When you’ve inherited a coin collection, you might instinctively think to do a few things first, like clean or inventory the coins. Stop!
Before you do anything with your collection, read this. You might be surprised to find out that the things many people think are good first steps are the very things you should NOT do with your coins.
1. DON’T clean your coins.
This bears repeating: DO NOT CLEAN your coins. As tempting as it may be to clean them up, collectible coins should almost always be left alone.
Coin collectors are interested in original coins.
This means coins that still have their original patina, or and have not falsely been made to look extra shiny. It may seem counterintuitive, but polishing a coin is one of the absolute most destructive things one can do the potential value!
In some circumstances, coins do get expertly restored after significant aging has occurred, to prevent decay. But just like restoration of old artwork, restoring coins is a delicate process that requires professional, expert guidance and assistance. Plus, we would only recommend it in very select cases.
If you have a coin that you strongly feel needs to be cleaned, we offer conservation and restoration services, and we would be happy to give you a free diagnostic opinion.
2. DON’T inventory your coins without speaking to a professional.
This might sound strange, because inventory sheets can be helpful. But what is actually more important is for you to simply familiarize yourself with your coins on a surface level first.
Wanting to inventory your coins is natural.
Many folks feel a strong desire to organize and inventory things of value. And many people find that one of the most relaxing aspects of coin collecting is the cataloging, organizing, and “keeping tabs on” what the contents are.
Unfortunately, many folks lose a lot of time and effort on excessive inventories full of unimportant details.
Sometimes we receive pages with perfect breakdowns providing a compact but distinct bird’s eye view of what is in someone’s collection. However, that’s the exception to the rule.
What we more often see are spreadsheets or documents with tedious amounts of unimportant information that we know someone – sometimes several someones – spent hours gathering.
Most self-done full bore inventories throw too wide of a net.
There are certain coin types that are much more common than folks realize. State quarters, for example, do not have any extra numismatic value and it could be hundreds of years before they do. Yet many people create inventories where every state quarter is listed by design and mintmark. We have even seen some inventories that are hundreds of pages long.
These types of inventories don’t really help us, especially when the goal is liquidation, and they end up being lost time and effort on the part of the person(s) who made them. We would rather that you preserve as much of your time and energy as possible.
Therefore, we recommend simple familiarization with your collection to start.
Your goal is to have enough of a picture of what’s in the collection that you can have a phone conversation about it. Basically, if you can describe about half a dozen coin types in the collection, that’s a perfect level of familiarity to start.
You can find tips on familiarizing yourself with your collection, and for organizing your collection, in sections #2 and #4 of this article.
3. DON’T try to research your coins online.
But, you might thing, isn’t that the first step to finding out anything about a coin collection?
The unfortunate truth is that most online searches about coins lead to false or misleading information.
There are numerous reasons for this:
First, all of the credible price guides online are behind paywalls.
This is because the coin market is very complex. It changes every month with the precious metals markets moving daily. Trends within collection also come and go with little notice, making certain coin types popular for a period of time before dying off. The market is always in motion.
Second, properly using a price guide requires extensive expert knowledge.
Even if someone obtains a credible price guide, without a background in coin grading as well as coin marketing and sales, the guide is of limited use. Part of the service that reputable coin dealerships offer is that extensive knowledge of coins, which is a critically important precursor to understanding coin pricing.
Third, there is no control to the information people distribute about coins online.
The most popular sites people go to for their online coin research (primarily Google, YouTube, eBay, and Etsy) are full of false information and claims of outrageous prices. You simply cannot trust the information you find there, because there is no way to regulate the truth of it, and scams, “clickbait” videos, and misinformation abound.
To test this, take any piece of change from your pocket and type it into Google and hit search. You’ll find that no matter what coin you’ve entered, at least one website or listing on the first page of search results will point to the coin being potentially worth $100 or much, much more.
Pocket change is rarely rare or valuable. This search result is just an example of misinformation.
If you feel you must look at price guides prior to having an evaluation with a dealer done, the best place to find coin information isn’t online.
It’s in good old-fashioned books.
The “Red Book” (Guide Book of United States Coins), published annually by Whitman Publishing costs $10-20. It is the perfect resource for getting a “sense” of the basic ballpark values of your coins prior to meeting with a dealer.
Keep in mind, however, that the Red Book represents “retail” pricing. That’s the price a collector should expect to pay for a choice example of a given date in a given grade. It is nearly impossible even for professionals to get full Red Book pricing out of the coins we sell, and we don’t generally try.
So when you’re using the Red Book, keep in mind that it is inflationary. Also remember that is a basic resource, and as such should be taken with a grain of salt if your goal is liquidation.
Now you know what not to do with your coin collection. But what are the things you should do? Find out with the top 6 do’s for dealing with your coin collection inheritance.