Buying your collectibles someplace other than coin shows

How would you like to find one of these at a flea market?

There are buying options for numismatics that go beyond online auctions, shows, and shops. You may be missing some opportunities if you do not consider exploring other collectibles markets. Since my business interests have me working in other areas of the collectibles markets, here are some of the places I have found numismatics and had fun at the same time.

Estate Sales and Auctions

In my current business, I am able to buy inventory from estate sales and estate auctions. Most estate sales are either the lifetime accumulation of a deceased loved one or a forced sell-off of assets mainly as part of a court-ordered restructuring. An estate sale company will come into a home, stage it for a sale, add prices to everything and open the house for the public to buy what they want.

Adding prices mean tagging the items with a price that the company running the estate sale thinks is a fair price for the item. This tagging also has these sales also called Tag Sales. When it comes to tagging, some companies are better than others. After they pick the better items, the rest of the house is tagged either at prices too low or prices too high because most of the estate sales company do not know about the items they sell. They might use an average price of similar items they sold in the past or they just pull prices out of the air.

Estate sale companies have little to know expertise with coins and currency which is reflected in their prices. I cannot tell you how many times that I have walked into an estate sale and seen common date Morgan and Peace dollars priced at over market value.

Case of foreign coins at a flea market

Unfortunately, many of these companies are not interested in learning about how to price coins. During a recent estate sale, I found quite a number of Walking Liberty half dollars. Most were in the VG-XF range. Some were better dates but none were the 1921 key date coins. Using the Numismedia Fair Market Value pricing guide I came up with a bulk price that I feel was fair for the entire lot. Unfortunately for the company, it was less than 50-percent below their price and about 20-percent lower than the fair market value. I am a reseller and I need to be able to make a profit. The manager on site acted as if I told him his baby was ugly.

When I presented my offer, I told him that I understood the coin market and would explain how I came up with the price. I showed him the Numismedia Fair Market Value pricing guide and explaining that it is a retail price guide. Confused by the differences in grade pricing he questioned how to grade coins, I show him the condition of the coins compared to the images in the PCGS Photograde app. After being confused by everything he said that he would take a chance on his price and turned down my offer.

I returned to the estate sale on Sunday afternoon about a half-hour before closing and noticed that none of the coins sold. I lowered my offer to a small percentage above its melt value. The offer was declined. A week later I found out that the coins were brought to a local coin shop. Imagine their surprise when they were offered a price between my two prices.

If you go estate sale shopping for coins, be prepared to be patient. Even though it is not their merchandise, they act as if it is their personal property. Most will be reasonable if you are reasonable with them. I would recommend reviewing the “Negotiating” section in my post “How Are Coins Priced (Part II).”

Silver halves and Peace dollars found at a recent flea market

Estate auctions are very different than what most people are used to if their only experience has either been at coin shows or eBay. If you attend a live estate auction, there is a possibility to purchase bargains. But like any auction, two people can also drive the price of the coin higher than fair market value. Most auctioneers understand how coins are priced and how bullion-based coins should not sell below their current melt value.

In my experience, gold and U.S. Mint packaged items usually sell at prices greater than fair market value. I cannot tell you why a 1977 Proof Set would sell for $15 when it is valued at $8, but it happens at these auctions.

If you are not involved in this market, there is a world of online estate auctions that hides in the open. Online estate auctions are hosted on sites that are not quite well known outside of those of us who work and shop in this world. These auctions are simply a company imaging and posting the inventory online, managing the auction, collecting money, and making sure everyone is paid. Most companies will hold absolute auctions that run for 7-10 days with all items starting at $1.00.

For those who do not know, an absolute auction is one where the lots sell at whatever the price is when bidding ends, also known as the hammer price in reference to a hammer that is used during live auctions. Winners will also pay a buyer’s fee which average 15-percent of the hammer price.

Although it is possible to find bargains in these estate auctions, many times I have seen numismatic items sell for more than fair market value. This is not good if you are a re-seller but sellers are doing well.

Antique Shows and Flea Markets

I go to a lot of antique shows and flea markets. I will set up a table at a few flea markets in a month and do a big show at least every month. One big I regularly participate is D.C. Big Flea, the mid-Atlantic’s largest antiques show and flea market. The show attracts 400-700 vendors, depending if they can use the entire center, with a variety of antique, vintage, and collectible items.

German Notgeld found at a flea market

Although I will buy and sell some numismatics, I do not bring numismatics to these shows mainly because they do not sell as well as other items. But when I have a chance to walk around the tables, I can find a number of cases with numismatic items.

Buying numismatic items at these large shows can be problematic. One of the biggest problems is that the vendor might have bought the item at full price and has overpriced it to gain a profit. There was also the time that a vendor had bought a roll of American Silver Eagles, placed them into AirTite holders and was selling them at a premium similar to the collectible Eagles struck at West Point with the “W” mintmark. When I questioned his prices and showed him that he was charging a 100-percent markup based on the per-roll price at a known distributor, he bluntly told me how unhappy he was with my questioning.

Most dealers will not try to swindle you based on a false narrative of value. In fact, many appreciate the education including the pointer to online resources. They will negotiate, and if you are fair with them, they will be fair with you. Sometimes, you can find items that you might not see on a bourse floor. During the last show I attended, one dealer had a case with a lot of German Notgeld, most in Extra Fine and Uncirculated condition.

During a previous show, I found a dealer who emptied boxes of tokens, trinkets, buttons, and medals on a large table. It was a treasure hunter’s dream! Although I did not have time to do an extensive search, I did find a few small New York-related items that I had never seen before including a merchant token for a business I know existed into the 1970s.

Although estates sales and auctions, antiques shows, and flea markets could present problems because most of the dealers are not as knowledgeable, if you come armed with knowledge, patience, and be on your best behavior, you can find some good bargains.

A different numismatic gift idea

As the weather turns colder and the fowl shudder for other reasons, we turn our thoughts to what to give as gifts. As numismatists, we can always find something based on the hobby that would be nice and maybe spark interest in collecting. Or we can find something fun that is somewhat related for those we know will never be converted.

We begin the weekend that starts with Black Friday and extends to Cyber Monday, terms that have little meaning these days except as marketing mechanism, if we are not going to fight the crowds at least we can plan.

My planning began two weeks ago when I wanted to do something different for my coin club’s December meeting. As the club greeter, I set up a table at the door to give away tickets for door prizes and sell raffle tickets. Door prizes are usually low-value foreign coins or an unusual U.S. coin, such as one with a minor error. Since I am responsible for selecting the door prizes, I try to follow a theme and include at least one coin containing silver. The raffle is usually a small gold coin or a silver crown-like coin, depending on what the club treasurer can find.

Our December meetings are special in that it is our annual charity auction. Members donate items to the auction and everyone in attendance bids for what they want. All proceeds are donated to a local charity. This has been a club tradition dating back to its founding in 1959.

While thinking about the door prizes and raffle, I was scanning online auctions looking for ideas. One idea came when I stumbled across currency-like notes with holiday themes. When I found a $1 million note with “A Blue Christmas with Elvis” I knew I found a door prize. Since I was buying two for the coin club, I bought a few more to include in greeting cards that I will be mailing this year.

To be inclusive, the next search was to look for Chanukah currency. Although the selection was not as varied as the Christmas notes, I found one that looked nice and was going to satisfy the coin club and be added to my holiday cards.

Then my thoughts turned to the raffle. We try to raffle gold coins whenever we can buy them at a cheap enough price. However, with the price of gold over $1,200 per troy ounce and over $189 higher than it opened in January, finding something affordable was not easy. As I was searching I found a listing for 1-grain bars mounted on holiday-related cards. I know that 1 grain is not a lot of gold. In fact, it comes out to about $2.50 in gold. But to buy four at $5 per card to donate for the raffle where the proceeds go to charity, that would be something different.

After purchasing the four cards, I started searching for other gold bars and found everything from one-third of a gram and heavier. Even with the current price of gold, finding special bars that could be purchased for $25 or less gave me an idea to buy a few to include in cards to special people.

Of course, this type of gift giving is not for everyone. But if you want to do something with a numismatic theme and make it look special for not a lot of money, think about buying these light gold bars. I think you will impress your gift recipient.

Is numismatics really dying as a hobby?

Coin CollectionAlthough I owe you my impressions of the U.S. Mint’s Numismatic Forum, giving it the proper treatment I think it deserves has taken longer than expected. Rather, let me jump ahead to a recurring theme that takes over the conversation on the state of the hobby: Numismatics is a dying hobby of the old.

MYTH: Electronic transactions have taken over and hard currency is being used less.

FACT: Electronic transactions make up only 13-percent of retail purchases in the United States and 7.1-percent worldwide. Although the pundits like to point out that trillions of dollars change hands electronically, this includes non-consumer-related transactions such as bank transfers from one account to the other using the Automated Clearing House (ACH). If your paycheck is deposited directly into your account, it is transferred using the ACH system.

In real money, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total costs for all goods and services, to be $18,561,934,000,000 ($18.561 trillion). If 13-percent of that is electronic retail purchases, that means that $2,413,051,420,000 ($2.413 trillion) is made not using cash. What about the other $16.1 trillion dollars?

WMATA Smartrip CardDepending on which report you read, electronic transactions should grow at a rate of 8-10 percent annually. Even if the U.S. GDP is on a pace to grow by only 1.4-percent, adding about $250 billion in electronic transactions will not make a significant dent in the rate of electronic transactions.

Of course, the U.S. are not spending $16 trillion in cash transactions, but both the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are on course for record production years. Year-to-date, the U.S. Mint has produced $870,133,500 in circulating coins (not including half-dollar, dollar, and commemorative coins). For Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014-September 2015) the BEP produced $166,302,000,000 ($166.302 trillion) in currency (not including $2 notes). Although some of the currency does replace worn notes (the BEP reports that 90-percent of $1 notes replace damaged notes) and a significant portion of the $100 notes are shipped to banks overseas, which represents quite a number of transactions.

Although electronic payment options make up 13-percent of all cashless transactions you have to remember that this market barely existed a few years ago. Even as banks and large retailers push to increase the number cashless transaction, there are problems that society faces when moving to a cashless retail system. The biggest problem is one of scale. The United States makes more money, spends more money, trades more money, and has more economic impact than any other country in the world. It is the world’s single largest economy with a strong capitalistic culture where most of the commerce is done with small businesses. Amongst all business, 55-percent of retail merchants are cash-only enterprises. They are too small to consider paying the 3-to-5 percent fees for using a credit card, known as the “swipe fee.” Of those that do take credit cards, at least 36-percent require a minimum purchase.

MYTH: The sharing economy is turning the economic world upside down changing the way we will pay for goods and services.

Sharing EconomyFACT: Human beings have been sharing and trading goods and services from the dawn of time. You killed an ox and have the hide left over. I have a lot of fruit I picked that I cannot eat. I will give you an amount of fruit and you give me the hide. Money was created as a medium of exchange when I did not want your fruit but wanted some of the goods someone else had. It was the pre-historic version of the three-way trade.

Some of us grew up trading. I remember trading a Mickey Mantle baseball card for a Jerry Koosman and two Donn Clendenon cards —one from Houston and the other from Montreal, just after the Mets traded for Clendenon. I thought I gave the kid a deal because 1969 turned out to be Mantle ’s last year.

What has changed since I made the trade? There has been a tremendous change in technology. While we set the price for the baseball cards we traded, now there are price guides, electronic markets, auctions, and online trading sites. Even in other categories, you might place a classified ad in a newspaper or an advertising rag like PennySaver or something like Uncle Henry’s in Maine. Now there are sites like Craigslist, AirBnB, Uber and Lyft that expands the market.

Pundits like to point to the sharing economy’s growth. The problem with the reports is that this version of the sharing economy has gone from nothing to something with a lot of press coverage. Anytime there is something shiny and new it grabs the attention of the public before they move on to the next distraction.

We share numismatics all of the time. We go to shows and display our collections for competitions. We enter registry sets to try to create a nice collection or even worst collection with the advent of “low ball” sets of coins of very low grades. We blog and read about other’s collections. We post finds to public forums and sometimes bring our collections to show off at club meetings.

Sometimes we even trade. Have you traded a few Barber dimes for a Barber half because you needed the half for your collection? How about three Morgan dollars for an elusive 1921-S Walking Liberty half-dollar?

The only difference between this and the new sharing economy is the lack of computer interface. Sometimes that human interaction is more fun than hiding behind a screen.

MYTH: People, especially millennials are not interested in collecting anything.

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

New Zealand Mint produces Monopoly coins for the Island nation of Niue. Did you pass Go?

FACT: The Hobby and Toy industry is estimated to be a $20 billion business with an estimated growth of 1.6-percent over 2015. Not all of the emphasis is on electronic games and gadgets. One study found that more money is pledged for projects on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter than any other category.

One of the fastest growing sectors of this market is board games. While some games do incorporate electronics into their play, this new generation of gamers is finding that social gaming can be as much fun as their online endeavors.

Numismatics has never been a welcoming hobby for the mid-to-lower level collector. Dealers who are older may have a difficult time relating to younger and, frankly, a non-white demographic (see my post about one such incident here). It has created a culture of cranky older Caucasian collectors who think that their way is the only way to collect.

It is not just the dealers. Mainstream publishers put a lot of effort into creating references and collecting supplies that satisfy the market as being pushed by the dealers. Even worse, while the American Numismatic Association does recognize other aspects of numismatics, the fact that most of the Board of Governors are in the coin business with years of experiences in the coin business, that becomes the focus of the ANA.

It is time for the industry and its representative organization, the ANA, to remember that numismatics is more than coins. Currency, exonumia, scripophily, and even military medals are all part of numismatics. Concentrating on coins, especially coverage of high-value sales scares off many novices who may be willing to look at coins as a hobby. When I go out to schools in the Washington, D.C. metro area, I will bring enough Metro (the local transit system) tokens for everyone in the class. After buying a bulk bag of tokens, I have plenty to give away along with the story of how they were once used. But it allows me to show the students that numismatics is more than coins. I explain how I sit at junk boxes and at the tables of token dealers to find items from my hometown of New York. When I show them four pages of 2x2s with tokens and medals from New York and say that in three years I may have spent as much as $200, they seem to understand that you can have fun without spending a lot of money.

MYTH: We lost those who collected the state quarters forever.

State QuartersFACT: We also retained a lot of those collectors. Unfortunately, we damaged many others.

What made the state quarter program popular was that the way it was administered made everyone a stakeholder. Rather than dictating the design, states were encouraged to allow public participation to help decide on their quarter’s design. Contests and state pride went into the quarters that allowed each state to celebrate their home state. Ordinary people were brought into the process and ceremonies held in each state announcing the designs and on the release of the quarters.

Of course, the state quarters were also the hobby’s demise as television hucksters sold overpriced junk surrounding the sets. Colored coins and “special” sets were sold at high prices with the hint that they would only increase in value. When these people tried to cash in on their “investment” they found they overpaid, became angry, and may not come back. During this time, the ANA was nearly non-existent in the education process as it was undergoing its own internal political battles. Without someone to help stand up for the hobby to help educate the public, the industry suffered.

Although the ANA has improved in many areas, it continues to be about coins with a slant toward classic (pre-1965) and rare coins. The only modern coins that seem to get any amount of respect from the community are commemoratives, bullion, and errors. With the so-called modern era being 52 years old, it is time for the old and crusty of the numismatics industry to either get on board with that it is new to the new collectors or maybe it is time to consider retirement.

The lesson I have learned in numismatics as well in my business of buying and selling collectibles is that in order to expand any hobby it has to be made into something personal. Sports collectibles sell memories of your heroes. Space collectibles sell the mystique of outer space. Automobilia seems to have a fascination for a lot of people even as what was considered modern nameplates like Plymouth and Pontiac have gone the way of DeSoto and American Motors.

Hobbies have to also be interesting. Is it really interesting to collect a series of all of the same coins where the only difference is the date or mintmark? Again, why does a collection have to be biased for coins? Can someone have fun collecting So-called dollars, transportation tokens, or even unusual coins? I think about how much fun Charmy Harker might have had to put together her award-winning exhibit Penny Potpourri with things made out of pennies. If you have not seen her exhibit, you can find images here. It has to be one of the best exhibits I have ever seen because it is unusual. I like things that are different.

In order to get people interested in the hobby, you cannot introduce it to them by showing a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent or a 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel as an example. Not only are these coins difficult to find and less affordable, but not everyone may be interested. I like to use my two-pages of 2×2 holders with a set of transportation tokens with every letter of the alphabet cut out of the center, except “Q” and “Z,” along with some that have shapes. When I tell someone I paid around $50 for the initial investment and can buy most tokens for less than $5 each, they want to know how they could get started.

Here are some ideas to help you start a new collection. You can only use these if you do so by recruiting a friend or relative who is not currently part of the hobby:

  • If you want to start with coins, go find a folder of currently circulating coins and see who can fill their folder first only from pocket change. I recommend either Lincoln Memorial cents, which can be interesting finding S-mint circulating cents on the east coast, or Jefferson nickels (for fun, use Whitman Jefferson Nickel folder #2).
  • Another idea for collecting coins is to make a collection based on a theme. Ideas for themes can be the year you were born, coins with an animal like buffalos, or create a type set that represents some of the subtle changes in a long series like Lincoln cents.
  • There are more to exonumia than transportation tokens. If your state issued tax tokens in the early part of the 20th century then how about finding examples for a collection. Tokens are still being created for gaming, casino chips, parking tokens, or store tokens the pre-cursor to paper coupons. Advertising tokens can be a fun way to collect your hometown. Tokens with themes, shapes, and cutouts can be a lot of fun.
  • Go beyond tokens to encased coins. Encased coins have been used as a private commemorative, advertising, and I even found one for an electric supply company that promised money off if you returned it to their store.
  • You can collect elongated cents, also called squished pennies, from almost anywhere. Recently, I found a machine in the Philadelphia Mint’s gift shop. For 51-cents, each I was able to buy two souvenirs. Collecting elongateds also helps you keep the record of where you have been.

And I didn’t mention currency or scripophily. One cool idea would be to collect stock certificates representing what you might find on a Monopoly game board.

If you have other suggestions, send it as a comment!

Now go out and start a collection. Recruit a friend and do it together.

Selection of my New York collection

Credits

Whatever happened to Customer Service?

A reader who found the Coin Collectors Blog through a search came across the two-part series I wrote in 2012 about “How Are Coins Priced” (links to Part I and Part II). After asking a few questions this new reader asked me about the section about Negotiating in Part II.

My principles of negotiating are to be nice, do your homework, know when to stop and always be gracious. Although some of us consider negotiating a sport, there is no reason to be nasty. Always say “please” and “thank you” even if you did not buy the coin. Thank that dealer for taking the time to talk with you. Good will can go a long way!

As a new collector, this reader visited a few regional shows before going to the World’s Fair of Money. Thinking that as a big show there might be some good finds and can jumpstart an interesting collection. While this was not my reader’s first large show, it was the first time the family visited the World’s Fair of Money. It was also an excuse to go visit Mickey’s first theme park.

With his permission I am reprinting his note. I removed the section that described the dealer and his inventory:

My family and I went to Anaheim for the World’s Fair of Money. As we searched the tables looking for something of everyone’s interest we came across a table with books of coins. While I have seen notebooks like this with pages full of coins this was the first time we have seen so many. Each of us sat at the dealer’s table and started to look through the books.
 
My son is interested in Middle Eastern coins because my family emigrated from the Middle East after World War II. My daughter is fascinated by Queen Elizabeth and want to try to collect different coins with her picture. My wife’s family is from Japan and she has been picking up some older Japanese coins. As for me, I decided to try to complete a set of quarters after collecting the states quarters.
 
We are collectors. We are not putting the kids in front of the books to keep them occupied. At one point my son, who is trying to learn Arabic, was asking me what a few coins said and picked out a small handful for his collection. Nobody else found anything they liked.
 
We finished five minutes later and went to pay. My son has his own money and asked the dealer for the price. If we go by the numbers written on the coins, the price was $42. While that does not sound like much it is for a kid whose job is to cut grass and do odd jobs around the neighborhood. No discount was offered.
 
Standing next to my son I asked if he could do better on the price and that’s where the trouble began. He turned to me and said, “For what, hogging my table?” I was taken aback! Not only were we really looking to buy but my son was buying. As a matter of fact when my wife did not see anything she like she gave up her chair to another collector passing by.
 
I sort of stammered something about that we are all collectors and were looking but did not find anything and he said, then he said something like, “Then you should have gone somewhere else!” He was very rough.
 
I asked my son what he wanted to do. It was his collection and his money. With nobody else around this dealer’s table he blurts out, “yeah, kid, I don’t have time for this. Give me 40 and go away.”
 
I could see that my son was conflicted. While he wanted the coins he did not like the dealer. He then dropped his head and said in a soft voice, “No Thank you.” Although he looked like he wanted to cry the dealer responded, “great, now I have to figure out what book to put these coins in.” My son reached over and tapped the book and walked away.
 
I have never been embarrassed for my son like this. Why would a dealer treat a child or a customer like this?

I had no answers for these parents. Even though I do not deal with coins, when I do shows I try to treat everyone with courtesy, even when I can tell they have no intention of buying from my inventory.

When I am working shows, as I will be this weekend, days can be long and difficult. You have to be attentive to everything around you not just to complete the sale but to also prevent theft. Even on the slowest day, it does not pay to get nasty with a customer or potential customer.

This is not the first time I have heard stories like this and based on this reader’s description, it is not the first time I have heard this type of story about the dealer. I know for some it is just a job and like many jobs, after a while there are aspects that can be frustrating.

But this is a job that is about customer service for a product people do not have to buy. Coin collecting is a luxury, not a necessity. Even if you are frustrated, showing it to customers will give you a reputation and hurt business. Then what will you do when the customers do not show up?

There comes a point in time when you have to ask yourself whether it is worth the investment in time, money, and your sanity to continue or would it be better to just retire? Unfortunately, when it comes to some of the very long-time numismatic dealers who attend some of these major shows, there are too many that should consider retirement.

Detecting Counterfeits: Final Word

This is final part of a 6 part series

Certified CoinsIf you are uncomfortable trying to detect whether a coin is counterfeit or not, you might first consider buying from a reputable dealer who has return and/or buy back policies. If you buy raw coins and have questions, ask that the coin be examined by a third-party grading service such as Numismatic Guarantee Corporation, Professional Coin Grading Service, ANACSand Independent Coin Graders. These third-party grading services have a buy-back guarantee so that if the coin is ever found to be counterfeit after it was certified they will buy the coin from you at the price you paid. You may be asked to pay the grading fees. Some dealers may charge a service fee for submitting coins to the grading services on your behalf.

If you own coins that you may have questions about, either bring it to a dealer for an opinion or submit the coin to the third-party grading service yourself. NGC and PCGS have membership services that allow you to directly submit coins for authentication and grading. Members of the American Numismatic Association can register to directly submit coins to NGC. ANACS and ICG allows for collectors to directly submit coins for authentication and grading.

Sample of a PMG Holder

Sample of a PMG Holder

Sample PCGS Currency Holder

Sample of a PCGS Currency Holder

For collectible currency, buy from a reputable dealer who has return and/or buy back policies. If you buy ungraded currency and have questions, ask that the note be examined by a third-party grading service such as Paper Money Guarantee or PCGS Currency. These third-party grading services have a buy-back guarantee so that if the note is ever found to be counterfeit after it was certified, they will buy it from you at the price you paid. You may be asked to pay the grading fees. Some dealers may charge a service fee for submitting coins to the grading services on your behalf.

If you are buying through an online auction and you have any question about the coin, you are better off not trying to purchase it than trying to deal with returns. While there are quite a few reputable dealers who sell on these sites, it may take more than a month for the process from purchase to refund to occur. During that time, you will not have access to this money.

Remember, caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.” Without a warranty or some type of assurance, such as a graded and encapsulated coin, the buyer takes all of the risk.

For sellers, caveat venditor, “let the seller beware.” Unless you expressly disclaim any responsibility, you will be held liable if the item is not true to its specification. You may also lose a future customer if that person feels cheated.

The Hobby Protection Act

Over the last number of years, we have seen when a hobby becomes popular and items increase in value, there are opportunists who will try to do whatever it takes to make money from the gullible and uneducated. This chapter was written to inform and educate you as to what to expect from those looking at your wallet and not to you as a valued customer so that you are not a victim.

When I discuss these issues I am eventually asked, “Aren’t we protected by the Hobby Protection Act?” In short, the answer is yes and no. The Hobby Protection Act of 1973 and was amended in 1988 represents an attempt at stopping counterfeits in all collectibles based on the way the world worked in 1973 and slightly updated in 1988. A lot has changed since then including the technologies available to counterfeiters.

The Hobby Protection Act requires that coins not made by the U.S. Mint include the word “COPY” somewhere on the surface. The law allowed law enforcement and buyers to go after the suppliers. The problem was that the suppliers were mainly in China and out of the reach of the U.S. criminal justice system. That changed in December 2014 when congress passed and the president signed the Collectible Coin Protection Act (Public Law No. 113-288). Under the new law, consumers and law enforcement can take civil action against the distributors and resellers of counterfeit coins.

The Federal Trade Commission has published draft rules to update the wa they enforce the (16 CFR Part 304) made by the passage of the Collectible Coin Protection Act.

FTC is required to publish the new rule in the Federal Register (81 FR 23219) and ask for public input on the new rules. These rules are the result of corrections made after a previous draft asked for comments on the costs, benefits, and overall impact of the rules.

Comments can be made on the FTC’s website or via postal mail as outlined on the website and in the Federal register.

Even though the law has changed, you should educate yourself and work with reputable people to build your collection. Education can be fun and the knowledge will help you better enjoy the hobby!

Credits

  • Certified coins images courtesy of Dakota Coin.
  • Image of the PMG holder courtesy of Paper Money Guarantee.
  • Image of the PCGS Currency holder courtesy of PCGS Currency.

Can you open the safe?

Safe CrackingThose who follow my Twitter feed (@coinsblog) will notice that I have been posting links to stories about how the current Libyan government is trying to break into the vault once controlled by Muammar Gaddafi. The vault is supposed to have gold and silver coins estimated at $184 million. Libya is desperate to access this cache that the central bank hired professional safecrackers to open the vault.

We can learn a lesson from this story. Aside from being someone that others want to terminate with extreme prejudice, what will happen with your collection and other protected collectibles should something happen to you?

Do you have a safe deposit box or a safe in your house where you keep your collection? What is your plan should something happen? You don’t have to be of the Baby Boomer generation to worry about what would happen. Even before I was eligible to be a member of AARP, I would ask what their contingency was if I was hit by the proverbial cross-town bus?

Even though the response was a nervous laugh and an exclamation that a lot of institutional knowledge would be lost if I was hit by a bus, the fact remains that even though I am healthy I cannot predict what could happen.

What would happen at home if something would happen to me? When considering both my electronic life and my collection, I had to think about how to tell my survivors what to do with everything. Electronically, I have a contingency plan that would allow my survivors to access files, websites, and other assets. For my collection, I have it documented and instructions as to what to do.

Although you would like to live on or help your survivors, the fact remains that not only do they not have your interests but will not know what to do with that album of Morgan dollars you spent years collecting.

There are so many consideration that you may want to consult one of the books on the market about selling a coin collection. While the books were written to guide those who inherit coin collections, it will give those planning for their estate what your heirs will have to deal with when the time times.

The two books you should read are:

Failure to plan is a plan to fail. Give your heirs a break and come up with a plan that they can follow to take care of your collection when you cannot.

Storing Your Collection (REDUX)

A reader with questions recently reminded me of a previous version of this article. After reading what I wrote, I noticed a few things that required editing along with some additional information I could add. Rather than keep this to myself, I am sharing so that it can also serve as a reminder to everyone about proper storage.

After putting in the time, effort, and resources to assemble your collection do not just throw it in a draw or closet. Coins, currency, tokens and medals can become damaged if not stored properly. It would be a shame if your collection is damaged when a little effort can keep your collection preserved.

Storing a collection is a matter of dealing with two factors: using archival safe storage materials and the environmental factors of where your collection is stored.

Archival Safety

Coin and Currency AlbumAll coins, medals, tokens, and currency are made from materials that will react with the environment. Metals will oxidize and tone, some with patterns that intrigue collectors. Paper-based materials can be made from cotton rag or linen that may not break down the same way as paper but can be damaged in a way that will affect its value. The key to storing your collection is to use products made from archival safe materials. Archival safe materials are those made that are not acidic, materials that do not turn acidic over time, or materials that are not too alkaline.

Acid free means that the pH (potential Hydrogen) measure is 7.0 or less. A pH measure of 7.0 is neutral and greater than 7.0 is basic or alkaline. Although acidic materials will damage your collection, materials too alkaline will also cause damage. Those that produce acid free supplies with materials that is as close to being pH neutral as possible.

It is possible for some materials to be acid free without being archival safe. These are substances that can breakdown over time and become acidic. For example, commercially made paper contains lignin, a bonding elements that naturally occurs in the pulp that helps holds the wood fibers together. While lignin is not acidic it gives offs acids as it deteriorates. To prevent lignin from becoming acidic it must be treated. This treatment involves dipping the paper in a solution that neutralizes the natural lignin.

Another storage item to stay away from are plastic products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is a inexpensive plastic that is used as an additive to other plastics to make softer, more flexible products. One example of a numismatic product that can be made using PVC are the two-pouch coin holders called flips where each pouch is 2-inches square. PVC in itself is neutral but gives off an acidic gas in reaction to atmospheric conditions. The PVC gas will not only react with the coins but will deteriorate the plastic. The result will be a green or gray streaks or blob appearing on the coins.

The gas produced by deteriorating PVC will damage the surface of the coin. Once a coin is damage by PVC it cannot be reversed. There are ways to conserve coins that are damaged by PVC as long as the PVC contamination is discovered early and is only on the surface. Once it mars the surface, the coin is permanently damaged and its value diminished.

Archival Safe Flips and Cases

Archival Safe Flips and Cases

When purchasing plastic or clear storage items, hard plastics or those made of Mylar are the best choice. Capsule manufacturers use a neutral plastic that does not contain PVC while those that make archival safe 2×2 flips use Mylar. The makers of 2×2 cardboard holders also use Mylar over the cutouts while album manufacturers use Mylar to make the cover sliders found in albums.

Some people like to buy older albums because of they are unique and have a classic look. Those albums may not be made of archival material including paper with active acid from the deteriorating lignin that was not neutralized during manufacture because this was not a concern. Also, cover sliders could be made of PVC or other plastics that are not neutral. If you are not sure whether that used album is safe, it is best to buy a new archival safe album.

Although this discussion centered on coins, the same can be said for currency storage. The only difference will be the size and types of holders.

Environmental Factors

You can use the most archival safe materials but they will not protect your collection from environmental factors. The general rule of thumb is to stay away from the extremes. Do not store your collecting in a place that is too hot or too cold. Try not to store your collection in a place that is too humid or too dry since both could cause your storage materials to react. In other words, the average home with a temperature of 64-78 degrees with an average humidity of 30-percent should not be a problem.

Those living in colder areas where the home heater is being used longer than other areas of the country may have to compensate. Forced air heating systems tend to dry the air that could cause damage to your collection. If you use a humidifier, whether built in to your heating system or a standalone unit, you might consider investing in a hygrometer to keep the relative humidity between 30 and 40-percent.

Where you store your collection also has to be a concern. If you keep your coins in a cabinet, the gasses from the wood and even the paint or stain can cause damage. While wooden cabinets are attractive and practical, you do not want to store your collection some place that could add to the environmental concerns.
Metal cabinets are a better option. Safes and safety deposit boxes in temperature controlled vaults also makes great storage options aside from being able to keep your collection secure.

One of the factors that could cause wood rot in cabinets is excess humidity. If the humidity in your home or where you store your collection cannot be controlled, you should use a desiccant. A desiccant is a substance able to absorb moisture in the air. Two common desiccants are silica gel, the little packets that you see in some packaging, and montmorillonite clay.

Choosing which desiccant to use depends on your situation. If your storage area is not that humid, use silica gel. It well suited for lower moisture area over a longer period of time, about six months. For high humidity areas, use a clay desiccant. Although it will not last as long as silica gel (about three months), clay is more effective at removing moisture where the humidity is higher. Another option is to use a combination, especially during seasons of high humidity. You can purchase silica gel and clay desiccants at many hobby stores and stores that sell collecting supplies.

While there are other types of desiccants, they are not recommended for use around collectibles. Calcium sulfate and calcium chloride uses sulfur and chlorine, both will not react well with the metals of your coins. Activated charcoal can add carbon dust to the air, which can attach itself to your coins. Some have suggested using salt as a desiccant. Salt is made of sodium chloride that would also introduce metal damaging chlorine into the environment.

Not all safes are safe for coin storage. Click on the image to read the story about a safe found in the house of the writer’s late grandfather.

Not all safes are safe for coin storage. Click on the image to read the story about a safe found in the house of the writer’s late grandfather.

Choosing Storage Products

Be careful, old coin albums may not be archival safe!

Be careful, old coin albums may not be archival safe!

If you buy products made by a reputable manufacturer that advertise them as archival safe then the only difference between products are the way your coins will be displayed.

Albums are popular for raw coins collected in the published series. You can find albums for many series from different manufactures to suit your tastes. Each manufacturer has its own distinct color and style. The difference is your personal preference.

Coins that have been encapsulated by third-party grading services may present different issues for storage and display. While there are a few manufacturers that make a special page to fit the grading service’s holders, collections made up of coins encapsulated by different grading services can be stored in boxes.

When storing grading service holders it is important to remember that the holders are not considered airtight. Third party grading services uses sound waves to melt the halves of the plastic holder to bond them without using chemical adhesives. While this type of sonic seal is strong, it can be subject to breaking if the encapsulated coin is mishandled. Additionally, whatever contaminants were in the air around the time the slab was sealed would be trapped with the coin.

Although most encapsulated coins could be stored in a standard plastic case, those who want extra protection should consider storing the slabs in special archival quality inserts or polyethylene bags.

When storing your collection you can use the same archival quality containers that are used by organizations like the United States Archives or Library of Congress. Although many of the containers may be coated with an alkaline buffer should not be a deterrent. Since your coins are in another holder, whether encapsulated or within an album, the buffer will maintain a barrier between your collection and the storage box that should not hurt your coins.

Although proper storage of your prized collection is important, do not make it more important than your collection. Be careful how you store these items but do so in a way you can still enjoy what you collected.

Image Credits (in order of appearance)

Coin jewelry is not legal everywhere

If you have not visited Etsy, you will find a shopping site where you can find unique items that are not available elsewhere. Most of the sellers on Etsy sell handmade designs, vintage items, repurposed vintage items, supplies, and unique low volume goods. It would not be farfetched to call Etsy an Internet craft fair and a neat place to go shopping.

One of the more interesting items on Etsy are coin jewelry. Coin designs are themselves a form of art but can become ordinary when repeated over millions of coins. Take a meaningful design and add it to a bezel, attach it to a pendant, or hammer it into a ring and these artists take the coins to the next level.

Many of these artists will take requests for the type of coin for their creations. Some will even let you send a special coin or a coin they cannot obtain to create your design.

A quick search on Etsy for coin jewelry found over 100,000 different jewelry items including bracelets, rings, earrings, bracelets and more. Aside from the different types of jewelry the artists will also use coins from all around the world including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, and more.

Resin ear rings made by InspiringFlowers using Roosevelt dimes

Resin ear rings made by InspiringFlowers using Roosevelt dimes

1996 Half Dollar Ring by LuckyLiberty

1996 Half Dollar Ring by LuckyLiberty

Hummingbird cut from a Trinidad and Tobago penny by SawArtist

Hummingbird cut from a Trinidad and Tobago penny by SawArtist

Click on the image to visit artist’s store

Coin jewelry hunters may be unknowingly accessories to a crime. According to an article in The Straits Times, it is illegal to make jewelry using coins from Singapore.

Like many other nations, Singapore takes pride in the art on their coinage. Aside from being their means to promote commerce, they are used to represent their culture and society. However, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the Singapore equivalent of the U.S. Treasury Department, has said that under Singapore’s Currency Act, it is illegal to “mutilate, destroy or deface” their money. Offenders can be fined up to $2,000.

If you search for “Singapore coin jewellery” (the British spelling of “jewelry”) on Etsy, you will find around 200 different jewelry items returned as part of the search. It is common to see Singapore flower series coin or older coins that featured seahorses.

Painted Singapore Dollar coin ring by Monedus

Painted Singapore Dollar coin ring by Monedus

1990 Singapore Horse bullion coin 1/20 oz. in a ring by BritanniaJewelry

1990 Singapore Horse bullion coin 1/20 oz. in a ring by BritanniaJewelry

Pendant made using a cutout 1979 Singapore coin

Pendant made using a cutout 1979 Singapore coin

Click on the image to visit artist’s store
None of these artists are based on Singapore

While United States law allows for people to use coins for jewelry or other purposes as long as there is no attempt to use them as legal tender currency (18 U.S.C. § 331), this might not be the same for other countries. Although European laws are similar to those in the United States, there is some question as to whether the laws of Canada and Australia can be interpreted to have the same restrictions as Singapore.

When I asked an attorney, he questioned whether an international buyer would convicted of a crime. We both agreed that if you buy jewelry with an international coin, leave it home if you plan to visit that country.

Etsy was asked for a comment but attempts to contact them via email has not been answered.

All images are courtesy of their respective artists on Etsy.

An auction hunter’s lesson

Over the weekend I attended an estate auction that included coins for sale. While my new business venture concentrates on all vintage collectibles, I am still a collector and continue to look for those interesting items and the good coins to add to my collection. As I was looking over the lots I noticed one had several blue folders of Lincoln cents. The collector in me could not resist and I picked up the folders and started looking.

Every hold was filled.

What drew my eye first was the hole marked “1909-S VDB.” Even though the 1914-D may be worth more, the 1909-S VDB is considered the Holy Grail amongst change hunters. With only 484,000 struck the odds of finding one are not in a change hunter’s favor. But we keep looking and hoping.

After reaching into my pocket for my ever present loupe, I asked the attendant if I could remove the coin to see the reverse. I had to check for those three letters on the back because it did say it was a 1909-S on the front. With the attendant watching me, I removed the coin from the slot, turned it over and brought it up to my loupe.

Using a 16X loupe I zeroed in on the area where I could find the “V.D.B” only to find something unexpected. On this coin, the “VDB” with no periods were punched into the coin. Holding the coin and turning it in the light to see how the light reacts, it was easy to see that the coin was not real.

Being very disappointed I quietly told the attendant that the coin was altered. She did not know what to do. When I suggested she tell her boss, she took the coin from me and went into a back room. A moment later, she returned and asked me to follow her to the office.

Scott’s 1909-S VDB

Scott’s 1909-S VDB

While the owner of the auction house was a bit upset, we talked to establish who I was and how I was qualified to judge the authenticity. After asking him to bring up my blog and showing him that I own a real 1909-S VDB, I told him how I know that the coin was altered. I handed him my loupe and told him to look at the letters. When he saw that the letters were punched into the coin instead of being in relief, he became upset again, but not at me.

I understand how he felt. In the auction business, they earn money from the buyer and seller fees. If the item sells for a high price, the auction house makes more money. In this case, since the coin was a solid VF, it could have sold for $700-800 alone.

Before he became too angry, I asked to see the 1914-D. At VF that coin is about $400 in the retail market. When I looked carefully I could see that the mintmark was added to the coin. It was not a very good job when you see it under magnification but looked all right on first glance. I showed the auctioneer how I know it had the mintmark added. He agreed with my assessment.

He asked if there were any more important dates that he should know about. I zeroed in on the hole for the 1922-D that had “No D” written in pen under the date. Even before finding the date under the loupe I could tell the coin was whizzed. That is a bad sign to begin with but if the coin was real, it would diminish its value but not make it worthless. What made it worthless was that you can tell someone filed the mintmark off the coin. Whoever did the filing did not do a good job because it made a little hole where the mintmark should be. This coin doctor probably whizzed the coin in order to cover up the alterations.

To say I gave this gentleman a shock would be an understatement. He shook my hand and offered me a discount on the buyer’s fee for helping him. After leaving his office he had the attendant who helped me remove all of the blue binders from the auction. When I spoke with the attendant later, she said they were all from the same consignor and that he was going to return them as being unsalable.

This was not the first time I attended an auction at this place and it will not be my last. Aside from being able to purchase good inventory for my business, they have proven to me they have integrity. Knowing this helps me buy with confidence.

I tell this story to provide two lessons. First, always examine the items before you bid. Even for online auctions, examine the pictures and read any descriptions carefully. If you are afraid to buy ungraded coins, then buy only graded coins. But make sure you are fully aware of what is being sold. Do not be afraid of asking the seller a question or even asking for a better picture. If the seller cannot help you then do not buy from that seller.

Buy the book before buying the coin!

Buy the book before buying the coin!

When buying from a live auction, look carefully at the coins. Even if the coin was encased by a grading service, take out that loupe and examine. This means you should know what you are looking at. Educate yourself about the coins you are interested in purchasing. In a future post, I will discuss my portable reference and buying tools.

My second lesson is to know who you are buying from. This is more difficult online but you do have to take the feedback seriously. Again, if you have any questions you should ask. Every site has a way to contact the seller in order for you to ask questions. If the seller is not cooperative, let that be a sign for you.

When working with auction houses, it takes a little longer to establish a relationship. But you need to introduce yourself, talk with people and ask questions. Make yourself known and show that you are a serious buyer. It may take a few auctions to establish a relationship, but be persistent. Aside from preferential treatment and discounted seller fees, someone with a relationship can be told bout unpublished items in advance so that you are prepared to buy quicker than someone off the street. Another advantage is that if you specialize in something that the auction house cannot sell, you can buy it as a good price. As a reseller, I find that very good for business.

Even though online auctions are very popular, there is nothing better than being there live. I highly recommend the experience.

Stay Safe Online: RCNA warns of attempted phishing attack

PhishThe Royal Canadian Numismatic Association sent email to its members notifying them that on April 24 someone attempted a phishing scam trying to impersonate the RCNA Executive Secretary trolling for information. The RCNA did not send out an email note asking for information and recommended deleting them email.

Phishing is the term used to describe the attempt to convince someone to reveal personal information by sending them an email that looks like it came from a legitimate source. In this case, the attacker made their email look like it came from the RCNA hoping that members would give up their personal information.

When I am not blogging, meeting with other numismatists, or being with my family, I work in information security for the United States federal government. In my professional life, I have seen a lot of attempted and successful attacks against both government and commercial systems. However, the one attack that is the most difficult to defend are those where humans are convinced to act against their own best interest, such as a phishing attack.

Social engineering attacks are my favorite attacks. One reason is that it helps demonstrate to the organizations that I try to help that security is more than controls, encrypted communications, or anything else you might have read in the news. Security is a process that requires diligence, the same as it does in the real world.

The following are four rules that you can follow to help keep safe online:

Rule #1: Unless you are 100-percent certain that the email is legitimate, do not click on the link!

You will be never 100-percent certain that any email you receive is legitimate so make sure that you are as close as 100-percent certain as possible. One thing you can do is to move your pointer over the link, stop, and wait for the tooltip to show you the address.

Tooltips are those balloon-like popups that will tell you something about the link or element before you press the mouse button. One way to tell that a link is bad is that if the address is not what you think. For example, if the link is supposed to send you to the RCNA website, the tooltip better say that it will send you to rcna.ca. If it does not, then do not click on the link.

When you check the link, the address of the server is the first part of the address. If what should be the server name is not in that area at the beginning of the address, do not click on the link.

One trick the phishers use is to show you what looks like a complicated address in the message, but the link behind it will send you to another website. This is where tooltips can help. If you hover over the address and they do not match, it is an attempt to trick you and you should not click on the link.

If you are using a web-based email client, you can check the address on the status line at the bottom of your browser window. Check to see if the address makes sense is also a good tool. For example, if the link is supposed to be from the RCNA and “rcna.ca” is not the address of the server in the link, then it is a phishing attempt and you should not click on the link.

If you are unsure about the link, then go to your browser and type in the address yourself. Rather than clicking on a suspicious link, you can visit the RCNA website by typing “http://rcna.ca” directly into your browser’s address bar.

Anatomy of a Phishing email(courtesy of the University of California-Davis)

Anatomy of a Phishing email
(courtesy of the University of California-Davis)

Rule #2: No legitimate company or organization will send you a form to fill out and email back

One of the tactics that the phishers use to try to trick you into giving them your personal information is to create a form that looks like it is legitimate. Just as it is easy for someone with moderate skills to fake a web page, they can create a counterfeit form. Not only will the form be counterfeit, but they could also embed programs in that form to steal your information.

Embedded code in documents is called macros. Macros are used to command programs to do something for the user. When used in productive environment, macros can be a wonderful tool to create dynamic documents. But the same instructions that can make macros a productive tool can also be used to do bad things.

Unless you are certain about where the document came from, then do not open a document. If you open the document and the program asks if you should enable or run macros, do not enable macros.

This is not just a problem with word processing document. PDF documents can also deliver very nasty malware (malicious software). Not only can an attacker add macros to a PDF document, but someone can embed the technology called Flash in those PDF. Flash is the technology that helps you see videos and add enhancements to the visual interface of some websites. But Flash can be used to attack your computer system. Opening a PDF file sent by someone you do not know can be as dangerous as a word processing document.

Rule #3: Do not open suspicious attachments

Another trick the attackers try to use is adding an attachment named in a way to try to trick you into opening the file. File names consist of the name of a file followed by a period followed by a file extension. The file extension is used to tell the computer the type of program to open to allow you to work with the file. There are three file extension that very dangerous and should never be opened unless you are absolutely sure who sent them to you: .zip, .exe, and .dmg for Mac users.

The .zip file extension tells the computer that the file is something called a Zip archive. A Zip archive is a file that is formatted to allow it to store many files that are compressed. Zip files are used for many legitimate purposes including being the default format of Microsoft Word’s .docx file. Unfortunately, it can contain files that can be used to attack your system.

One of the types of file that can be included in a Zip archive is an .exe or executable file. Simply, these are programs in the same way that Microsoft Word is a program. Once an executable file is opened, it will do whatever it is programmed to do. Among the things that the program can do is key logging. A key logger reads what you type on your keyboard, what you click on the screen, and in some cases what is displayed on your screen. The key logger will be able to capture the user name and password you entered when you visit any website including your bank’s website. The problem is that when a key logging program is run, you do not know it is watching what you type. Nor do you know that it connects to a server somewhere on the Internet to send the information to the attacker.

While Macs are more difficult to attack, they are not immune. Mac users should never open a file with a .dmg file extension unless you know who sent the file. The Macintosh .dmg file is a disk image file. A disk image file is formatted to look and acts like a disk so that when you double click the file, it will mount on your computer as if you plugged in an external disk drive. Because .dmg files are commonly used to install legitimate software, sometimes the installation can be automatically started. If you allow the installation to continue, it you can install software as dangerous as what I described for the Windows .exe file.

Rule #4: When in doubt, throw it out!

delete-messageWhile all this seems simple to me, I have been in this industry for over 30 years and am used to the complication. The problem with email is that it was developed as a way for researched to communicate by plain text across the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet. Essentially, email is a text-based service that has been extended in so many ways that it has created a complicated series of standards that requires a degree in computer science to analyze.

Even if you cannot fully analyze whether the message is spam or legitimate, if you have any doubt, then just press the delete button. If the message came from a source you know, contact them off line and ask if the mail is legitimate. If you think the email is from your bank, call the bank and ask. If you think the email is from your credit card company but not sure, call the credit card provider and ask. If you think the email sent from the RCNA is suspicious, call them and make and ask.

A little intuition can be of great help in these circumstances.

Stay safe online and have a good weekend!

Image courtesy of Duke University.
Anatomy of a phishing attack courtesy of UC-Davis.

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