I have been writing for Coin Update for more than 12 years, informing viewers about the ins and outs of online and estate auctions, providing facts rather than opinions, from crack-out to counterfeit coins.
This column may be more opinion than fact because I have noticed a change in the hobbyist community. I want to alert you.
My contribution to the hobby is my dozens of posts to Coin Update, Coin World, and other publications focusing on the online coin-buying phenomenon, from its inception to the current day. Slowly, as the hobby shifted from coin shows and shops to eBay, HiBid, Live Auctioneers, and Proxibid, among others, I have seen increasingly bad bids by novice buyers and hyped descriptions by uninformed sellers.
There have always been both, I realize, but now the numbers seem as inflated as the lot descriptions.
To write this column, I buy raw coins on these Internet platforms and slab them with PCGS and NGC, reporting results. Each month I win fewer lots because the best raw coins from estate auctions are drying up, already purchased and holdered, with junk auctions being most prevalent.
The junkier the coin, the greater the hype.
In this post, I will share just a few examples from the thousands of lots that I have viewed in the past week.
California Gold — Not!
Viewers of Coin Update know how I call out fake California fractional gold coins. Here’s a doozy:
This is a plated replica. You can even see the flaked-off parts on the cheek and hair of the obverse.
Look at the value estimate and description. The coin sold for more than $150. I can buy these at my local coin shop for $1.
I informed the seller that nothing in the description was accurate. It is not genuine. It is not from 1857 or California. It is not pure gold and decidedly not a coin.
The auctioneer responded emotionally — so much so that I decided not to excerpt his testy response. He also blocked me. (I complained to HiBid, and the block was removed.) I can understand his viewpoint about only posting what the consignor states. On the other hand, he wasn’t interested in changing his description.
That is actually the problem these days in online auctions. Sellers are content to echo whatever the consignor says. And then they embellish that in the description.
Here are a few examples.
This Peace dollar is probably cleaned with a pin scratch above “We” under the chin. It is not MS-67 but barely almost Uncirculated and not worth $75,000 — not even $75.
This is not a Prooflike deep mirror coin, which would require six inches of reflecting on both sides. See my recent Coin Update column about specifics. I doubt this even has a cartwheel. The estimate of $150-$2,000 is far too low for any deep mirror 1904 Morgan, which sells for $70,000 at gem quality.
This 1904 is not worth more than $80.
Not MS-68 Full Steps
The photography is poor, but clear enough to see the reverse is hardly full steps. Perhaps the coin is gem or maybe even MS-66. The retail price would be $36, hardly $6,500.
Not Top Pop
Well, this is not top pop. It’s probably gem or MS-64, given it has a ding to the right of the lips, along with some tiny white spots on Washington’s neck.
On a good day, this is a $30 coin — not an $11,000.
We all know the conventional wisdom here. When the buyer goes to sell, they will be disappointed because of lost funds and withdraw from the hobby.
I’m not so sure that applies anymore. I think the impulse now is to believe the hyped descriptions as if the bidder got a fantastic deal — a kind of bragging rights.
To be sure, some of my favorite auctioneers on HiBid and Proxibid always thank me when I correct an error or warn against some consignor claim. But increasingly, again, sellers are not interested in accurate descriptions. They are focused on the sale and terms of service that state they are not responsible for consignor statements.
As a journalism professor, concerned about people wanting affirmation rather than information, I think the online auction world is less concerned about truth and wary of any fact that contradicts their views.
What can be done? Not sure. There is, however, a benefit for viewers like you who read about coins and welcome instruction, buying numismatic books, and belonging to coin clubs. You will avoid the junk and invest in worthy lots as the others run up credit card bills.