How to Sell a Coin Collection You Inherited

Most coin collectors know a lot about valuing and selling coins, and this article isn’t for them specifically. Instead, the content here is intended for beginners and/or people who have inherited coin collections. We’ll show you how to sell a coin collection to a professional without getting intimidated because they have a lot more experience than you. The last thing any honest dealer wants is for you to feel like someone is taking advantage of you to make a quick buck. 

A word of advice on coin dealers:

Like most antique dealers, coin dealers are generally trustworthy and reliable. However, some people might try to scam you by not being honest about the value of your coins. You can prevent this by educating yourself upfront. The most trustworthy dealers actually appreciate it when the potential seller has some background information on the item they want to cash in. When you come to the table with knowledge and flexibility (more on this later), it’s easier for everyone to feel that the deal is fair for both parties


Sort the Coin Collection

Before you head to a coin shop to offload your collection, take some time to evaluate your old coins with a discerning eye. Recognize what you do and don’t know, and try to fill in the blanks. Identifying what you have is the first step to making sure you don’t sell the collection way below fair market value. 


1. Avoid the temptation to clean your coins. 

In almost every instance, cleaning coins extremely reduces their value. Competent coin dealers will spot the difference between a coin in mint condition and a coin that looks artificially mint because it has been cleaned. 

Remember, a shiny old coin doesn’t mean it’s valuable. Some dull damaged coins worth a lot, too. Rarity and collectibility can matter just as much as the condition. 


2. Store the coins with care before you sell them. 

You don’t want to clean coins, but you also don’t want to damage them any further by improperly storing them. Make sure your coins are separated in appropriate binders to limit damage, water, or otherwise. Also, keep the collection in a safe location to prevent theft.


3. Create or find an inventory of the coin collection.

Creating an inventory if there isn’t one already will be the most time-consuming part of this process. If you inherited a collection from a seasoned collector, this assessment was likely already done. Search in notebooks and on computers to try to track down a coin inventory.

If this hasn’t been done, and you suspect that this collection could have some precious coins in it, you can pay someone to do this for you.  Contact a professional numismatist for a quote on the process. These people won’t have a conflict of interest in valuing and grading your coins because they adhere to a strong code of ethics and likely won’t be the ones purchasing the collection. 

DIY ADVICE

If you don’t want to shell out money for a professional assessment, check out a free coin price guide. Use this guide to create categories of coins. Before you try to search values, sort out your collection into the categories used on the price guide site. This sorting process will help you even if the coins are already in binders or coin slabs. Don’t value anything yet! Put all the categories into rows on a spreadsheet and log each coin underneath the appropriate row. Create a column that includes an estimated grade and another column for an estimated value. 


4. Grade and value each coin. 

Estimate the grade of each coin based on what you learn in this coin grading video. 

Remember, this grading is just an estimate based on your limited research. Take this grade with a grain of salt. An expert will have a more accurate assessment. Once your grades are logged in the spreadsheet, use the price guide above to add in an estimated value.  


Sell the Coin Collection

Once you complete your inventory, you’re ready to bring your collection to a coin dealer. We recommend searching out reliable dealers that have a good track record online or in person. Fly-by-nights that set up at hotels aren’t as reliable. The following tips will help explain how this process works when you sell to a dealer. 


1. Determine where you want to sell the coin collection. 

It is easiest to sell a collection in its entirety, especially if you don’t take the time to sort and grade the collection yourself. However, if you do put together an inventory and find that there is a coin that might be very valuable, you might want to sell this coin separately and put it up in a coin auction to potentially make more money on it. 

 A coin is only worth what someone will pay for it, and values will differ depending on where you sell. 

  • Retail. Every day people have a hard time selling coins close to retail value. These prices are most often attained by professional coin dealers who have knowledge and expertise and can authenticate coins accurately. 
  • Wholesale. This is the price people get when they sell their coins to a dealer. It is generally anywhere from 30% – 70% less than retail value. 
  • Auction. Depending on the auction, you can get prices either higher or lower than retail and wholesale. It’s a gamble and some auctions have both dealers and regular collectors in the crowd who might drive up prices. Sellers pay commissions to auction houses. 

2. Take your time to sell to the right buyer for more money. 

If you don’t need the money right away, don’t sell right away. The more desperate you are to sell, the less money you will ultimately get for the collection. For example, if you have a large collection that hasn’t been properly inventoried, a dealer (or fly-by-night gold buyer) might give you a base price that accounts for all the time they will spend sorting and grading the coins. 

After the purchase, they might find a diamond in the rough in your collection and make a lot of money. This scenario is not them ripping you off. It’s a quick cash game where they take a gamble because they gave you cash upfront and chose to take the time to process the coins after this bulk purchase. Their purchase price reflected the lowest amount they could pay by taking this risk (which is generally a metal melt amount). 

If you don’t have time or the means to learn more about your collection, this lower price might be completely okay with you. Regardless, you should be aware of this scenario so you can make the decision to either sell for less or research and then sell for more. The latter will take significantly more time and effort. 


3. Be flexible in your pricing and be prepared to negotiate.

Assuming that you took the steps above to inventory and grade your coin collection, then you will want to prepare yourself to barter with a dealer of your choosing. Take into consideration whether your values are based on retail or wholesale value. If the value is retail, do not expect to get this price from a coin dealer. Also, be prepared for the dealer to challenge your grading and value. In many cases, beginners or people looking to sell will overestimate the grade and value of their coins.

Be open to the dealer’s suggestion on value and grade, but if you get an off feeling during negotiations, trust your gut and sell elsewhere. If another dealer or two gives you the same valuation, consider that they are probably more accurate than you and consider lowering your price. You could also try selling the collection on eBay or another online marketplace, but remember you cannot sell the coin collection based on your grade and value alone since you are not a professional. Your research throughout this process is a starting point rather than an endpoint. 


Good luck!

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