Many collectors will, at some point, sell a coin or bank note through the mail. While this can create a worldwide market for the item you’re selling, it can also raise the question of how to best ship the item once you’ve found a buyer.
In this article, we will take a look at some recommended ways to ship a valuable numismatic item and how to insure it. We will take a look at both domestic and international mail, along with the options and the limitations that come with some of the services available. Please note that it does make a difference whether you are sending a collectible coin, a bank note, or bullion. I have tried to make everything as clear as possible, but please don’t hesitate to ask additional questions in the comments section.
A few decades ago, just about the only way to ship something across the country was by United States Postal Service. Now, there are more ways than ever to ship something, with various options available from the USPS as well as from private companies, such as FedEx and UPS. Before going into more detail, let’s outline the pros and cons I have encountered for some of the various services:
|USPS First Class
|USPS Registered Mail
|USPS Priority Mail
|USPS Priority Mail Express
|Fedex/UPS/DHL/Other Courier services
What then, is the best way to ship a coin or bank note? The answer really depends on the item’s value, where it is going, and how quickly you want it to be there. As we see above, there are many pros and cons to each of the services, and short of getting in a car or plane and hand delivering it yourself there is always some sort of risk.
Personally, I use USPS first class mail for items under $100, priority mail for items up to about $1000, and USPS express or registered for anything over that, as long as it is mailed within the United States. My reasoning is that the extra cost for priority mail is not worth it for cheaper items, and using a courier such as FedEx can get very expensive.
This means that packages under $100 are essentially “self-insured,” and that I have to take the loss if it does go missing. For slightly more expensive items, a great option is small flat-rate boxes. The boxes (which are free at the post office) add a layer of protection when shipping a coin or bank note, and are often the cheapest way to ship something slightly more heavy, such as a few rolls of pennies. These boxes have a weight limit of 70 pounds, which means that unless you are shipping more than a bag of pennies or nickels they are perfect for most numismatic items.
If you don’t have private insurance, registered mail is generally your best option for more expensive items. While registered mail can be painfully slow (two weeks coast-to-coast is not unheard of), it is also the most secure. It gets handled by hand from the sender and receiver, and any person that touches a package has to sign for it. If it does go missing, it can very easily be traced back to the last person who touched it. As a result, very few registered mail pieces get “lost” and when they do they will often show up again after a few weeks.
International shipping is a different story. Not only is it much more expensive, but options for tracking are very limited. Depending on the country in which the recipient is located, even USPS services that do offer tracking (such as priority mail express or registered mail) will not always update in the system.
For high-value packages, a more expensive courier service like FedEx is often your best option, but for a small package going to Europe, for example, you will often be looking at over $100 just in shipping fees, and often the recipient will be charged customs fees as well. For international shipments I self-insure for items less than $50, but anything over that will have to go registered mail. While this can cost upwards of $30 a package, this is still about the most economical way to ship something overseas; it can take a long time, but most packages do arrive eventually. Another thing to keep in mind is that international packages carry limited-to-no insurance, but more on that below.
As most people know, insurance is one of those things that you almost never need, but when you do, you’re glad you’ve purchased it. However, when it comes to mailing coins, bank notes, or bullion, it can become very tricky.
USPS regulations often prohibit the mailing of cash in the first place (to avoid money laundering), and they limit their liability when it comes to claims for numismatic items. Also, many USPS employees and overseas postal employees don’t seem to understand that people actually collect coins and bank notes, which is one of the reasons why you would never want to tell a postal employee that you are mailing coins or bank notes. As a result, purchasing insurance for coins and banknotes from USPS is something that I can not recommend, and there are plenty of horror stories on online coin forums where items went missing and USPS denied any claim for compensation.
Luckily, there are several private companies that do offer insurance solutions, several of which have been endorsed by the American Numismatic Association and offer discounts for their members. There are two kinds of insurance one can purchase:
- Insurance that has to be purchased for individual packages
- Insurance that covers any and all packages you send
The first is generally offered after paying a small “membership” fee. If you send packages only occasionally this solution is perfect, as you only pay when you ship, so the cost is relatively low — in my experience anywhere from $1.50 to $100 depending on value and service used. Of course, you do need to remember to insure each package as soon as you ship it, but once this becomes part of your shipping routine it is easy enough.
The second option is more expensive, and is generally offered as part of a comprehensive insurance policy that includes coverage of your collection or inventory. While you do not have to individually insure or report each package, this option generally only makes sense if you send enough packages to offset the cost.
With both options you will have to follow certain rules set by the insurance provider, depending on a package value or its destination. One major plus is that most companies will offer some sort of international protection, and packages sent by both the USPS and any of the courier services are generally covered, with few restrictions. Sometimes express packages sent over the weekend are not covered, and if a certain postal or courier hub has seen a large number of packages reported missing, indemnity might be limited if your package goes through there. Another major plus is that most, if not all, kinds of numismatic items are covered, which is not the case with the USPS insurance offered by the postal clerk at the counter.
While it is somewhat of a hassle to figure out your shipping options at first, once you get the hang of it, it’s not all that difficult. Of course there’s always a risk, but if you take the right precautions you can minimize those risks as much as possible. I ship about 30-50 packages a week, of which about half are overseas, and less than 10 times a year do I have something that causes a true headache, such as damaged or missing items. I have had private insurance for the past year, and I have yet to file a claim.
Good packaging is important — this is why I like the USPS Small Flat Rate Boxes, as you can cushion a slab quite well with bubble wrap, for example. It is also important to make it in no way clear to the outsider what the contents of the package are; make sure the to/from address does not include the word “coin” or “gold”.
Finally, make sure to research your options well; if you send more than a few packages a month, sign up for an online mailing service with which you can print your postage online. This will not only save you from standing in line at the post office, it will also give you a slight discount on your shipping fees (up to recently the USPS website gave the same discount, but it no longer does this, unfortunately).