We get questions about this frequently from new members so we figured this guide would help. As always, feel free to join, post, and ask questions in the various forum sections. Hopefully this will get you started.
When evaluating a coin collection, many factors need to be taken into account. The first step would be to get a list of what you have. The second step would be more detailed and that would be to research the worth of the individual pieces. Forums are a good place to ask, as they have many knowledgeable people, and everyone has their area of specialization (US, Canada, etc). There are so many different areas of coin collecting - one person will be an expert on US 2-cent pieces while another will be an expert on Spanish Pillar Dollars. Posting your lists and some good pictures will help the experts attribute your coins.
Getting a list of what you have includes noting the year, mint mark if any, denomination, country, type of coin, and grade (condition). Grade will affect the coin's value to a collector.
Grading uses a scale of 1-70; 1 being Poor, 60-70 being degrees of Mint State (in the same state as it left the mint - ie. has not been circulated). Here is a breakdown of the scale along with how some general guidelines for each grade with US coins
As a side note: any coins that contain silver or gold are at least worth the intrinsic value of the metal. So right off the bat, the older US dimes, quarters, halves and dollars are at least worth the value of their precious metal content.
To start your valuation, all U.S. dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars 1964 and prior contain 90% silver (some later years are 40% - you can read about those in the coin fact pages, linked below). So to calculate the silver content, you'd need the weight of the coin, and just multiply that by the current price of silver.
For example, a Peace dollar
is 26.7 grams (.94 ounces), is 90% silver, and let's say current silver price is $20.00 per ounce. Weight in ounces x % of silver x silver price per ounce = $16.92 worth of silver at the current silver price. It's not guaranteed you will get this much for the coin - prices fluctuate and many people, especially dealers, need to resell so they pay less for silver when they purchase. (Remember this would just be a base value if the coin has no actual collector value. Collector value could exceed precious metal content value.)
The mint mark specifies which mint the coin came from, and for the U.S. these are: C (Charlotte, NC, older gold coins), D (Dahlonega, GA, 1838-1861 gold coins), CC (Carson City, NV) and O (New Orleans, LA) for older coins only, plus P (Philadelphia), D (Denver), W (West Point) and S (San Francisco) for more recent coinage. If there is no mint mark it is probably from the Philadelphia mint; they only recently started putting the "P" on their coins. Other countries, such as Germany, have different mint marks. Sometimes the mint mark affects the value, as some mints produce less than another for a given year, making them scarcer. Mint marks can be on the front (obverse) or back (reverse) of the coin, depending on the series.
At least for the U.S. coins, you can research weights and metal content (and other information) in our Coin Facts section here: https://www.coincommunity.com/us_coin_facts/
- it also has guides to help grade the specific coin series. Grade will be one of the deciding factors on the value of the coin.
History of a coin series might be helpful to know what you have, let you know if any special coins in the series exist for you to look for, and so on - you can read about them here: https://www.coincommunity.com/coin_histories/
. The histories and the coin fact pages also have information on if any proofs of that coin were minted. Proofs are coins minted specifically for the collector market and are valued differently from regular circulation coinage.
As mentioned, forums are good places to ask about the coins. eBay is also a good place to check. If you search for a specific coin, then select the "Completed Listings" check box on the left, it will show what the coin has sold for in the past. Be sure to view the listings themselves to see if the condition of the sold coin is close to the condition of the one you have, as prices can vary based on condition alone.
If you would like to, you could ask the members on our forum. Since you are a new member, you would not be able to sell on our forum, but our members would gladly help with valuations and grades on your coins. We just need some large, clear photos of them. You could then sell them on eBay or to a collector you may know, if you are not going to keep them and become a collector yourself. Coin dealers do not usually pay full retail for coins, so just be aware that if you sell to a dealer, you won't realize the full potential of the collection.
Here are the sections where you can post your coins for grading opinions:
Great Britain: http://goccf.com/f/36
US Classic (Colonials, Half Cents
, Large Cents, Flying Eagle cents
, Indian cents
, Two Cents
, Three Cents
, half dimes
, Shield nickels
, Liberty V nickels
, Buffalo nickels
, Mercury dimes
, Twenty Cents
, Standing Liberty quarters
, Walking Liberty half dollars
, Trade dollars
, Morgan dollars
, Peace dollars
, Flowing Hair Coinage, Bust Coins, Seated Liberty coinage
, Barber coinage
, Gold Coins): http://goccf.com/f/134
US Modern (Lincoln Cents, Jefferson nickels
, Roosevelt dimes
, Washington quarters
, Franklin halves
, Kennedy halves
, Presidential dollars
, Sacagawea dollars
Dollars, Eisenhower dollars
, All Bullion Eagles): http://goccf.com/f/25
US Commemoratives: http://goccf.com/f/115
Rest of the World: http://goccf.com/f/135
Some other places to check for values:
Numismedia (for US coins
): http://www.numismedia.com/fmv/fmv.shtml NGC
In addition, there are varieties of coins that can have higher values. A variety is a coin of the same date and basic design as another but with slight differences. Some are major varieties (usually the highly publicized and/or popular ones) and some are minor, having significance only to specialists of that particular series. If the pictures you post of the coins are detailed enough, the experts will be able to tell you if the coin is a variety and if that adds a premium to the value.
There are also errors. An error is a mistake that happened somewhere in the minting process that caused an issue for the coin. These include broadstrike (struck without a collar, so the coin is larger than normal because the metal spread), struck off-center, lamination peels, strike-through (struck through an intervening foreign material) and doubled die (struck more than once), just to name a few. There are many types of errors, and some are very collectible, just as some varieties are.
Some books you could pick up to help you:The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of U.S. Coins
(2014 is the latest - pricing is a bit on the high side, but has a lot of valuable information)The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins
Also, please do not clean the coins. Cleaning greatly lowers the collector value.
Fingerprints can also lower their value and the oils from fingers can eventually permanently etch the metal, so always handle them by their edges if they are not in a holder.
I know this is a lot of information to take in at once. Good luck, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask.
Some More Tips Gathered from Various Members
#1. An unwillingness to trust major coin auctioneers will cost you a dump trucks' worth of money over time if there are more investment-grade coins like that '92-CC. IE, I would have given you $1800 off eBay for that coin, meaning your net would have been closer to $1750. Heritage
could have probably netted you around the same at 95% of hammer. However, they do have a minimum consignment value of $5k, so they won't do business with you if it's under $5k total. I'd be more inclined to use GreatCollections, honestly... They net good prices and you'll end up with more money in your pocket. Of course, if you have an ultra-valuable ($10k+) coin, I'd still send that to HA.com. It's not a bad idea to list high-value coins on eBay given their fees are capped at $250 per transaction, just make sure you know what it's worth before you list it, and factor in eBay's costs into your final sale price. Don't forget, paypal fees are not capped. Also keep #7 in mind when considering listing a high-value coin on eBay.
#2. Take your time selling. This has already been said before, but worth restating. Selling high-quality coins is often about finding the right buyer for your coin, not selling it at the right price. Unless you're asking a ridiculous premium over bid/book, you can usually move most coins for the price you want in 30 days. I do a lot of business just on eBay, buying and flipping coins, by winning them at auction and watching BIN's, then grading the coins, turning around and selling them. Last year, I netted $10k doing this. Patience is a virtue, especially in numismatics. The easiest way to make money in coins and most other businesses is exploiting others impatience.
#3. Where are you located? Sitting down with somebody who knows their stuff and doesn't want/need to make money off you could be highly beneficial. I am sure there are members here who will extend their services to you just for the pleasure of checking out the collection. I've done this before elsewhere, and was happy to get a consignment out of the deal. I only made a few hundred bucks on a collection worth $15k+, but it was a pleasure to help somebody out during a tough time in their life and ensure they weren't ripped off during the process of dispensing their coins. I believe many numismatists share this sentiment and would gladly help you out for little or no profit.
#4. Dealer buybacks... ouch. I wouldn't bother going this route unless you just want to quickly and easily dispose of the collection. Dealer overhead generally means they need to buy at 60%-70% of retail if they have a storefront, which results in you leaving a ton of money on the table. Some dealers have fantastic buyback programs, but those dealers are likely to be mostly on the show circuit, not local, so I doubt that you have any close to you. Once again, if we know where you are, we may be able to send you to somebody who can help.
#5. Before you do any of the above, create an inventory of everything. List date, denomination and mint mark in a spreadsheet so you know what you have. Unscrupulous individuals will take advantage of you if they can, and defending yourself against individuals like that is of utmost importance.
#6. Cash is king. If this is a large collection worth $10k+, it's beneficial to find somebody who will deal in cash. While you'll take a slight haircut in value when you insist on a cash transaction, it can save you a lot of money in terms of reporting income, assuming that a lot of the costs of these coins are not documented properly. I dispensed of a collection of mostly junk silver worth about $23k a few months ago, and since the purchase prices weren't documented, I found a cash buyer and probably saved the individual whom I sold the coins for around $7k in taxes, while only losing about $500 for doing a cash deal. In the long run, this is far more cost effective.
#7. Kind of related to #6. Remember that if you hit certain thresholds, PayPal is forced to issue you a tax form (6050W) under certain circumstances. Per their website, "PayPal is required to report gross payments received for sellers who receive over $20,000 in gross payment volume AND over 200 separate payments in a calendar year." The issue here is that if you're not the owner of the coins and don't document the consignment agreement properly, you will get stuck with the tax bill for the sale of those coins. So once again, cash saves you a lot of trouble.