I've bought coins through eBay for many years, and I've become pretty clued-up about what to look for in a coin auction listing. However, it seems that 90% of sellers haven't a clue what coin buyers look for.
So, here's my advice to coin sellers from a coin buyer's point of view.
ALWAYS INCLUDE PHOTOS ~ As an investment collector I want to see what I'm buying! Coin condition is of utmost importance, and I refuse to buy anything I haven't seen in advance. Items with no pic are obvious in eBay search results, so I don't even bother to click on them. So right away you've lost me as a potential customer, and wasted your listing fee.
ALWAYS INCLUDE PHOTOS OF BOTH SIDES ~ Early in my coin-buying "career" I often bid on coins that looked perfect in the photo ... only to find, when they arrived, that the side not shown in the listing was corroded, scratched, covered in verdigris etc. Some sellers do this innocently; some don't (i.e. they do it deliberately to hide any damage, and don't bother telling the buyer unless they're cornered about it). So these days, if you don't include a pic of both sides you'll either receive a question from me before I bid, or if the coin is common enough I'll go to a different seller who has included more comprehensive photos.
DON'T USE "STOCK" OR GENERIC PHOTOS OF COINS ~ As I said in point 1, a buyer wants to see
exactly what they're buying. Every coin is unique in its condition. My personal blacklist contains several sellers who misleadingly use stock photos of perfect coins, when the actual coins they are selling are far from perfect. If for any reason you have no choice but to use a stock photo, be honest and say so in the auction listing, and explain why you've done it.
DON'T ATTEMPT TO CLEAN COINS TO "IMPROVE" THEM FOR THE EBAY PHOTO ... in fact, don't clean them at all, unless it's a
very gentle rub with cotton wool to get rid of surface grease or oil (and don't even do this with proof or uncirculated coins, as you may scratch them). Nine times out of ten, cleaning coins ruins their value. There are a few occasions when it's acceptable to wash them gently in soapy water, but try to avoid this, and certainly don't ever do it with proof or uncirculated coins, or copper ones.
An experienced eye can spot most cleaning efforts even in a photo, as a cleaned coin has a completely different shine to an uncirculated / full lustre one, so don't even contemplate trying to pass something as proof or uncirculated when it's just been rubbed with Duraglit or something similar. At some point you
will be caught out, and regular buyers like me will leave bad feedback and won't buy from you again.
DON'T USE BLURRED PHOTOS, OR PHOTOS TAKEN AT SUCH A DISTANCE THAT NO DETAIL IS VISIBLE ~ Experienced buyers who want to see details, in order to judge the coin's condition for themselves, will pass right over your listing.
6. On the other hand,
DON'T OPEN FACTORY / MINT-SEALED COIN PACKS OF UNCIRCULATED COINS JUST TO GET AN EBAY PHOTO! ~ I've lost count of the auctions I've seen where the seller has ripped open a pristine coin case or presentation box in order to get a close-up photo for eBay. The usual auction blurb is something like: "Newly out of its case, you can be only the second person ever to touch this coin!" For a coin-collector, this is almost heart-breaking. Uncirculated coins, particularly proofs, should NEVER be removed from their original packaging, be that a plastic wrap (in the case of rolls of mint coins), or a Royal Mint box. Instead, include a close-up photo of the packaging, or of the coin in its wrap / transparent plastic capsule. If the buyer can see that the packaging is intact, then they will usually be happy that the coin is perfect without needing an ultra-close-up photo of the coin itself (though if on delivery they do find it has been removed from the casing and replaced - this is easy to spot as the coin will have fingerprints on it - they will probably have sharp words or worse with you later. So please
just don't do it!)
Once any coin is in the open air it is subject to corrosion and dirt, particularly natural grease and oil from human hands. Exposure to the air, and separation from packaging immediately devalues proof coins / coins from Royal Mint sets, or at least makes their condition suspect. For these reasons I won't bid on coins which are photographed in someone's hand, or proof coins that aren't in their original boxes.
BE HONEST ~ If you want to build up a cadre of regular buyers, who trust you, then be absolutely honest about your coins: include high quality close-up pictures of both sides, and if asked, be frank about any irregularities. You may even get the sale after all, if the buyer wants the coin badly enough. And if you're overtly honest, they'll trust you enough to come back.
BE STRAIGHTFORWARD ~ So many sellers try to entice buyers with spurious words like "RARE", "VINTAGE", "COLLECTABLE", or (as I saw on one listing today) "BE THE PROUD OWNER OF THIS AMAZING COIN!!!" Any coin buyer worth their salt will make up their own mind about rarity or collectability based on the coin type, age and condition. And at all cost avoid strings of exclamation marks and spurious characters such as "L@@@@@K!!!!!", as these don't give you any credibility as a serious specialist vendor.
BE SPECIFIC ~ For example, today I saw a listing that just said "5p coin". With thousands of coin listings to browse through, I wouldn't bother clicking on this. On the other hand, "Uncirculated 5p 1978, cased" might have persuaded me to have a look.
BE AWARE OF BASIC NUMISMATIC TERMS, particularly "obverse" (head side) and "reverse" ("tails" side). In certain auctions, such as the ongoing gold-rush for the 2008 20 pence "mules" - which should be dated on the obverse but aren't - it's imperative to know which side of the coin is being discussed.
RESEARCH THE DETAILS OF WELL-KNOWN COIN RARITIES BEFORE YOU CLAIM YOU HAVE ONE. For example, from decimalisation in 1971, until 1982, British coinage bore the words "New Pence". In 1982, this was changed to just "Two Pence" or "One Pence" etc. However a limited number of 1983 two pence pieces were wrongly struck and retained the old "New Pence" wording. These particular coins are now exceptionally rare. Yet today I saw a listing for a
1980 two pence coin, which correctly still bore the "New Pence" wording, and which the seller was claiming was a rare find. Obviously it wasn't: the details were perfectly correct and millions were minted. Whilst seeing this listing is just a minor irritation for me, for a less savvy buyer it could mean wasted money, a later row with the seller when the misunderstanding is discovered, and a lot of unecessary hassle for all concerned.
Some coin "errors" or rarities are simply myth - such as the "Queen's Necklace" - and numerous eBay guides already warn about these.
LEARN ABOUT COIN "GRADES" & CONDITION ~ Although many sellers rightly ask the buyer themselves to judge the condition of a coin before bidding, many modern coins listed on eBay are of such low grade that no collector will give them a second glance anyway. Anything below VF ("Very Fine") for a modern coin usually won't even be sniffed at by regular collectors unless the coin is super-rare, as the book value (i.e. the value in a respected coin guide such as Spink) is far below what it costs to have the coin mailed to the buyer, and will eventually have to be replaced by a better example anyway. Some coins are still of such low value - particularly more recent pre-decimal or decimal coins - that no value is even listed for them, so buying them on eBay would be in cost terms a total loss to the collector.
As a buyer, it's also unhelpful when the auction description of a modern coin reads "uncirculated" but the photo reveals that it plainly isn't. Use a good magnifying glass and a catalogue such as Spink to study the tiny details of an uncirculated coin of the type you wish to sell. For comparison you could also check out the photos on previous or existing auctions for similar coins. Even slight flattening of high spots on your coin will put the grade down to "EF" ("extra fine") at the most. If in doubt, grade conservatively or provide clear photos and ask the potential bidder to make their own judgement.
DON'T "GOUGE" ON POSTAGE ... we're wise to it. Even though UK stamp costs have risen several times in recent years, it still
doesn't cost £2.50 to securely pack and send a single coin to a UK address using standard first class mail. Maybe £1.50, if you have to buy a strong envelope, but anything above that rings alarm bells when I'm browsing. I've passed over many auctions for good quality coins because the seller wants me to pay ridiculous postage costs for something that weighs just a few grammes. Which leads me to ...
ALWAYS COMBINE POSTAGE FOR MULTIPLE COINS WHERE POSSIBLE ~ I once bought a couple of florins in separate auctions from the same seller. Postage separately for each was £1.50, and naturally I assumed there would be at least some reduction for the postage on the second one, as the coins could be sent in the same envelope. But no: the buyer adamantly refused to combine, saying he made little enough money on his coins anyway and postage was the only place he could make it! Needless to say, once I had completed that transaction I never purchased from him again, and I still have him blacklisted in my records.
GIVE THE BUYER POSTAGE OPTIONS ~ Again, I've passed over many good coins because the only postage offered is £6.00 Next Day Special Delivery, when I'd be happy with first class recorded. Yes, I could contact the seller to see if they would send it by normal post; but I've never done that, as frankly it's quicker just to search for another seller offering a similar coin who's more flexible about postage. And for a coin bought for 99p, and perhaps worth £2.00, super-secure delivery is just not worth it.
I hope these tips from a long-term buyer's perspective will help you successfully sell your coins on eBay. Good luck, and perhaps we may meet over an auction.
COIN SELLERS: What COIN BUYERS look for in a listing
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7 July 2009
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