The issue used to play out in brick-and-mortar shops when a customer spotted a rare variety or other overlooked feature on a coin. And the conventional ethical wisdom then was to inform the dealer.
The dealer was held to the same standard if a customer brought a rare coin but did not know it. The dealer was expected to inform the customer about true value.
When it comes to online auctions, however, that face-to-face interaction is missing. You have to rely on computers and selling platforms.
On eBay and HiBid.com, you can contact sellers. On Proxibid, some sellers allow this feature. Many do not, although you can inform Proxibid via the “report” option if you suspect a fake or mislabeling.
The new ethical wrinkle concerns mislabeled lots that are allowed to stand as is, even when a potential buyer informs the auctioneer. Some sellers become irate when you point out a fake or replica. In fact, one such seller actually called my house to tell me not to share my opinion unless I was “a licensed numismatic expert.” (I’m a numismatic writer, book author, and former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee; but that didn’t impress).
Some auctioneers are courteous and respond to bidding mistakes. I made one recently on a mislabeled lot. I informed the seller and he removed the bid.
Mislabeled lots can be in the seller’s or buyer’s favor. Typically this occurs when auctioneers overlook a rare variety or when they claim such a variety that actually isn’t.
Here’s an example, of a mislabeled piece, a large motto two-cent coin described as the rarer small motto type.
Here’s a larger photo of the obverse:
Here’s a close-up of the small vs. large motto so you can see the distinctions (or view this article in Coin Update):
Here are other mislabeled lots that I assembled in one afternoon on HiBid.com.
As you can see from the NGC label, this is the more common 1879-S, not P, retailing at MS-65 for $240, not $650.
The next lot is described as 1887-CC Trade dollar. (There is no business strike at that date).
Here’s a similar mislabeled piece, with the description stating 1880-O and the photo displaying an 1888-O Morgan dollar:
I have found that this date, 1880-O, often is mislabeled. Here are examples. This first is an 1880-O that actually is an 1880-S:
Here’s a mislabeled lot in the buyer’s interest, described as an 1880 Morgan at MS-64 (my grade, retailing at $175). It actually is a condition rarity 1880-O (retailing at $1,500). After being informed, the description was changed. But I did bid as if this was an 1880-O.
Sometimes photos of coins do not align with descriptions, as in this case:
The auctioneer thanked me for letting him know the issue:
Many auctioneers do not respond. That’s their problem. But what are your responsibilities? Here are some suggestions:
- Inform the seller about any mislabeling.
- Never bid on a coin by the mere description alone.
- Never bid on a coin that only shows the obverse and not the reverse.
- Double-check to see if the mint mark and date are correct.
- If the mislabeling is in the buyer’s favor, as in the 1880-O Morgan described as 1880-P, inform the auctioneer.
- If a mislabeled coin is not corrected, after you inform the seller, or if the seller sends an uncivil message, think twice about bidding in the future with that auctioneer or company.
Conversely, if an auctioneer thanks you for the correction, as several have with me on HiBid.com, then they become my favorite trusted sellers.
That’s just good return business.