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I buy coins on eBay all the time, and I’m certainly not alone.
Millions of people use the popular online auction website each day to buy, sell, and peruse everything from antique furniture and clothing to sporting equipment and cars.
Many also enjoy using the site to trade coins. Coins and paper money represent some of the most frequently bought and sold items on eBay.
But how do you know if you’re really getting a good deal on eBay coins?
How can you tell genuine from fake when you buy coins on eBay?
Is there a strategy for winning coins on the auction site?
Having been an eBay buyer and seller over the past decade, I can provide a few tips that can help you score the best deals when you buy coins on eBay.
Here are 4 things you should know…
#1 – Know Who The Most Reputable Sellers Are
I think eBay sellers deserve a chance to prove the integrity of their business ethics. And, certainly, new eBay users need an opportunity to build their reputation.
But I tend to focus on buying coins from eBay retailers who have a pretty good track record of selling coins. These are your so-called “PowerSellers” and other eBay sellers who have rankings in the several thousand range — the number derived from the amount of transactions they’ve made.
That said, I have had successful transactions with individuals who are clearly just getting in on the eBay game too – those with rankings under 500. But when dealing with these folks, I only buy coins that I’m confident are genuine.
The best coins to buy from lower-ranking sellers are certified in slabs from major coin grading certification firms — such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).
I also don’t mind buying low-value raw coins from sellers with lower rankings. Low-ranking sellers might be more apt to accept lower bids — so they can sell their products and hopefully deserve to receive your highly valued, positive ranking and good feedback to help build their eBay reputation.
I think the bottom line when looking for a coin dealer’s reputation on eBay is to avoid buying from those who have negative feedback — especially lots of negative feedback from recent times. That’s never a good sign!
#2 – Know What Coins Are Worth Before You Buy
If you’re submitting bids that merely feel good to you – they aren’t really based on anything other than what you can afford or “think” a coin is worth, then you risk at least 2 things:
- You may severely underbid on the coin and not win the lot.
- You might overbid and pay far more than the coin is really worth in terms of market value.
This is where understanding coin values really comes in handy. In fact, I think it’s a good idea to have a thorough comprehension about coin values, period. That way, you’ll know if you’re getting a good deal and can avoid paying more than you really need to.
Having said that, I have paid a little more than average market value for a coin that I was desperately trying to find. Paying 10%, even 20%, over average market value for a particular coin isn’t necessarily crazy if you want the coin badly enough.
Of course, knowing how much to bid is often difficult.
Other price guides, such as the Greysheet and past auction records, may be more accurate in terms of reflecting the coin market really looks like at any given time. But few sellers ever consider such pricing data for guidance.
It’s either more inconvenient for them to refer to specialized coin pricing guides, or they simply don’t know there are other price books out there other than the popular ones seen at bookstores and on magazine racks.
At any rate, you will most likely have to use the common retail price guides in making a judgment call on how much to pay for a certain coin — because bidding less than that may mean coming under what it takes to place a winning bid.
As for Best Offers, I usually submit a bid 20% to 30% under asking (not necessarily expecting to buy the coin at the rate) and hope the seller provides me with a compromise 10% to 15% lower than the lot’s original price. This strategy works more often than not.
#3 – Know How To Tell Genuine Coins From Fake Coins
Even here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins, I’ve seen more than my share of photos from readers asking me about the rare coin they inherited from some family member – that, unfortunately, sometimes winds up being nothing more than a crude replica.
It’s against eBay policy to sell fake coins unless they are advertised as replicas, copies, or otherwise.
The Hobby Protection Act of 1973 prohibits the sale of imitation coins without the word “COPY” inscribed somewhere on the piece. Still, that doesn’t stop unscrupulous types from selling their fake coins, replicas, fantasy coins, or otherwise as real numismatic treasures.
Even eBay can’t catch every single dastardly deed in the making. It’s therefore incumbent on you, the buyer, to take extra precautions necessary when you buy coins and to make sure you’re not buying fakes. This, as you’d guess, isn’t always easy to do.
Many of the older fake coins out there are poor-looking electrotype replicas that have characteristic porous surfaces or seams around the edge of the coin where 2 halves from a mold were sealed together.
However, sometimes fake coins aren’t even fake per se — but rather altered. For example:
- The numerous coins sold as 1914-D Lincoln wheat pennies that were actually altered 1944-D pennies
- The 1916 Mercury dimes with an added D mintmark to replicate the rare 1916-D Mercury dimes
If I’m buying a rare coin on eBay (and I have), I buy only certified coins in 3rd-party coin grading slabs from reputable companies — such as PCGS, NGC, and the American Numismatic Association Certfication Service (ANACS). These coins have been carefully inspected by the very top numismatic professionals and should be safe for you to buy.
The best way to protect yourself against buying fake coins is to familiarize yourself with real rarities. In time, you’ll be able to tell a fake coin from a mile away.
#4 – Know What The Return Policy Is Ahead Of Time
Unless I’m pretty sure in what I’m buying – a low-cost uncirculated set or a certified coin – I avoid eBay sellers who don’t provide return policies with their coins.
Many coin dealers and eBay coin sellers will provide return periods of 3 to 30 days.
A return policy is a virtual necessity when buying coins — because even the best photos can’t really show what a coin looks like.
When buying coins from a brick and mortar coin dealer, you can pick the coin up, look at it from different angles, and even use a magnifying glass to look for sharpness of strike, hairline scratches, flow lines, and other details that don’t really show up in a 2-dimensional photo.
Upon receiving a coin in the mail from an eBay coin dealer, I can tell within moments whether or not I like it. And I notify eBay sellers by email or eBay messenger if I wish to return their coin. In most cases, it’s never an issue. I’ll just pay the cost of shipping.
Ultimately, you risk losing out big time if you order from an eBay seller who doesn’t offer a return policy. If you buy coins from such dealers, you may luck out and receive exactly what you were hoping for. Or you may be disappointed and have no recourse.
More Info On How To Buy Coins On eBay
- Tips For Buying eBay Coins: Who To Trust, Who To Avoid
- Before You Buy Coins On eBay – Advice From A Longtime Collector
- The Best Way To Use eBay On A Budget When You Buy Coins
- Top 5 Ways To Avoid Buying Fake Coins On eBay
- 5 Proven Tips For Buying Coins On eBay
My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I'm a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I'm also the editor at CDN Publishing (a trusted source for the price of U.S. rare coins), editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I've contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I've also authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins — and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!