If you’ve never attended a major coin show, it can be intimidating when you first walk onto the floor. A major show will have nearly a thousand dealers selling—and buying—millions of dollars worth of coins, tokens, medals and paper money. You may not know where to begin, and you certainly don’t want to get ripped off. So, you’ll need to arrive with a clear plan in mind. Let me share a few secrets for how to make it happen.
1. Learn a bit about the grading scale for coins. You’d think they’d use a 100-point scale, but, no, the industry uses a 70-point scale. A 70 is a perfect coin. Only the very best modern coins will earn this grade. With vintage coins, there are few—as in one or two—that are above 67, and hardly anyone can afford them, anyway.
Coins graded 60-70 are ones that were never put into circulation, so they have no visible wear. Instead, they may have “bag marks”—scratches from being put into Mint bags and then jostled around. The number, severity and location of bag marks are major factors in an uncirculated coin’s grade.
With circulated coins, the amount of wear determines the coin’s grade. It’s that simple. The American Numismatic Association, established in 1891 as a not-for profit educational association that is chartered by the U.S. Congress, established the grading standards for circulated coins. Its book, “The American Numismatic Association’s Grading Standards for United States Coins,” is the best place to start.
2. If you’re selling coins, you’ll need to know what you have and what their approximate values are. Organize your coins by denomination—dollars to pennies—then by mint marks, then by condition. Put the information on a spreadsheet. As for condition, I recommend a 10-point scale. Ten being a coin that looks like it was minted that morning and 1 being a coin you can’t even read.
Once you’re done, go to your local library, and borrow “A Guide Book of United States Coins” by Yeoman and Bressett. There’s a new edition each year, so get the most recent one. The book will help you find the location for each mint mark. It will also give you approximate values by various grades. For more up-to-date values, go to Barnes and Noble or Borders and look for monthly coin-prices magazines.
3. If you’re attending the show to purchase coins for your collection, make a want list. There will be dealers at the show selling what we call certified coins and others selling raw coins. Certified coins have been authenticated, graded and then sonically-sealed inside tamper-evident plastic holders. Raw coins are not in holders and are almost always graded by the person who is selling the coin.
Until you better understand grading and authentication—it can take years—I recommend buying only certified coins. Furthermore, I recommend only three grading services: ANACS, America’s oldest grading service, located in suburban Denver; PCGS, in Newport Beach, Calif.; and NGC, Sarasota, Fla. These are the only third-party grading services that stand behind their product and guarantee every coin they certify.
4. Comparison shop. Never sell your coins to the first buyer. Never buy from the first dealer. Shop around, and get the best deal. If you need more time, ask for their business cards. If you’re selling raw coins, consider having your most valuable coins—especially gold coins—certified at one of the top three grading services. At all major shows, ANACS, PCGS and NGC will have representatives who can advise you. ANACS often has a professional grader at its booth. So jump in line, and get some free advice. You can also drop your coins off for grading at the ANACS booth.
5. Before buying, always ask about return privileges. If you’re not completely comfortable, ask for them in writing. Generally, the better the return privileges are, the more honest the dealer.
6. If buying a raw coin, try to make the deal contingent upon the coin receiving a certain grade if it is submitted to one of the major grading services. Don’t expect the dealer to pay the grading costs. Make certain the dealer’s return privileges accommodate the turn-around time at the grading services.
7. Take your purchases to other dealers, and ask them what they would pay for the coins you just purchased. Don’t forget, dealers need to cover expenses and make a profit, so it should be less than what you paid, but not exorbitantly.
8. Take time to study the free exhibits at the show. They’ll give you a feel for how interesting and multifaceted coin collecting is. There may even be free talks and workshops you can attend. Also, the local coin clubs often have tables at the show. Coin clubs are a great place to learn from longtime collectors. You’ll even make some new friends.
For a list of coin shows—some major and others local—ANACS will be attending this year, go to ANACS.com, and click on “Coin Show Schedule” in the right-hand column.
John Hall and Paul DeFelice contributed to this story.
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