Before sharing an interview with GreatCollections President Ian Russell concerning his company’s practice of providing honest numismatic photos, I want to discuss the dishonesty and risk of buying coins with altered or poor photos.
Here’s a poor photo of a coin that I took a risk with, bidding based on a Proxibid lot that didn’t capture the true condition.
Because the lighting was subpar, I could not tell that the coin had been dipped and had hairlines across the check that weren’t clearly visible.
As viewers of my column know, bad photography ranks among the riskiest elements of bidding on coins via the Internet. All too often I am shortchanged, literally and figuratively, because photos from eBay, Proxibid, and HiBid are enhanced via Photoshop or subpar because of poor lighting or photographic technique.
Recently I overpaid for a coin whose Prooflike surface and color were enhanced. I don’t use Coin Update to identify sellers when reporting problems. I returned this ANACS 1882-S Morgan Dollar to an eBay seller. He didn’t question my assertion about the coin’s surface seeming to be a deep mirror (barely Prooflike) or the colors dull without any green tint or highlights.
Thankfully, the seller canceled and reimbursed me within a week.
Let me show you how I can enhance a common coin via Photoshop.
Here is an MS-67 American Silver Eagle holdered by PCGS:
Beautiful enough, right?
Maybe you’d pay $200 for it if you collected toned coins.
How much more would you pay if you saw this photo in a PCGS holder?
I bet if I used Photoshop’s color saturation tab and routinely altered color on toned coins, I would get $100-$200 more selling on eBay. I would offer returns, of course, with buyers paying shipping. But I might still come out ahead.
Ian Russell, president of GreatCollections, believes great coins deserve great photos and for more than a year now has been asking his two full-time photographers in a dedicated studio to take extra photos that capture toning and other aspects more fully than a quick snapshot of a slab.
Here’s a recent example of a toned coin in various light settings, including natural.
Russell says toned and Proof coins typically need more photos in various light settings to give the buyer an honest assessment. Moreover, he wants buyers to use photos in their set registry or online portfolios.
The only caveat about the use of his photos concerns unethical practices of sellers downloading shots of coins and using them in a bait-and-switch scam. I can show you how to do that using images from his website, but I don’t want to encourage that fraudulent practice. Suffice to say that such scams happen infrequently, but bidders lose thousands of dollars when they do occur, and typically the portal can do little about it.
“If you didn’t buy the coin, you can’t use our photos,” Russell says. On the plus side, the photo carries the GreatCollections brand, which helps his business.
I upload his photos to my set registry.
“Sometimes a seller will ask us to use one of his photos,” Russell notes, “and we can’t do that.” His company also doesn’t use photos from holdering companies. “Nothing against those images,” he says, “but buyers get to know coins from our photos, and so we strive for consistency.”
“The key is taking a high-quality image. If it doesn’t look good initially, you get unhappy customers. If there is a spot on the coin, the image will show that. The camera doesn’t make the spot,” nor should Photoshop be used to delete it.
Have you had a good or bad experience buying coins online based on photos? Have you ever returned a coin whose toning was enhanced?
Share your stories in the comments section below, but follow my example and do not name the company if you had a bad experience.