Typically in Coingrader Capsule we explore methods to grade coins, perhaps using online resources such as PCGS Photograde Online. Take a moment to visit that page and explore the various grades of your favorite coins.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if online sellers at portals such as eBay and Proxibid uniformly posted digital photos as sharp as these? Too often, it seems, what we see (or imagine seeing online) differs greatly from the coins we receive and inspect up close.
Grading is difficult enough when we view clear, sharp and expandable photos. We have to take into account such considerations as:
- Strike. Do the devices of the coin appear fully detailed and uniform on both sides, or do some difficult areas–such as “Full Head” (FH) on Standing Liberty Quarter Dollars or “Full Bell Lines” (FBL) in Franklin Half Dollars–appear smoother or broken?
- Color. Does the coin have natural or artificial patina–let alone PhotoShopped rainbows–or qualify for designations, such as “Red” (R) or “Red Brown” (RB) for copper coins?
- Condition. How prominent are the devices according to the (0-70) Sheldon scale, in addition to discerning whether the coin been cleaned, doctored or otherwise altered?
- Luster. How well does light reflect on the coin as a factor of surface condition and metal quality and flow?
Collecting coins is an expensive hobby. Collecting inferior coins because of bad quality photographs online can bankrupt a budget.
In a trial period a few years ago, purchasing coins online and from my local coin dealer, I spent more for inferior coins via Internet than I would have purchasing them retail on Main Street.
The reason had less to do with my numismatic skill and more to do with the quality of photographs.
- Never purchase coins from an online seller who only photographs one side of a coin. The obverse might be deep-mirror prooflike, or DMPL, and the reverse dull and tooled.
- Always ask a seller or auctioneer about any flaws you suspect omitted from the official description, such as whether a coin was once part of jewelry or whether a scratch is on the coin or the holder.
- Always read reviews of the seller or auctioneer to see what other buyers have experienced. Ebay shares detailed reviews and seller responses. Proxibid doesn’t, but has recently instituted a badge system concerning customer service issues, shipping, fees and complaints.
- Think twice before patronizing a seller or auctioneer who hypes descriptions of coins or inflates their values, such as quoting Red Book values on self-slabbed coins.
Recently I downloaded pictures of Morgan dollars from various sellers on the auctioneer portal, Proxibid. I graded the level of photo clarity from A to F.
Note: Click pictures to expand.
Natural lighting perhaps with a light box, in addition to close-up lens, create a sharp photo so that strike, condition, color and luster are as vivid as if held in your hand.
Other than a few minor “hot spots,” indicating a small lighting flaw and obscuring slightly the level of strike, this is a coin worth bidding on, based on the photo.
Hot spots obscure level of strike; but the coin is photographed on a slant against a confusing, distracting backdrop, rather than straight-on, obscuring minor flaws like hairlines. Camera, at least, is in focus. Bid carefully here, assuming flaws exist.
Many of the same problems as with the coin graded “B” above, only plastic container reflects light and obscures detail of the coin. Again, bid carefully here, assuming flaws exist.
Camera out of focus and altering shape of coin. Luster is apparent, but not detail. Do not bid.
Coin photographed in subpar lighting inside a plastic flip that creates hot spots and false luster. Do not bid.
Photograph may look sharp, but is taken in bad lighting with an inexpensive camera unable to capture the tone, color and luster of the coin. You may be tempted to bid with photos such as these; but resist it. The coin you get will not look like the coin in the picture. Do not bid.
Camera is out of focus taking picture of coin at a slant in a setting with poor lighting. What you see is worse than what you will get. Do not bid and think about making a complaint.
Washed out photo in poor lighting out of focus so that strike, condition, luster, etc., cannot be discerned. File a complaint.
Share your anecdotes with us about bad or deceptive coin photography you have experienced online. What did you buy? Why were you disappointed? Did you contact the seller? How did the person respond?