Ed. note: This article is periodically updated to reflect the current price of most valuable coins.
Want to sell valuable US coins but you’re not sure how or where? In this post, we offer a practical guide to selling your coins through a coin auction.
For some years now, this method of selling collector coins has been advancing steadily, and little by little, it is becoming the preferred method of selling coins for collectors, with a clear upward trend.
JUMP TO SECTION
Which is the Best Coin Auction?
The one that is most specialized in your coin collection. The rest of the conditions, if they are reasonable, are not so important.
There are many options for selling your old coins at auction. Here we give you elements, tips and guides to find the numismatic auction that best suits your collection.
The Value of Coins in Auctions
It seems obvious, but we are obliged to warn about this point because of the many times we have observed the opposite.
Sell Legacy Coins in Online Coin Auctions
As a general rule, when a person who has a coin collection worth a significant amount of money, leaves that collection to a relative, they usually inform the relative that the collection’s upkeep takes a lot of effort, both financially, and in terms of time and study.
If we have inherited a number of coins and in no case have been advised that these coins are appreciated and expensive, it is quite possible that our relative simply enjoyed spending a few dollars from time to time on a piece. Many collections are of great historical interest, but little value.
Before Selling in an Online Coin Auction
If we are not sure of the value of the collection we want to offer to the auction house, a great idea is to choose four or five pieces that we consider to be the most valuable, and open a consultation with a professional. If you show interest in sending the collection to their company, they will advise you, and guide you in how to ascertain the value of your coins and sell your collection.
Don’t forget that, with this sales system, the auction house is going to make more money the more expensive your coins sell for.
Advantages of online coin auction sites
- The currency has a visibility that is difficult to achieve with any of the alternative sales methods.
- Auction houses offer the highest level of confidence to buyers. Customers know that the currency has passed through the hands of a professional and that this professional has authenticated it.
- Competition among customers can cause some coins to be auctioned for prices far above their market price.
- Ease for the seller. The company to which we consign the coin will be in charge of classifying it, grading it, photographing it, advertising it and managing the payment.
Disadvantages of Auctioning a Coin
- They have a high commission load. Usually a major auction house charges a commission to the seller of between 5% and 20% of the auction price.
- This will only work for coins with a high market value, or for a number of coins with a moderate market value. Auction houses require a significant minimum deposit of around $5,000.
- Payment is not usually immediate. It usually takes between 15 and 60 days from the date of the auction.
We have to consider that these inconveniences characterize the general operation of the auction houses.
There can be exceptions. For example, if the seller appears with a sufficiently important collection, the commission by sale will be 0% or even negative (some companies offer to their ceding companies more money than the auctions of their pieces reach).
Which Coin Auction site Should I Choose?
Well, we’ve already decided to sell the coin through an auction house, and now it’s time for a crucial decision. Where do I sell it?
As a rule, all auction houses are serious, professional companies. They are usually run by prestigious numismatists, and all of them are very reliable. They won’t fool us, as they live off their image. Vico, Herrero, Pliego, Ibercoin, Aureo Calico, Cayón, Tauler y Fau or Soler y Llach auctions are some of the most popular in Spain.
However, there are a number of factors that should tip the balance when deciding on one company or another…
Find an Auction House Specializing in your Type of Valuable Coins
If an auction house specializes in a particular series, collectors of that series will usually know about it and pay special attention to the auctions organized by that house.
Thus, the chances of our lot reaching a higher price are increased. We will list some of the most important companies, giving you some tips on which auction house to choose to sell your collection on.
Top 4 Best Coin Auction Sites
Heritage Auctions Coins, world leader
The world’s largest numismatic house… no more words necessary. They’ve auctioned off 10 of the 20 most expensive coins in history. Heritage Auctions specializes in high quality American and world coins. They have an impressive client list, and there is no amateur or professional coin dealer who does not know about them.
Stack’s Bower, antique coin auctions with guarantee
Another giant of the numismatic auctions. If Heritage has 10 of the 20 most expensive coins in history, Stack’s auctioned the three that fetched the highest price, with a combined total among the three of nearly $20 million. Also specializes in American coins or high quality world coins.
Daniel Frank Sedwick
The best choice if a coin collection is based on colonial Spanish currency or treasures recovered from shipwrecks. This house specializes in those series, and they are probably among the greatest experts in the world.
Ira & Larry Goldberg
They have fewer auctions per year than Heritage or Stack’s Bowers, but they always hold coins of exquisite quality. A good option for auctioning important collections, as they have a large customer base.
Where to auction your old coins in Europe
If our collection is based on international currency and very specialized in a particular country, we also have the option of sending it to a European house. Despite having a somewhat smaller portfolio of customers, it is natural that these customers are specialized in their own national currency.
- Kuenker (Germany). Probably the largest auction house in Europe, and the one that puts the best Central European coins up for auction.
- Spink (United Kingdom). Another European auction giant, founded in 1666, is not lacking in experience with its more than three and a half centuries in business. In addition to British currency, for cultural reasons, they highly specialize in colonial currency.
- Áureo & Calicó (Spain). The best option to sell a collection or a Spanish peninsula coin. The Spanish coin, thanks to its colonial past, is the second most collected in the world, since many countries, including the United States, used it before having their own national currency.
- Varesi (Italy). The same level as the previous houses, but more specialized in its local currency. The best option for auctioning Italian coins or Italian coin collections of some importance.
All these companies are top professionals, with years of experience in the sector and have great prestige within the numismatic world at an international level. However, if you are a resident of another country, you can also look for some other options, as there are hundreds of possibilities, and usually all of them are equally valid.
Tips Before Sending your Coins to Coin Auction Sites
Let’s describe the usual experience we will have as sellers in an auction house when we put our coin collection up for sale. Bare in mind that different companies will use different protocols of action, and some of these points may vary a little. Once again, if you have any doubts, do not hesitate to call the company for information. They are always professional, dedicated to their trade, and they will never put obstacles in your way to inform you.
- The first point is to contact the auction company. We would recommend sending several emails to various companies, explaining to them our intention to sell a collection at an auction of theirs. In addition, we should send, if we have it, the cataloguing of the coins, and several photographs, both of the collection in general and of the coins that we consider most beautiful in particular.
- If they show interest in having our collection sent to them, we would recommend a telephone call. There, we could be informed about several points of certain importance: the method of sending the collection, the commission to the seller, the method of payment and the term of payment.
- The next point would be to send them the coins, and at the same time, they will send us an email with the cataloguing that their experts have collated for our collection, the grading that they have estimated for our coins, and the starting price that they are going to put on the lots. This starting price is usually negotiable, and we can discuss with the company if we do not agree with any of them. However, we always advise you to listen to the experts, because they are interested in maximizing the selling price, so they can maximize their profits.
- Finally, the auction will take place, and within the agreed period, we will receive payment for our collection.
How Coin Auctions Work?
A numismatic auction is a fairly simple and easy to learn process for regular buyers.
Types of Coin Auctions
A few years ago, there were two types of auctions. In-house auctions, which are the ones we usually see on TV, with the auction manager saying out loud the current bid and the buyers raising their hands to beat it.
There were also online auctions. In this mode, bids were received in a sealed envelope, and the highest bid received simply won.
This last modality of numismatic auctions is more and more in disuse. With the implementation of new technologies, online auctions now have a live component, and the operation is exactly the same as a room auction, except that the management is exercised by a machine instead of a person.
Usually, companies print a catalog with all the graded and numbered lots they are going to offer, and send it to their regular customers or to those people who might be interested in that currency. In this catalog, it is announced when the auction will be opened for pre-bids, and when the live auction will take place.
The Online Bidding System
As soon as the pre-bids are opened, the company starts receiving bids for the lots. These bids can be made online, or by more traditional means such as sending a letter by mail or a phone call.
Usually, the day before the auction takes place, the previous bids are closed, and the lots go live with a starting price equal to the highest bid previously received. Some customers prefer to pre-bid, some others prefer to bid live. There are as many strategies as there are people, and none is more valid than the other.
Nowadays, practically all companies in the sector have developed a web or mobile app that allows customers to bid live without having to be present at the place where the bidding takes place. The big difference between live auctions and online auctions is the presence of an auctioneer and a live audience.
In addition, large companies tend to keep the best currencies for their live auctions, and the least important ones for online auctions, as the cost of developing them is much lower.
What is the starting price of an auction?
The starting price refers to the minimum amount at which the coin can be sold. Any price below that amount is not considered.
What are hammer and realized prices?
The hammer price is the maximum value that a buyer has offered for the piece. This hammer price ends the coin auction.
The price realized is the final purchase price of a lot. Includes the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium.
Besides, the buyers premium simply refers to a percentage additional charge on the hammer price of the lot that must be paid by the winning bidder. It is supposed to be charged by the auctioneer to cover administrative expenses. The buyer’s premium goes directly to the auction house and never to the seller.
How can you follow active auctions?
Hundreds of coin auctions are held throughout the year, so it is very difficult to see them all. There are several options to keep track of these auctions. The first option that you can consider is to register online at the auction house where you like the pieces usually auctioned at any time and, at the same time subscribe to their newsletter and be informed at all times of the launch of future auctions. We must take into account that in the application for registration at an auction house we are usually asked for references as clients/buyers of other auction houses and, if we do not have them, we must wait a reasonable time for our application to be approved. This option, as you can imagine, is laborious and expensive since there are hundreds of coin auction houses all over the world, and some of them with 5 or more auctions active per month.
Auction aggregators or auction indexers – a great option
Undoubtedly, one of our recommendations is to use numismatic auction aggregators. These are websites specializing in offering many auctions that appear in chronological order. In this way, you only have to register on this site to be able to follow the pieces of all auctions that are appearing. Some of the most widely used auction aggregators are: Sixbid.com, numisbids.com, biddr.com, bidinside.com, and deamoneta.com.
Another advantage is that some of the sites allow bidding in online auctions and even live bidding directly and without further requirements.
What (free) services do numismatic auction aggregators offer?
In addition to the above, the use of aggregators offers certain very useful tools for collectors.
- Save searches with alerts. They allow us to save keywords of pieces that we are looking for so that when a lot with those or similar terms appears in an auction we are notified via email.
- Favorites. We can track lots that interest us and appear in future auctions. The aggregators will notify us that the day of the auction in which the lot appears is approaching or that the auction house is about to close the acceptance of bids for that lot.
- Auction prices. In some of these aggregators, there is the possibility of knowing the auction prices of past auctions and also of lots that we put as favorites at the time.
As a novelty, Sixbid has recently developed its auction file of lots auctioned in the past, which can be of great help as a price guide. Here it is.
- Previous bids and live bids. In this section it is essential that prior to the holding of the auction we decide whether we want to leave a submitted bid or bid live.
And it is essential, due to the fact that some auction houses only allow live bidding on their own website or through their own app, that we must have previously downloaded the required software. In the example of the above image of the session in web biddr the auction house Heritage Auctions only allows us to submit previous bids. To be able to bid directly we will have to request the discharge on its website and that they approve us as bidder.
- Information service of previous bids. Some auction houses inform us on their own website or app of the bids that are accumulating for each lot.
Other auction houses send us an email when we have been outbid, which means that another bidder has placed a higher bid than the one we previously submitted.
Key aspects to consider before placing your bids
First of all, you should know the most common costs when buying at online auctions:
- Auction house commission. It is a commission charged by the auction house to the buyer (it is also usually charged to the seller). It is calculated as a percentage of the Hammer Price that the piece reaches at auction. It is usually between 15 and 23% of the final price.
- Commission on live bids. Some auction houses apply an extra commission on bids placed in the live system. This commission can be calculated as a fixed price (3 or 5 € per piece) or as a percentage (2 – 3 %) and is added to the auction house commission.
- Shipping cost. This is the amount that the auction house will charge us for sending the piece to our home. It is important to know the shipping method and cost before bidding, since the high shipping cost in some countries may excessively raise the total cost of the purchased piece.
Pay attention to shipments between different countries or geographical areas, shipments within the EU are not the same as shipments to non-EU countries.
- Shipping insurance. Some auction houses may apply an extra cost for insuring the shipping of the piece to certain countries, applying different costs depending on the price of the pieces awarded to the same buyer.
- Customs. Be very careful in case the piece that we have won must go through customs since we will have to pay an extra cost for the piece. The customs tax is calculated by applying a percentage on the auction price + commission + shipping. It is also necessary to add the expenses for the customs management that the transport company charges us, but they are not usually high.
- Currency effect. Another point to take into account when the auction is held in a currency other than that of your country is the currency exchange effect. Since you are bidding in auctions of foreign companies the auctions can be in Euros, USD, CHF, … and you should calculate the price of the currency in your local currency.
With all the costs assessed and when you are clear about the bids you are going to place and you want to attend the live bidding system, you should read the auction conditions. At this point, you should first check the day and time of the auction (noting the time difference with your local time) and secondly, the bidding increments depending on each tranche. Here are two examples:
These tables mean that during the live auction the bids will increase according to the price range of the lot.
For example, following the table shown in photo nº 1, if the lot starts at €85 the bids would go from €5 in €5 increments up to €99. After €99 the bids would increase by €10 in €10 increments.
What other aspects should you consider?
Even if it takes you some time, you should read the Terms and Conditions of the auction you are bidding on. Why? You will see key aspects such as whether the auction house guarantees the authenticity of the lot for life or if you have a few days to examine it at home and after those days whether they will not accept returns. You can also find out if there are some lots in the auction that will not accept returns, for example: “Sold as is, no returns”. This is often seen in lots with many coins of medium-low quality. In these cases, it is better to be able to examine the lot before bidding on it. In lots of pieces not encapsulated by grading companies, you must remember that the grading is done by the auction house worker, so the grading may differ significantly between different auction houses for the same piece.
In the coin sector, the starting price may or may not resemble the hammer price. It is usually related to the interest that the coin has garnered among the bidders. The higher the number of bids, the higher the auction price for the coins. As a result, if there are hardly any bids, the hammer price will be very similar to the starting price.
If you are interested in purchasing coins the use of auction aggregators seems to us to be the best method for saving time and resources, provided that the auction house you are interested in is within that aggregator. Get to know the auction aggregators in-depth and make the most of their utilities. Start with auction houses in your country that you can know in more depth and feel more secure with. When you are comfortable you can consider bidding in foreign houses, calculating the costs and the currency effect that we explained above.
Numismatic Expert & Writer. BA in History and BS in Computer Science. He’s a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and write in several digital media specialized in collecting, auctions and antiques reviews.
He is an active investor and a member of the coin collecting community, specializing in antique United States coins. He uses this expertise to disseminate knowledge and interest in coins among the broad audience of Coin Collectors through both simple and high-level articles.
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Javier has been an active member of the coin collecting community for approximately 15 years. He has gained extensive experience during this time and wishes to share it with his readers.
He completed a Bachelor’s degree in History from UNED and a degree in Computer Science from the University of Cádiz.