Beware! It is not uncommon to find a few misrepresentations in coin advertisements.
Now, to be clear, I am not referring to advertisements placed by reputable coin dealers. I’m talking about the glossy, half-page and full-page color advertisements seen in newspapers, circulars, general readership magazines, and the like.
The types of ads I am referring to are the kinds which may remind you of "shop at home," "As Seen on TV" type advertisements. Often, the prices are set at $XX.95. And in some cases, a certain number of "easy" payments are permitted.
Deceptive Coin Ads
Why am I telling you to be careful? Because some (not all) of these advertisements can be misleading. These coin ads typically catch the eye of non-collectors (or new collectors) who do not really know much about the nature of coin pricing, coin buying, or the coin market in general.
A new coin collector may see an advertisement for a pretty, supposedly rare coin and not even think twice about the coin’s true value. When, in reality, the coin could be worth far less than the ad wants you to believe.
The fact of the matter is, some coin ads attempt to lure unsuspecting buyers into purchasing coins which are quite common.
I feel pretty impassioned about this, because I have seen way too many of these types of offers which snag the newbie collector and other innocent people into buying overpriced and misrepresented coins.
Here are some examples of misleading coin ads to watch for…
Phrases To Watch For In Coin Ads
While none of the following phrases come from any specific advertisement, they are similar to the types of slogans found in some coin advertisements.
Why must you be careful?
Because you shouldn’t let these phrases lead you to believe that the coin that "you must buy now" is as rare, special, or valuable as the advertisement may suggest.
"The Rare Wheat Back Cent"
While there are a few rare wheat cent dates, you absolutely need to know that Lincoln wheat cents, as a design (type or series, as we say in coin collecting) are not rare at all.
Even though we don’t encounter wheat cents in circulation all that often today, wheat cents are still highly common in the hobby of coin collecting. In fact, during the course of the wheat cent series (1909 through 1958), billions of Lincoln cents with the wheat reverse (tail’s side) were made.
Virtually all wheat cents you encounter made from 1934 to 1958 — the bulk of those you will find — are worth less than 5 cents each in typical circulated grades. Most dates from 1909 to 1933 are worth less than $2.50 in lower grades.
Here’s a list of the rare and uncommon Lincoln cents.
"Never To Be Minted Again"
There is truth to such a phrase when it refers to now-obsolete designs like the Morgan dollar, Peace dollar, Barber half-dollar, Walking Liberty half-dollar, Franklin half-dollar, Mercury dime, Buffalo nickel, Indian Head cent, or even the Lincoln Memorial cent (last made in 2008 and, yes, "never to be struck again," as plans currently state).
However, the fact that a coin is "never to be minted again" does not mean that you will never be able to buy the coin again — or that it is necessarily rare. Truth be told, the majority of the "never to be minted again coins" you find offered in typical coin advertisements refer to the very coins just listed.
The truth is most dates of these coins are extremely common, even if they aren’t found in circulation anymore and even if they really are never to be minted again. Most coin dealers have large stocks of these coins, and they will be readily available in huge quantities for the foreseeable future.
"Must Buy Now" and "Last-Chance Opportunity" Coins
These kinds of coin advertisements particularly annoy me as a numismatist. There is virtually no coin that will never be available again (see above). While it is sometimes true that a certain advertiser may not be offering a certain coin in its catalog again, to say that now is your "last chance" to buy a certain coin is a misstatement.
If one seller is not going to be offering a certain coin again, another will. Even coins offered directly from the U.S. Mint (which stops selling certain coins after a period of time) will be found in private dealers’ catalogs in the near future — if not already.
Be wary of advertising which makes you believe that you will never be able to buy a certain coin if you don’t buy it now. Unless the coin in question is a novelty coin being offered exclusively from that advertiser, it is nearly a guarantee you will find that "never to be offered again" coin somewhere else!
"Rare Morgan Silver Dollars" or "Rare [Insert Coin Name Here]"
Again, I take issue with the word "rare."
I have seen all too many advertisements blaring the word rare which picture an incredibly common date — such as a 1921 Morgan dollar. There are rare (even very rare) Morgan dollars, and there are rare examples of other coins, too. However, only certain (and relatively few) date-and-mint mark combinations are actually considered rare.
Anytime you see an advertisement offering a "rare" Morgan or Peace silver dollar with a price tag of "just $39.95," "only $49.95," or "3 easy payments of "$29.95" (or something similar to any of these examples), the coin is most likely going to be a typical, common-date example of a Morgan or Peace silver dollar. Furthermore, it will probably be an overpriced coin and, perhaps, a cleaned coin as well.
Unless you are buying a coin from a reputable coin dealer, take the word "rare" with a grain of salt.