I have worked with many estates, collections, and families to help liquidate coin collections. The executor is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will or the Probate Court Decree. It is often a friend or family member appointed for this task, and it’s not often that they have any experience with coins, currency, or gold and silver bullion. If you are settling an estate with a coin collection, it’s important to get honest answers and good advice from a professional. Sort and identify the collection and determine if you need an appraisal. Discover a fair market value for the coins, and find a trustworthy coin buyer who will pay a fair price.
Steps for selling a coin collection:
- Determine what coins you have
- Find out what they are worth
- Sell the coins for the most money
Estate coin collections are like time machines. Coins and paper money can transport us back to the American colonies, the civil war, or the old west. There are several different types of coin collections, and although the amounts may be different, all coins have value. The key is taking the time to sort and identify the coins. Once you know what you have, you can find out what your coins are worth, and where to sell them for the most money.
Be Careful with Coin Collections:
- Never clean or polish coins, this could ruin the value
- Never touch high grade or rare coins with your bare hands
- Store coins and paper money in a dry area
- Don’t remove coins from folder, holders or sleeves
- Don’t open bank rolled coins
- Don’t acid-test or scratch gold and silver coins
Types of Coin Collections:
Many of the coin collections found in estates are of the “Hobby” variety: A casual collection with some silver dollars, and a few albums full of pennies and nickels. Occasionally a rare coin might be found hiding in a blue Whitman album, but often the key date coins are not present. Selling these coins is usually a simple process because it is easy to assign value. A better coin collection might be more of the “investment” type. Some collectors built their collections with a keen eye and planned for the appreciation in value. Often we see Pre-1933 US Gold Coins, Mint Condition Morgan Silver Dollars, and error coins. An experienced numismatist can help sort the collection and determine the grade and condition of high value coins. Then there are coin hoards: collectors who gather as many coins as possible: buckets of pennies, jars of silver coins, metal detecting finds, and jugs of everyday pocket change. I’ve had to move a few of these with a forklift before.
Identify and sort a coin collection:
I have seen coin collections sorted and brought to me in many forms: a shoebox full of old prescription bottles, mounds of ziplock bags with sharpie writing, and old wooden chests full of baby food jars. If you are sorting estate coins, getting them into the basic groups by denomination is a good start. Set aside any bullion or gold coins, put the silver dollars in one box, the pennies in another, and so on. It’s also a good idea to sort out the 90% and 40% silver coins as well:
The following 20th Century US Coins are 90% silver:
- All Mercury Dimes: 1916-1945
- Roosevelt Dimes: 1946-1964
- Barber Quarters: 1892-1916
- Standing LIberty Quarters: 1916-1930
- Barber Half Dollars: 1892-1915
- Walking Liberty Half Dollar: 1916-1947
- Franklin Half Dollar: 1948-1963
- Kennedy Half Dollar: 1964 only
- Morgan Silver Dollars: 1878-1921
- Peace Dollars: 1921-1935
There are also some 20th C. Coins with Silver content:
- 40% Silver Kennedy Half Dollars: 1965-1969
- 40% Silver Select Eisenhower Dollars 1971-1976
- 35% “Silver War Nickels” 1942-1945
It’s not necessary to sort every single coin out by year and mint mark. A knowledgeable coin professional will be able to pick out the rare and valuable coins within each group quickly.
Basics of Coin Condition (Grade):
Most of the coin dealers, auctions, and grading companies use the same language to assign grade and condition to coins.
Grading Scale for US Coins (Sheldon Scale, 70 points):
- Poor (Identifiable, worn smooth), PO1
- Fair (Some Detail) FR2
- About Good (Readable lettering) AG3
- Good (Nearly full lettering) G4
- Very good (Slight Detail) VG8
- Fine (All Lettering is sharp) F12
- Very Fine (All major features sharp) VF25
- Extra Fine (Overall Sharpness) EF45
- About Uncirculated (traces of wear at high points) AU50
- Choice AU (Original mint luster remains)
- Uncirculated Mint State UNC (Never put into Circulation) MS60+
- Perfect Uncirculated MS-70
Quick note here: It takes professional numismatists and serious collectors decades to hone coin grading skills. There is a lot to learn from the internet and from price guides, but don’t get carried away with trying to grade and assign a condition to your coins. I’ve had many clients come by the shop with dollar signs in their eyes because they graded their coins with their heart and not their brain.
Should I have my coins professionally graded?
The short answer here is maybe. If you’re willing to spend the time and money, you can have any coins graded and certified. The process is simple, but requires a bit of work. You fill out a form, pack and send the coin to PCGS: Professional Coin Grading Service or NGC: Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (These are the two preferred grading companies in the business) and wait for them to come back in the mail. They have an expert evaluate your coin, assign a grade, then place it in a special plastic holder. This process makes perfect sense for high grade coins that are also rare and valuable. It would be a waste of money to do this for a common coin in poor condition. Grading is also one of the best ways to tell if you have a fake or counterfeit coin. Even in lower grades, a rare coin is worth more when an expert determines it is genuine.
What is my coin collection worth?
Once you have a basic sorting down, it’s time to find out what your coins are worth. If you are dealing with a high end collection of rare and key date coins, you may want to stop here and find a professional. Get an appraisal for your coins before you sell. Selling rare coins for quick cash, or walking into a pawn shop with a key-date US coin probably isn’t your best move. So, remember to take it easy and go slow. Understand what you have and figure out what it is worth before you sell it.
A fast and simple way to find out what your coins are worth is to use the official Red book. I know, it’s “old school”, but you can still get the basics about rare coins, coin condition, and coin value from a book. Having a physical guide next to you while sorting out a coin collection is much faster than having to type every coin into google and sort through the thousands of results. The good news is that all US coins have value, even the common coins. The Red Book is a basic price guide to US Coins and it gives the proper weights, sizes, gold and silver content, mintage, and years for each coin. It’s one of the easiest and fastest ways to determine if your coin is rare or common. Each Coin gets a set of grading instructions so that you can assign a basic condition.
If you’re lucky, you have a collection of coins that are already graded or encased in plastic holders from PCGS or NGC. This makes it easy to identify the coins and find out the current market value. Keep in mind that there is still a difference between what a dealer will pay and what the dealer will sell for. It’s helpful to think of this like the difference between retail and wholesale.
Using a basic price guide,, you can get the estimated values for your coin collection. This is very helpful for hobby collectors and common coins. I can’t stress this enough: If you are working on a serious coin collection with rare and high grade coins, go slow. Find a trustworthy professional and explore your options.
How and Where to sell your Coin Collection:
The market for US collectible coins is still strong. There are lots of collectors, dealers, and buyers looking to build their collections and inventory. This is good news and bad news: How do you choose the best method to sell?
Options for selling your coin collection:
- Local Coin Dealers
- Direct to Collectors
- Online Coin Companies
- Auction House
- Sell Online
Sell your coins to a local dealer:
Selling your coins to a local dealer is a good option. The best coin shops have a “brick and mortar” location, have been in business for a long time, and have ties to the community. It’s a good sign if a coin dealer values their reputation and works to improve and maintain it. Do your homework: Read reviews, ask for recommendations, and use your instincts.
Sell Coins Directly to collectors:
You may also be able to sell your coin collection directly to collectors. If you have contacts in the collecting community through a club or organization, it is possible to market the collection directly to them. Don’t get “cherry picked”: Often collectors will be interested in the best coins, or only certain pieces for their collections. Remember that a dealer will frequently “take the good with the bad”. aIt’s possible to hurt the overall value of a collection by breaking up a set or selling off the best pieces.
Selling to Online Coin Companies:
There are several reputable coin companies with a strong online presence. They offer services where you can mail your coins and sell them. This method works especially well if you already have a relationship with a company, but can be confusing for someone new to the coin market. I’ve never been a big fan of letting the coins out of my sight until they are sold. If you choose this route, make sure you know who you are dealing with and what you have BEFORE you ship the coins off to a stranger online. Aside from the well-known coin companies, there are hundreds of smaller players with varied reputations.
Should I auction my coins?
Auction is a good option for selling a coin collection. A good auctioneer will properly sort and market your coins to the largest possible audience. Choosing the right venue for your collection is important. Use an auctioneer with a strong online presence, and a good reputation. Remember that the auction process takes some time and involves some risk. Make sure you have a detailed inventory of the collection, and a clear contract outlining the terms of sale. There are different levels of auctioneers too: In some situations a small local auctioneer can get excellent results. But auctioneers with the widest online audience, and best marketing techniques often achieve the best results. Make sure you ask questions, and understand how your coins will be sold.
Selling coins online (Self Marketing)
If you’ve had some experience with eBay, and maybe sold a few things on facebook marketplace, it could be tempting to start selling your coin collection online. I love the idea that we all have the ability to access these enormous online marketplaces, but I always worry about who is lurking in the shadows. If you’re comfortable listing, shipping, and collecting payment then you might have success. But beware: eBay has evolved over the years and many of their policies heavily favor the buyer. In the event of a dispute, eBay will often side with the buyer and leave the seller without payment and without merchandise. Even if the dispute is resolved amicably, the seller is often tied up for weeks or months while a dispute is settled. I’m not saying you shouldn’t market your collection this way, but you should be aware of the exposure.
Get multiple quotes:
The amount of money that a coin buyer will offer varies quite a bit. The gold and silver market changes every few minutes, and the premiums that a coin dealer will pay for a given coin change every day. Different shops and dealers have access to different markets. If you want to get the most money for your coin collection, it pays to get multiple quotes. Since the values change so quickly, many buyers will not make the offer in writing, but take notes, keep track and get offers from several different buyers.
Beware of risks:
Gold and silver coins, bullion, rare coins, and collectible error coins can be valuable. Flim-flam artists and confidence men are well aware of coin values, and could take advantage of a sellers lack of knowledge. Be wary of “Road Shows” that setup in a local hotel ballroom. These hucksters have high expenses and make embarrassing low offers. Pawn shops are an important part of the economy in many areas: They provide an important loan service without having to use a bank. Around here, the pawn shops buy a lot of power tools and equipment. I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t run into a pawn broker who was also an professional numismatist. If you choose to sell online, watch out for dishonest buyers. I’ve seen people paying for good coins with fake coins, stolen credit cards, and bad checks.
What is the best way to sell a coin collection?
I wish there was a perfect answer! Every collection is different, and one method may be better than others depending on the size and value of the collection. There is a lot to be said about your comfort level and rapport with a dealer. Working with a dealer that has a good bedside manner is often preferred to a self-important expert who doesn’t have the time of day for you.
Remember the basic steps:
- Sort and Identify your coins
- Research values
- Use a trustworthy professional
- Take it slow, don’t rush
- Get multiple quotes
- Watch out for scams