Viewers of Coingrader Capsule know where I typically stand on exaggerated lot descriptions in online auctions. I’ve shared my opinion in prior posts. In fact, one of my first 2010 columns in Coin Update–a two-part series titled “They’re back: Hyped Holders on Coin Auction Portals“–addressed this very same concern. In the past five years since that column (I published many more on the topic in my former blog), coin dealers and numismatic friends have challenged my view. I criticized the seller; increasingly, they argue, I should be criticizing the buyer.
“Anyone who throws money at a coin purchase without researching it deserves what he got,” one dealer confided to me recently. And he is among the most ethical dealers I have known in my long numismatic career. Example: An elderly woman sought a second opinion from him on her husband’s complete Morgan dollar collection. The set had many coins in low-grade or cleaned condition with a few spectacular uncirculated finds. The woman confided to him that another dealer in a nearby town offered her $10,000.
My friend bought the collection for $55,000, estimating for himself a 10% profit.
Now that’s ethical in my book.
So when he told me that ignorant buyers had themselves to blame, I had to step back a bit and question my take on numismatic ethics.
According to the dealer, his ethics involve himself not others. In other words, he was not concerned that a colleague in the next town tried to buy the Morgan collection with a low-ball bid. That was his competitor’s right. However, as soon as the woman entered his shop, it was his business and values that dictated the sale.
Nonetheless, I still bristle when I see online auctions offer slabbed lots from unknown companies that seem to grade every coin high mint state. Here are two recent examples from Proxibid.
Take a close look at this 1927-S Peace dollar. What grade would you assign to it? How much do you think it is worth?
The label on the holder stated that this 1927-S was MS66. The auctioneer noted that a 1927-S in that condition trended at $45,000.
In my view, this is a harshly cleaned circulated silver melt Peace dollar worth no more than $25. (It sold for $690)
How about this 1884-S in purported MS64 condition?
As many viewers know, the 1884-S is common in low grades but exorbitantly pricey in mint state. This looks to me like a cleaned coin in EF45, worth perhaps $35. The auctioneer’s description cited PCGS values at $130,000. It sold for $3,060.
Here’s my frustration concerning numismatic ethics: no matter how many times I and others warn coin consumers about unreliable holders and descriptions, chances are some buyers will not read the warnings until, perhaps, they or their heirs try to sell their bad buys.
What do you think?
Here are my questions for you:
1. Is my dealer correct? Do those buyers deserve what they bought?
2. Should sellers be held accountable by interested third parties like me who have nothing to do with the sale?
3. What impact do sales like these have on the hobby?
I’m open to your views. Please share them!