Problems abound in the online coin trade, from excessive buyer’s fees and opening bids and reserves to misrepresentation and shoddy shipping. However, bidders can circumvent those travails by reading terms of service and gaining numismatic knowledge.
When it comes to photography, however, bidders eager to score bargains often overlook the most fundamental component of any deal, and that is, the ability to see the product as it really is, or as close to reality as possible.
eBay has specific rules, many emanating out of lawsuits, in coin auctions, including these:
- Include all relevant information that you know about the item, such as origin, date of issue, and condition.
- Include all information about any alterations that may have been made to the item.
- Ensure that any replica coin (U.S. or foreign) is clearly and permanently marked with the word “COPY” as required under U.S. law.
- In addition to including appropriate photos, clearly state that any replica is a “reproduction,” “replica,” or “copy” in both the title and description.
- Treat in lot descriptions as a “raw” or uncertified coin any item not certified by NGC, PCGS, ANACS, ICG or NCS
- No estimate of value (even if personal opinion) or reference to a price guide may be included in the title or description if the lot is not certified by the above grading companies.
- Include a clear picture of the actual item being sold—don’t use only stock pictures.
- In addition, listings for certified coins must include an image of the item, showing the coin in its graded holder. The image needs to be clear and the grading company, grade, and certification number should easily be readable. Note: Coins minted before 1980 must show the full front and back of the holder. Coins minted in 1980 or after must show the full front of the holder.
- The listing includes a photo of the coin being sold. Images that are dark, out of focus, edited, or might be misleading aren’t allowed. Also, stock photos aren’t allowed.
- Coins that are sealed in original U.S. Mint packaging must include a photo showing the actual packaging.
To be sure, purchasing coins from eBay comes with its own set of issues, from dealing with dozens if not hundreds of sellers, some as ornery as they come, to navigating PayPal policies and surviving disputes in the Resolution Center. However, when it comes to eBay, at least adversaries know precisely and numismatically what they are trying to resolve.
Often that cannot be said about the leading auction portal, Proxibid. (For top auction houses, see rankings in Proxiblog, as these mostly provide everything that top sellers in eBay do plus better bargains.)
For more than a half year, Proxiblog has campaigned for quality control, especially in online coin photography. Only a handful of auctioneers then were providing photos of obverse and reverse, and many of those could not be expanded to detect varieties and condition. Now most coin auctioneers provide visual basics. For the most part, photography continues to improve, not only because of advocacy by Proxiblog but also because Proxibid’s quality control officer understands what is at stake and works behind the scenes to rectify issues.
Below is a sampling of issues involving photography:
Here is a house that only photographs the box of a coin, but not the coin itself.
This house takes blurry pictures of coins at sunset.
This seller notes scratches on the reverse but doesn’t show the reverse.
This house even manages to muck up the photography of a PCGS coin so that the certification cannot be seen.
That said, some Proxibid auctioneers are improving their photography because they know that this is the main ingredient for return customers and higher profits. Check out this link for representative samples.
To test for adequate photography when purchasing on Proxibid or any portal or online shop selling coins, determine whether the photo would be able to capture one of the top 100 VAMs, also needed in set registries, and that is the 1887/6 Morgan dollar. Check out the photos on VAMWORLD to see the level of photography needed to capture this much-desired variety.
Also, we recommend not purchasing coins from any seller or auctioneer that provides only pictures of obverse, whose pictures do not expand and/or lack VAM-sharpness, that show only boxes or stock photos and whose lightning is inadequate or too bright.
A major pitfall on Proxibid remains photography and lighting. In the past, even with these guidelines, I have purchased doctored and misrepresented coins. Several auctioneers are selling ungradable dipped coins photographed against black backgrounds with strong lighting, a technique that obscures the dipping, especially when combined with overenthusiastic lot descriptions.
That said, upon being informed, other auctioneers have vastly improved their photography.
The temptation of Proxibid is the prospect of a deal, and I’ve enjoyed many. There’s a skill to purchasing on the portal that is beyond the scope of this post. Moreover, Proxibid’s state-of-the-art technology and superior customer service are the best in the business. I still buy coins from Teletrade, Great Collections and eBay whose quality controls are uniform and transparent. Usually I look to these sites when I need specific coins.
Despite tens of thousands of sellers, and dozens of coin-related lawsuits, eBay has managed to standardize quality control for the vast majority of its items. In time, I believe, Proxibid will follow suit.
Koichi Ito says
It is very difficult to photograph rare coins. So I use copier but not quick.
Michael Bugeja says
Copiers or scanners can be accurate, but I find that they do not capture luster as well as cameras.
Collected for many years when I was younger and have finally gotten back into it. Read some of your older articles that you published back in January, 2011 on counterfeit coins. When you received the bad coin and were able to return it, what happens to it? Is the coin then surrendered or at least melted and taken out of circulation or is it just returned to the seller to possibly do again?? I know if you go into a bank with a bad note, it is confiscated and you get a receipt for it. I know bad coins are a problem, but just wondering if it is perpetuated and if authority’s try to track them back. I have a receipt for everything I do so I know exactly where every coin came from.
Michael Bugeja says
This is a good question, and one I have asked the Secret Service before. Because the government has a policy of cracking down on counterfeit currency, and those are readily identified, the process is different by practice with coins. They keep being returned to the previous seller, and keeping receipts (as you do) is the best insurance policy. Of course, when it comes to counterfeit US coins, citizens can always return them to the government, which is more concerned about the counterfeiter than the coins. And the government also looks to the Hobby Protection Act in these cases. My last counterfeit was an ancient Roman coin, so the Act would apply here and the consignor would have to return any funds. Also, it is not illegal to coin counterfeit coins, and many numismatic organizations and dealers have a collection of them to detect other fakes.
Thank you, I didnt know that it was not illegal to make actual coinage. I quess caveat emptor applies here as everywhere else. Again thanks
Michael Bugeja says
I made a mistake in my last response. I meant to write, “It’s not illegal to OWN counterfeit coins.” My apologies. In China, counterfeiting coins is a multi-billion-dollar business!
Michael Bugeja says
Just sent a reply about my typo. I meant to write, “It is not illegal to OWN counterfeit coins.” I also wanted to let you know that it is illegal to own counterfeiting dies, too.
Take care, and thanks for writing.
Richard Stinchcomb says
I am so excited that you brought this subject up on here! I personally know that a good photograph can mean everything when it comes to the sale of a coin. The point and shoot cameras simply can’t do the job. Over time, I have invested over $5,000 in camera equipment just to photograph coins correctly. The bad side of this is having to spend the extra time to edit the photos to the correct specifications such as cropping, cutting to a white or black background, and correcting white balance issues – one of the main problems in all photos taken with point and shoot cameras. I have taken more than 1000 photos of the 2009 UHR gold Double Eagle in experiment to find the best method to achieve the best resulting image. This is undoubtedly the most difficult coin that. Have ever tried to photograph and is most likely why even numismatic publications only use the original U.S. Mint’s stock photos of the coin. Eventually I found my answer to a quality image of this coin that I have not seen anything close in resemblance anywhere else. I actually want to sell some of my photography as a freelance numismatic photographer to such publications, but have met with nothing but roadblocks because no one knows me! Good quality photos should be representative of the particular coin by highlighting the strong points while also revealing the flaws.
Michael Bugeja says
Thank you so much, Richard, for your comment on this important topic. Your comment has enriched this post, and I appreciate it!
What would happen to the coins which were purchased for the platinum wedding anniversary if either the queen or Prince Philip died before they reached this milestone would the coins become worthless?