Take a good look at this Morgan roll with a Carson City dollar on one end and an equally brilliant 1879 Morgan on the other (not depicted). Better still, the roll looked like this:
An original bank roll from Carson City, Nevada! … indicating to the inexperienced collector that every coin therein would bear this rare mint mark.
Of course, the roll was tampered with and coins inside common dates, except for what turned out to be the 1883-CC on the end. These rolls were selling for upwards of $8,000, and I put in a bid I considered low, $2,400, never thinking I would win it. That is an amateur mistake, and I should have known better. I knew a lot more, too. Long ago my mentor, the late Scott Nichols of Ames, Iowa, coin shop Chester’s Coins and Gifts, showed me how to crimp and un-crimp a roll so that you can look at the coins inside … or put them back—an unethical practice, Scott emphasized. (I won’t share that method here, but several of you probably know how to do it already.)
I won the roll, surprisingly, and it was packed without sufficient padding. It got lost in the U.S. mail. And when I finally received it after it had made a cross-country journey, all the coins had spilled out inside the envelope. You can read about the entire experience in Coin World at this link (subscription required).
In the end, I lost about $1,300. I could have put the coins back in the undamaged paper roll and re-crimped it, but I took the loss and the roll out of circulation.
I know already what some veteran hobbyists are thinking. “Why did you do it? Don’t you know the end Morgans should not have been so brilliant white? After more than a century, they should be toned. Don’t you know the seller was playing on your greed, thinking the 1879-CC might be worth $10,000? Serves you right (because I would never have done it).”
That’s what this post is about.
And yes, you probably have done similar regrettable things as you learned about the hobby. Moreover, we all have fallen prey to misleading or downright deceptive listing practices.
Sometimes I compare our hobby with used-car dealers. When a friend or acquaintance of yours buys a lemon vehicle, do we feel righteous, as if she or he deserved the scam because the car wasn’t thoroughly checked via Carfax, Consumer Reports, or a trusted mechanic before purchase? Why do so many coin collectors (not you, naturally) feel our fellow hobbyists deserved what they got?
Yes, there is caveat emptor (buyer beware). There is also buyer’s remorse, and often that remorse—such as I felt with the Morgan roll—is associated with deceptive practices.
The specter of unethical or even criminal behavior happens in industries where expertise is required before any substantial investment. You find scams associated with precious gems, antiquities, art, and other rarities. But in our hobby, in my view, there exists an attitude that differs from those deceived in those other categories. Too often we prize affirmation about our expertise over information to be shared with new collectors. That is not healthy for the future. Why do so many of us feel good about what we know and what others do not?
I could be mistaken here. But my observation is based on thousands of comments on my many years of writing for Coin Update. This is what I believe: Any expert, including me, has a long history of unwise purchases. That’s how we learn, unfortunately (another sad attribute of our hobby). What responsibility do we as experienced collectors have to share what we know and to inform portals like Proxibid when sellers make innocent or deceptively inaccurate claims about lots, intentionally or unintentionally violating a portal’s terms of service on coins and currency?
To be sure, deceptive practices have a long history in numismatics—long before the Internet. That is why we value the Professional Numismatists Guild, whose motto is “Knowledge. Integrity. Responsibility.”
But PNG dealers cannot be everywhere on the web, and numismatic publications and Whitman Publishing go only so far. Moreover, many of us have expertise equal to or superior to that of dealers. What is our role, if any?
Questionable lots abound on the Internet.
Here is a short list from Proxibid, one of my favorite portals because of excellent customer service. These are ethical considerations only, with which you can agree or disagree. (As always, my goal is educational.)
THE MISLEADING KEY-DATE DESIGNATION: Dates in the photo below are not key for Morgan dollars. See this post from Coin Update on key dates.
EXCESSIVE OPENING BIDS: I listed NGC retail values.
MISUSE OF PCGS COIN PRICE GUIDE on self-slabbed or bottom-tier slabs.
CIRCUMVENTING PORTAL GUIDELINES by depicting hyped values in photos rather than in descriptions.
SEEING MAXIMUM BIDS AND LEGAL AUCTIONEER BIDDING: See this post on “the law that allows shill bidding.” (Point here is to read the service terms before bidding and overpaying for coins.)
I could go on with an extensive list of other dubious practices previously covered in my past posts in Coin Update. Believe me, this is only a short list that does not include the profusion on counterfeits and altered coins on the web. But, once again, that is not the point here.
Will you help the hobby when you spot deceptive or misleading practices and report that to the online platform? Will you continue to learn about the hobby so that you are not taken in by these practices? Will you share your own hard learning experiences with new collectors so that they do not suffer losses or, worse, loss of interest in the hobby?
Do so in the comment section below!