Look under "hobbies" or sometimes "coin collecting". Not as popular as it once was, this is probably your last resort.

 
How do I start collecting coins?
Joining a club is an excellent way to start. You're put into contact with others who are more knowledgeable and can help guide you during your first steps into this fascinating hobby. Reading everything you can get your hands on is also an important means of acquiring knowledge painlessly. Your local library will likely have several books...make a visit and check them out. Most folks would suggest that you start small and slowly, keeping it inexpensive to begin with so that your natural errors as you're starting off won't hurt you too much. Here's where a relationship with a local dealer will be very valuable. Spend time finding one you feel comfortable with, who answers your questions and has time to spend talking to you. Please reward that person with a moderate amount of business. The minor mark-ups he or she applies to your purchases is well worth the increase in experience you'll get (again, keep your first purchases rather small—remember, you're just learning and this is a hobby that can be enjoyed for a lifetime).
 

What are some of the different ways to collect coins?
There's as many different ways to collect as there are collectors. Here's some of the most popular:

Year and mint series—pick a denomination and type (say, Washington quarter dollars), and try and get every year and mint mark that has ever been made. For current type coins this is usually pretty inexpensive, and you can start with the change in your pocket; a terrific feature for kids of all ages. For some of the obsolete type coins (Walking Liberty half dollars for example), this can get pretty expensive after you acquire the more commonly available ones. Some years or mint marks may be very scarce and command quite a bit of dough.
Type set—collect one example of each type coin. For United States coins this is sometimes further subdivided into 20th Century Type Sets, etc. For example, a 20th Century Type Set of cents would have these coins: Indian head cent, Lincoln cent with wheat sheaves reverse, Lincoln cent with Lincoln memorial reverse, and some might want to include the new copper-plated zinc cents.
Themes—collect anything with a specific image or theme to it. Ships are popular, as are certain animals (like elephants, or dogs). Do you have an unusual job? Perhaps there are some coins of the world that have an image related to it (dentistry, masonry, airplanes, whatever).
Accumulation—look around and just buy what pleases you. Highly underrated because it lacks any "investment sophistication", but who cares? Remember, you should purchase a coin because you find it pleasing aesthetically or historically. Anything you make as profit when you sell is simply icing on the cake.
Crowns of the world—crowns are the basic denomination of a country. In the United States we have a dollar, so our current Sacagawea dollar is our "crown". Try to find as many countries as you can. Perhaps all of those on a specific continent (the one your ancestors came from if you're not a native), or from a specific period in time, like the nineteenth century.
Die Varieties—special die conditions like doubled dies (the image was inadvertantly put into the die twice, a little offset so that the image or some portion of it appears doubled). Also reengraved dies, repunched mint marks, the famous "three-legged buffalo", etc. This is often taken up within a specific series of coins, for example: the Overton varieties of Bust half dollars.
Odd and Curious—this might be weird shapes: coins shaped like squares, triangles, with holes, cupped; or from unusual materials: plant matter—tea bricks for example, plastics, coins made from more than one metal—bimetallics, porcelain, etc. Or maybe different items that were used as trade goods: axe heads, beads, knives, buttons.

 

How do I house my collection?
In any way that will protect the individual items and allow you to enjoy them. If you can make it to a major coin show you'll find dealers who specialize in nothing but archival materials and methods. Some of the ways other collectors have found helpful include:

Coin boards—these are the cardboard folders (usually blue) that sometimes show up in book stores or drug stores. A cheap way to start off, especially if you're collecting things out of your pocket change. A fun way to start a year and mint mark series. Not suitable for expensive coins or those in pristine condition, as these folders don't offer much protection, and the materials they're made from can alter the coin toning over a long period of time. You can also only see one side of the coin.
Coin books—a step up from coin boards, these are more like a hardbound book with substantial pages. The come with plastic slides on both sides of the coin so you can see everything except the edge. One potential problem is with the slides. Sometimes, if you repeatedly slide the plastic back and forth, it can wear the high parts of the coin and lower the value...be careful!
Flips and binders—these are little clear plastic envelopes, with a space in the flap for holding a little piece of paper with writing on it (or not). There are two kinds: 1) mylar—suitable for long term storage, but stiff and prone to cracking if handled excessively; 2) vinyl—suitable only for very short term storage (months perhaps), I don't use them myself because they exude the plasticizers that make them soft, and this in turn can cause serious damage if allowed to remain on the coin's surface for any appreciable length of time. The vinyl flips are often used by dealers because of their softness (good for coins dropped by careless shoppers). You can get pages that will hold several dozen of these and fit into a three-ring binder for making your own collection. This is my preferred method, probably because the of the flexibility...you get to "roll your own".
Slabs—popular for expensive coins where the value is highly dependant on the grade. Third-party grading services reach an objective opinion about the coins condition, and encapsulate it within a slab of plastic along with their attributions and grade. Good for long term storage, but bulky and somehow separates you from the coin. I hate them. Essential for investment quality coins, especially when you're a beginner.
2by2's—a variant of flips. These are cardboard sheets with thin mylar windows covering cutouts in the shape/size of the coin. You fold the cardboard over, trapping the coin inside, and staple the cardboard shut. Many coins have been damaged by careless stapling, or by careless removal of staples. I don't like them, but they're very common in dealers stocks of foreign coins.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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