You’ve inherited a coin collection. You might be feeling a lot of different emotions about that. You might feel sentimental about the inheritance, or excited to explore the coins, or even stressed by not knowing what to do next. And maybe you’re experiencing all of these emotions (and more) at the same time.
Whatever your emotions, you likely feel like you could use some help from someone who knows exactly what to do (and not to do). That’s why we’ve put together the following list of the top 6 things to do when you inherit a coin collection to help you navigate the initial steps of the process.
1. DO remain calm.
First, know you aren’t alone if you feel some level of stress.
Inheriting a coin collection, or having to possess and liquidate one during estate settlement, can be stressful. We know it’s not always clear how best to handle the material goods of someone who has passed. Plus, there can be sentiment toward someone who was near and dear, or even complicated situations like sibling rivalry or widely differing goals between beneficiaries.
It’s also common to feel pressure.
You might feel pressure to do right by the person who originally owned or built the collection. Most people who elect to sell want to know that their collection will go to someone who will share the love of collecting. And of course, everyone wants to receive fair treatment in pricing.
Regardless how you’re feeling at the onset, step back, and take a few deep breaths.
There are few things to realize that can help lessen the stress:
- Help is available.
- A little proper guidance can go a long way towards achieving satisfaction and peace of mind.
- Both of these things are true even when there are extenuating factors, challenges, and specific goals.
You can find assistance from a variety of coin dealers (here’s a guide to making sure they’re trustworthy). Here at Sam Shafer Numismatics, we offer free online content and consulting service at our office location in Fishers, Indiana, as well as online, text, and video support, no matter what stage of the process you may be in.
2. DO feel free to explore your collection.
Allow yourself the freedom to explore your collection. Don’t be afraid of “hurting” things. You don’t need to worry about breaking coins. Most aren’t made of glass!
You do not need gloves or special equipment to handle your coins.
Some people do like to use a 10x jewelers loupe to look at coins up close. You may elect to purchase one if you’re going to be spending some time analyzing your coins for special varieties – but this is certainly not a requirement. A magnifying glass is also very useful to be able to see dates and mint marks.
While handling your coins, it is best to look at them with a soft mat underneath your handling space.
An old yoga mat cut into dinner mat sized squares is perfect for padding and ease of picking coins up, but anything that softens the blow if a coin is dropped is fine.
Not using gloves will make it easier to grip the coins.
You should always handle a coin by only touching the rims which span the circumference. Do not put the surface of your fingers onto the actual heads or tails side of the coin where the design features are. Depending on the coin type, the oils present on our skin that leave fingerprints can cause lasting damage or require professional conservation to remove.
While observing your coins, try to notice what things stick out.
Are there certain types of coins that you find interesting or confusing? Allow yourself to be a bit of a detective. Be mindful of whether you enjoy looking at the coins and appreciating their history. It’s also okay if the coins are not that appealing or interesting. There are no wrong answers – or wrong questions – that arise during this process.
Most coin collectors that we work with build their collections with the intent that their beneficiary will sell them.
By building the collection, the collector is really doing it to support people they love. If the collection has come from a deceased loved one, taking some time to appreciate their work can be a way to connect with their memory. It’s okay to experience emotion during this process, and it’s also okay not to. What comes up during the exploration phase will help you decide what you want to do with the collection.
3. DO consider your goal for the collection.
This is a “Do” that so often gets overlooked: As the new custodian of the collection, do take some time to consider what your end goal will be.
It is best to do this before reaching out for expert help.
While we are here to help and happy to do so, what you choose to do with your coin collection is up to you (or the requirements of the estate). Having a plan that allows you comfort and peace of mind will serve to maximize any time and effort you spend with professionals.
If you are at a total loss of what to do, here are the most popular options that people choose as goals:
- Liquidating / selling the collection,
- Joining the hobby of numismatics and continuing where the prior owner left off,
- Holding the collection as an asset for capital gain,
- Seeing if anyone else in the family would like to keep the coins, or
- Stashing the collection in the closet to worry about some other day down the road.
(We hope after reading this guide, the last option won’t seem quite so necessary!)
Keep in mind that whichever option you choose, it is valid.
If you are the legal owner, then the option you choose should be the one that feels best to you. It should leave you feeling at least some sense of peace. We know that sometimes collections have to be sold prematurely, but even then, there are ways we can lessen the burden.
The vast majority of collecting clients we work with see collections as investments for the next person in line to reap the value. Unless an actual directive was left by the original collector or the estate, do not feel obligated or guilted into one direction or another.
If you elect to sell a collection, that does not mean the coins get melted down.
In almost all cases, the coins get resold to new collectors who will appreciate them just as much as the former custodian did. We sometimes call this process “re-homing” coins, as it speaks to the intimate personal nature of collectibles. We don’t just see them as inanimate objects. They are objects of emotional attachment, and pieces of our shared past.
4. DO organize and protect your collection.
Depending on how you acquire your coin collection, it may be perfectly sorted and neatly catalogued, or it may be a jumble of American coins, foreign coins, pocket change, lint, tokens and unidentified trinkets of all kinds.
No matter what your goal is for your collection, if it is more on the jumbled side than organized, it is useful to organize the collection.
Everyone will approach this differently. Some people are very detail and process oriented and will want to sort and label every coin. We advise that you not go to this extreme, but rather find a happy medium. Aim to organize the collection so that the the next person to see the coins, whether it be a family member or a professional, can make sense of what is what.
If you are planning to bring your coins to a dealership like ours for sale or consultation, we find it optimally helpful if you sort the coins by type.
Type means design. For example, you could sort one bag with Roosevelt dimes, one bag with wheat pennies, one bag with memorial Lincoln Memorial pennies, one bag with Eisenhower dollars, one bag with Washington quarters, one bag with Standing Liberty quarters or barber quarters, and so forth. You don’t need to know the name of the series as long as you can identify it by design pictorially.
Ziplock bags are going to be acceptable for most coins.
However, if you do know in advance that the collection contains expensive and rare coins, or if you come across very old American coins from the 1870s and earlier that are in excellent shape, you should take an extra level of precaution during the sorting process. We strongly recommend that you put these coins in a protective holder if they are not already in one.
We use SAFLIPS for protecting these types of coins.
SAFLIPS are hard plastic sleeves made with no chemicals to soften the plastic. This prevents the chemical plasticizer “Poly vinyl chloride” or PVC from leaching onto the surface of the coin, which if left untreated long enough, will cause a corrosive green slime to appear. We use a brand of coin flips called SAFLIPS which can be bought from Wizard Coin Supply Company off their website or their eBay store.
Keep in mind, it does take a while for PVC to begin causing problems, so soft flips are okay so long as you don’t plan to keep the coins in them for more than a couple months at the most.
You may also elect to purchase “Two-by-Two’s,” which are cardboard flips with a hard plastic viewing film.
The coin is placed inside the 2×2 and then it is stapled three to four times.
We highly recommend investing in a FlatMAX Pro stapler if you are going to use 2×2’s. FlatMAX Staplers use a special mechanism that makes the staples perfectly flat on both sides.
While you may have a trusty Swingline stapler that seems like it would work perfectly well, we highly recommend not tempting fate. It is a sad fact that staples from 2×2’s have likely ruined millions of dollars’ worth of coins over the last 6-8 decades. Two-by-twos are often stacked, or people open them poorly either while removing a coin or while a staple is dragged across the viewing film of another coin. This causes a “staple drag” scratch to occur – a ghastly shame for any rare coin to endure. The coin’s value will be hurt as much as 75%. This is why, even though other reputable dealerships may use them, we personally do not use 2x2s. Just remember: it’s very important to use proper care when handling them!
5. DO have reasonable expectations for your collection.
It’s easy to understand why so many people get their hopes up when it comes to the value of their collections. Many of our customers come to us dreaming of finding fortune. Many have read or seen misleading information online about the likely value of coin collections. And many are excited about the potential of the collection and are simply a little too optimistic.
In order to have the best possible experience with your collection, you’ll want to be realistic with your expectations.
The general rule of coin collecting is that what the collector puts in heavily correlates with what the future beneficiary takes out.
If your coin collecting loved one was on the wealthier side, traveled to coin shows and coin auctions, and spent a lot of time seeking out and acquiring choice examples of rare coins, you may indeed have a quite valuable collection.
Remember, though, that finding riches in your collection is not the usual situation.
Setting your hopes on an idea like your grandparents must have a special family gold doubloon that one of the founding fathers carried, is a quick way to wind up disappointed.
The reality is that most of us have working class loved ones who built working class coin collections. And that’s not a bad thing! You might still be pleasantly surprised with what your coins are worth. For example, if your loved one saved for you just one roll of dimes from 1964 or earlier, that roll would be worth over $60 today (as of the writing of this article). Not bad, considering it was worth just $5 when they tucked it away!
Choose to focus on the positives of your collection.
You might find a few surprises, like that old roll of dimes, in the collection. You might discover some coins that won’t bring a fortune, but have an interesting history to them. You might learn more about your coin collecting loved one’s approach to the collection. You might just enjoy learning more about the collection itself.
Focusing on these positives will help you have a more rewarding experience when selling or continuing your collection.
6. DO seek out professional assistance.
Whether you’ve decided to sell your collection or you just want to find out what it might be worth, there are coin dealers across the country to exist to provide the exact service you’re looking for.
Once you’ve gone through the steps above, you will be primed for a great experience working with a dealership.
Learn what NOT to do
Now you’ve got a handle on what to do – but you’ll want to know what to avoid doing with your coin collection, too. We’ll tell you one of the most destructive things you can do to the potential value of a coin (a common mistake people make)!
Get In Touch
We would be happy to assist you with your collection. Our most popular services for processing coin collections are our free 1-on-1 consultations, as well as our professional appraisals and our top dollar offer sheets.