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Coins and Coin Collecting

Updated on February 22, 2015

Gold Tiger Coin Perth Mint Lunar Series

This is a coin from the Lunar Series II.
This is a coin from the Lunar Series II. | Source

Buying Coins Online

There are a few times when buying a coin online is advantageous if the coin is no longer available at the min, and the coin is not likely to be found at a local dealer or at a coin show being held locally. Remember, what is there today may not be tomorrow.

Almost every bullion coin and many others were originally purchased from a mint. The practice of buying from a governmental mint is quite acceptable. In fact, you probably will get a better price and have the quality coin you request, if you are willing to buy current coins. In a few rare cases mints may have older issues, but their selections are greatest for current year coins.

Older coin sets and individual coins still in their original packaging bought from a reputable dealer is also acceptable. If you do this, you should expect to see a picture of the exact coin. A stock photograph is acceptable if the dealer declares no flaws, states the uncirculated grade, or claims the original case is intact.

If you are buying precious metal simply for the metal content of the coins, you do not need to see the coins.

If your purchase meets the criteria above, or if you trust your dealer, delivery to your door can be especially nice. You do not have to spend fuel or time to go shopping for your coins. Just remember these may be theft targets, so have home delivery only if there is a drop box into your home for your mail, or if you arrange to have to sign for the delivery. A Post Office protects your delivery, and you were probably going to check it anyhow, so you still save fuel and time.

Buying pitfalls:

Older lower grade coins often do not photograph well. Flaws may be missed, or, to your advantage, the coin may appear to show less detail than it has due to reflections. This is especially true of shiny coins. U. S. 2-cent pieces are particularly difficult to photograph.

The case you are being given may not be the original case. Many Online sources of coins offer empty boxes for specific coins. The problem here is that the coin may be placed in a box for cameo, but not quite fit the definition. Even worse, the coin may be called proof but simply be a sharp, first strike coin. While those selling empty boxes may claim they are helping collectors who damaged a box, the misuse of these boxes, and even Certificates of Authenticity, becomes a real problem. Even a dealer cannot determine if you have the exact coin that originally was housed in a particular box or was accompanied by a specific Certificate of Authenticity, unless the case is sealed from the mint. This problem exist for buying in person as well as Online.

Photo courtesy of the Perth Mint.

Coin Collecting Basics

Coin collecting can be a great hobby, provided some basics are understood first. This article addresses proper handling, grading, and should that coin be slabbed.

Proper Handling: Coin value is determined by both rarity and condition. It is a good idea to protest your coins by proper handling. The rules are simple.

Avoid handling your coins as much as possible, and when it is necessary, always hold the coin by the edge. A small amount of abrasion can reduce the grade of the coin. Also, no matter how well you wash, there is always something on your hands, which may discolor a beautiful coin.

Store your collection properly. If you have plastic capsules that fit your coins, that is probably the best. Soft coverings can be damaged, and keeping coins airtight is important. The air contains contaminates that can damage your coins,

Always have your coins encased before speaking. Small amounts of saliva can be the source of unsightly spots in the future.

Do not use envelopes, or any paper products, unless the paper is specifically manufactured for use with coins. Paper is often made using sulfuric acid, which can seriously damage coins.

Never clean a coin! Collectors prefer the natural look, and cleaned coins quickly lose value. If you think it will not be noticed by an expert, you are mistaken. The appearance of a coin made from pressing dies des not have those streaks associated with abrasion. When magnified, coins tell the story of having been cleaned. (This is written with the understanding ancient coins that were found buried in thick soil must be cleaned to even be able to tell which coin is there. Ancient coins are the exception to the never clean rule.)

Grading: Grading standards go from AG through Perfect. If you are starting a serious collection, avoid the lower grades unless the coin is essentially unavailable or unaffordable in higher grades. AG (about good), G (good), and VG (very good) all show excessive wear. F (fine) and VF (very fine) are better, but still have a lot of wear. EF or XF (extra fine) and AU (almost uncirculated) are lower end quality grades for very old coins. BU (brilliant uncirculated) is the lowest grade of uncirculated and may have some scratches. GEM is better. The MS number is the mint state number, and is used to separate the grades of uncirculated coins. MS 60 is BU, and MS 65 is GEM. The best coins are MS 70, considered perfect.

Grading is subjective, and even experts can disagree. A nick in the rim or major scratch can alter the grade. Do not just look at those things your book says will determine the grade. A good rule is to leave the grading to the experts, and if you disagree, get a second opinion. If you think a coin is over graded, look for another that you consider fairly graded.

Slabbing Coins: There are many slabbing services that will grade your coin and seal it in a plastic holder with a Certificate of Authenticity. Unfortunately, many slabbers are less than skilled in determining the grade of a coin, and a few may be dishonest. The first thing you should consider is the reputation of a slabber. The ANA recognizes NGC and PCGS is another well recognized by collectors. The first thing you should check is that the slab is sealed. If is is not, the COA is worthless, since the coin could have been swapped.

The slabbing services charge, but the coin is still the same coin. Unless you are buying and feel better with a professional opinion, or selling and hope to establish credibility for the grade you are claiming, why would you slab a coin? But if you must, use a quality service. It is worth whatever little extra you pay when you decide to sell.

Peace Dollar

Peace Dollar
Peace Dollar | Source

Our Coin Presentation

Silver Kookaburra

2008 Silver Australian Kookaburra, a Perth Mint coin.
2008 Silver Australian Kookaburra, a Perth Mint coin. | Source

How Much Silver or Gold Does that Coin Really Have?

The best way to find out is to check with the mint that produced it. All mints have specifications on their coins. Another is to get a book, but finding foreign coin specifications in a book is not always easy. Finally, check reputable dealers who sell the same coin. If they have one in stock, or occasionally have one available, they probably keep the specifications posted.

Do not rely on sellers who may or may not know what they are selling. Precious metals are specified in troy ounces, considerably heavier that an equal number of ounces or pounds. Some people simply weigh their coins, and unknowingly or dishonestly inflate the weight. Always look for the word "troy" preceding the word ounces or pounds.

The purity also matters. Many coins are sold as silver or gold, but not all have the same purity. In silver, for example, the old United States silver coins are 90% silver. Many coins are minted in "sterling" silver, which is 0.925. Others have strange percentages, often in the mid 80s. If such a coin is merely weighed, it may well be a 1.2 ounce silver coin, but that does not mean it have 1.2 ounces of silver. A similar problem exists with gold. Both silver and gold are too soft to allow minting 100% coins. The most pure silver coins are called "fine" silver, and are at least 0.999 silver. A few are 0.9999, but that extra 9 is insignificant. In gold, look for 24-kt.

The easy way to tell, if you do not have time for a search, is to look at the picture. If it is fine silver, it will so state, or the purity will be stamped right on the coin. Gold bullion coins are traded for their gold content, and most dealers will gladly release the coin's karat value, or purity.

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Coins Can Be Damaged

Coins must be preserved in the state they leave the mint as much as possible. This means that everyone who comes in contact with a coin must know how to handle it. That is asking a lot if the coin has had several owners, since it only takes one inexperienced person to cause a coin to depreciate significantly.

Holding a coin without damage requires touching only the edge. It is not just the abrasion that is to be avoided, but any oil or other foreign substance on your fingers could easily be transferred to the coin. This could eventually destroy the finish.

It is not just transferring foreign materials by direct contact that needs to be avoided, a coin can also be diminished in value by exposure to the environment. Avoid taking any coin out of the protective capsule of plastic bag in which it was sealed by the mint. If the coin is packaged in a vacuum, breaking the seal allows exposure to the environment.

For coins that do not come in a protective capsule or bag from the mint, encase them as soon as possible. Before encasement, be very careful with the coin. Place it only on clean, soft surfaces that are devoid of any chemical that might eventually attack it. Paper may contain sulfuric acid, so do not use paper. Never keep a coin in an envelope for a prolong period of time, and avoid using envelopes altogether if possible. Also, avoid speaking near the coin in its direction, since small, unseen droplets of saliva can do excessive damage.

Even sealed coins can be contaminated at the mint. If there is a high pollution count of any substance that will attack the metal the day the coin was sealed, and it is not vacuum sealed, it may eventually show discoloration spots.

Should a coin become discolored, do not clean it. Cleaning usually devalues a coin. Seek professional advice, and if it is considered unwise to clean your coin, do not do it. One exception to the never clean rule is ancient coins that cannot even be seen until they are cleaned after being unearthed.

The real problem is the history of the coin. Many people selling online clearly say the coin remained sealed except for photographing or for scanning it. That once is an unnecessary exposure. Some may even use a less than clean surface upon which to place the coin for photographic purposes. And can you be certain that person did not handle the coin improperly, leaving an oily film on it? Professional and mint workers should know how the coin is to be handled, and respect it as a valuable artifact. Someone who simply wants to sell coins may improperly handle the coin before you purchase it, and the problem may show itself only in the future. Buy from professionals or directly from the mint, and do not hesitate to ask where the dealer obtained the coin. Dealers cannot vouch for the coin's history unless the dealer got the coin from a mint or a distributor.

One more rule is always avoid exposure of your coins to sunlight. It may trigger some chemical reactions you find undesirable.

Black Spaniel Gallery provides links to the major mints in countries where English is spoken, to allow you direct access to these mints. Some mints sell to the public, others to a distributor, who should be respectful of the coins being distributed. These links can be found at http://blackspanielgallery.8m.com by selecting the button to the link page. This service to the coin collecting community is happily provided.

In summary, protect your coins both against mishandling and the environment once they are in your protection, and do what you can to determine those who possessed the coin prior to you were equally respectful. And wait until you get your coins home to look at them.

Please leave a comment. We appreciate comments.

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    • Blackspaniel1 profile image
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      Blackspaniel1 3 years ago

      Also, you really need to be up on the coins. I saw a U. S, Trade Dollar advertised from a year in the 1700, even before the U. S. was formed.

    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 3 years ago

      I am more cautious about buying coins at Ebay because of the lower quality of photos than at a site like Heritage Auctions, which has bigger and better photos.

    • profile image

      motobidia 5 years ago

      Good job! And I mean both senses of the word... I just nominated your lens to the "Don't Go To Work Unless It's Fun Day!" Squidoo Quest. If I didn't have to work, I would just collect coins all day!