Nothing is as irksome for numismatists as seeing sellers hype coins by repeating in their descriptions the text on the flip. Let’s explore some recent examples from HiBid.com.
This is one of the most egregious examples, an extremely common fake California gold replica purporting to be — wait! — extra fine, Uncirculated, AND Brilliant Uncirculated — with a price tag of $1,275. It is “RARE!”
No, it’s not.
Here’s a closeup:
Not only is this replica worth about $1-5 in Uncirculated condition; this one is corroded.
I have been writing about this for Coin Update since 2013. Here’s an excerpt:
To check to see if your California gold is real or replica, look to the reverse. If you see a bear, or an animal that could resemble a bear, with a fraction (1/4, 1/2) or the word “One” without a denomination (as in “25 cents,” “50 cents,” “dollar” [sometimes abbreviated as “Dol.” or “D.”]), chances are you have a brass or plated token. Some collectibles that resemble fractional gold feature a western theme and are marked “Charm”; they are often made of gold.
Here’s another hyped flip description:
This coin is MS-64 or MS-64+ at best, worth about $250. It is not “almost flawless.” There are bag marks in the upper-left and right fields. Minor marks are on the cheek, under the eye, and the “U” in “PLURIBUS.” The “Greysheet” (dealer’s guide) of $3,600 is exaggerated.
Be skeptical, grade conservatively, and check auction prices on PCGS Coin Facts.
The 1886-O is not a key date. Neither is it rare. A coin in this condition, Good 4, is worth slightly more than silver melt value. In MS-64, it’s worth more than $10,000.
Auction bidders should know the difference between rarity (low mintage) and condition rarity (scarce in higher grades). This 1886-O is not worth a bid.
Franklin half dollars come with an added designation of “full bell lines,” which bring premiums over those that lack that designation on the reverse.
To earn full bell lines, a coin must have a strong strike, especially on the reverse so that the lines on the bottom of the bell run unbroken to the crack. You can read my piece on FBL in this 2012 Coin Update article.
While the 1955 Franklin half business strike can be considered a key date, the FBL designation is impossible to discern with the above photo. Despite its poor quality, I can see enough to determine this is hardly FBL (merged lines above “ALF” in “HALF” on reverse).
For more information on FBL and Franklin Halves, see Rick Tomaska’s A Guide Book on Franklin and Kennedy Half Dollars.
In sum, had you believed the descriptions on the flip in these examples, you’d be out hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
To bid successfully in online auctions, you have to be able to grade with a high degree of confidence. Moreover, the photos have to be sharp. Otherwise, you’re relying on the auctioneer’s descriptions to guide you.
That’s a risky move.