This past week, the online auction company eBay announced that effective Febrary 20 listings for replica coins will no longer be allowed on the site. “eBay defines replica coins as a copy or reproduction of an actual coin, including U.S., foreign and other historic coins.” The announcement said that eBay is working with the Professional Numismatists Guild “to help ensure the coin experience on eBay meets industry standards and is an effective destination for customers selling or shopping for coins.”

First, the wording of the press release was confusing. After mentioning that eBay will ban all replica coin listings, the press releases from eBay and PNG said that the “This policy decision will help ensure compliance with applicable laws (the Hobby Protection Act) that require replica coins to be permanently marked with the word ‘COPY.’” It suggests that coins marked as “COPY” would be allowed. However, an in an email from Johnna Hoff, Media Relations from eBay, all replica coins are being banned. “Because of the nature of our
marketplace – specifically that we don’t control the inventory – we’re not able to confirm before purchase that a coin is truly stamped. Customer feedback told us that often coins shown in pictures as stamped werenrsquo;t delivered that way.”

When asked specifically about replica currency, Ms. Hoff responded that the new policy just “applies to coins at this time.” A follow up question as to whether silver rounds, specifically the Buffalo Silver Rounds, and replica medals, including ones produced by the U.S. Mint, will be included in the ban.

Another question that would have to be answered is what about restored coins, legitimate coins that have been restored by artificial means. These are not copies but could be passed as original coins to the unsuspecting buyer. Buffalo Nickels fall into this category. There are many “acid coins,” Buffalo Nickels whose dates are raised by using a liquid date enhancer, and coins that have undergone tooling to restore the features. Another similar collectible are “reprocessed” steel cents that are recoated with zinc to make them look better than when they left the U.S. Mint and are not marked in any way. These deceptions may cause more of a threat to the hobby than replica or downright counterfeit attempts.

While it is good that eBay and PNG are working together to make eBay a safer marketplace for collectors, this is a heavy handed act suggesting that eBay protect the consumer from themselves. Rather than eBay and PNG working together to work with law enforcement against the people who break the law, both groups are turning their back on a legitimate market for replica coins.

The Hobby Protection Act of 1973 (15 U.S.C. § 2101 et seq.) allows for both private enforcement, such as a civil action (15 U.S.C. § 2102) and reporting violations to the Federal Trade Commission (15 U.S.C. § 2103 and 16 CFR 304).

Further, eBay has extensive policies regarding prohibited and restricted items as well remedies for violating these policies. Rather than ban these items, PNG should work with eBay to find a way to enforce their existing policies alienate a market segment.

In the press release from PNG, Executive Director Robert Brueggeman said, “Stay tuned for more exciting announcements over the coming year – this is only just the beginning. eBay is committed to working with PNG to grow the business of its member dealers.” I hope any follow up on this will be more thoughtful and consider the marketplace as a whole rather than sever a legitimate market.

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