Selling Inherited Numismatic Items

Posted on 10/8/2015

Whether you have inherited your grandfather's coins he brought home from WWII or a complete set of Stellas, the overriding advice is to be patient when liquidating your holdings.

When the public brings in a coin these days for an appraisal, they have often done at least some research on the coin in question. When dealing with these folks I am reminded how little the general population knows about the world of rare coin grading. The temptation for someone who knows little or nothing about grading is to scan to the right on the price charts to determine its value. For them it’s hard to believe that their lustrous Morgan Silver Dollar is not an MS 66 or better, and worth thousands. I would probably be the same way if dealing with a diamond dealer were I to inherit an attractive piece of jewelry. Like diamonds, the nuances of coin grading is hard to explain to a beginner.

For someone trying to sell an inherited coin or collection the best you can do is to find someone you can trust for advice. This will include finding someone with the right credentials for the material you are selling. Many people have groups of coins that were saved from circulation or from trips abroad. This is by far the most common situation. It is also quite common to see large groups of Proof and Mint Sets that have been purchased over the years. For these types of collections most local coins shops will serve the purpose of liquidation for such accumulations. Often these type of collections can be very large in volume and difficult to drag around town for multiple offers. As a buyer I can also tell you that no one wants to spend hours figuring a collection and not purchase it.

In such situations, I tell people to bring in a smaller group of the coins they think might be the most valuable. It is highly recommended to get multiple offers on the sample group. This will probably give you enough information to know who you should be dealing with. If large amounts of gold or silver are involved, it should be remembered that most offers are contingent on precious metal prices being the same when it’s time to sell. Have the dealer clearly state the bullion prices the offer is based on. This will save disappointment or hard feelings if prices were to fall sharply. On the other hand, if gold and silver rise, you should expect more.

The above advice covers basic accumulations of coins and not true collections. If the person you have inherited coins from was a serious collector, you should take the same care with its disposal as the collector did assembling it in the first place. Again, the basic advice is to find someone you can trust to assist you with the liquidation of the collection. There are several good sources to find someone in your area. Try the NGC Dealer Locator and better yet find an NGC dealer who is also a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Professional Numismatist Guild (PNG). You may want to narrow your search to one of the dealers above who specialize in the collection or series you have inherited. This would require sending your coins in the mail, so it may be better to contact someone locally to start with.

The first thing to establish is to get a general idea of your holdings. Sets of recent vintage coins in Whitman folders is not the same as an assortment of United States gold coins. Rare coin dealers will be more than happy to guide with this process. There is no reason to be in a hurry selling a collection that may have taken decades to assemble. Show the coins to at least two or three companies before deciding how to proceed. Do not be surprised if the offers vary considerably. Some companies operate on different profit margins and the expertise of the dealers can also vary greatly.

As most of you know, having your rare coins graded by NGC will probably result in getting the most money for your coins. This is, however, a tricky process for someone who is not a collector. It is crucial to have your coins screened to determine the best candidates for submission. Most dealers can help you decide which coins are worth the grading fees, shipping and handling. They can also help you avoid sending in coins with problems that would result in unsatisfactory results.

Once your important coins have been certified, you can then use the Internet to do basic research that will be much more meaningful. The NGC US Coin Price Guide will give a good idea of retail values and most auction houses also offer past auction results for comparison. You can also probably find multiple items of the same coin being offered on eBay at any given time. Another good idea is to locate a specialist in the series you have for sale. This can be done without too much trouble using the search features of the ANA and PNG.

Another venue for liquidation of your collection is auction. Most auction houses require coins to now be certified to be listed individually in their sales. They can help with this process as well. There are many pros and cons with selling at auction. Your coins will be offered to a wide audience, but the auction houses charge a fee for this privilege, usually 15-25% net. It should also be remembered that auction fees are negotiable and getting multiple proposals is highly advised. You also have the uncertainty of the market when waiting several months for a sale to take place, not to mention waiting months for the proceeds. Most important collections in the last several years have been sold at auction. For smaller collections you need to compare your options as listed above to determine the best course of action.

Whether you have inherited your grandfather’s coins he brought home from WWII or a complete set of Stellas, the overriding advice is to be patient when liquidating your holdings. Most of the ideas above only scratch the surface of this complex situation many people find themselves in. Look for good advisors and do your homework!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to

Jeff Garrett bio

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