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Your Clients and Coin Collections

Managing a trove of collectibles can be risky, costly, and time-consuming.

Helen Modly, 04/08/2010

Grandpa just left your client his treasured and valuable coin collection. While it was probably his heart's desire for your client to keep the collection and develop the same numismatic fever that he possessed, chances are your client would really prefer cash. How should you advise him?

Handling the Coins
Once the collection is in hand, have your client examine it to get an idea of what it's worth. When looking at coins, make sure to follow proper coin-handling etiquette: Handle the coins as little as possible, hold them by the rims so as not to damage the faces, and don't cough, sneeze, or even speak over them, because saliva can cause spotting. Don't clean or polish any of the coins; it can damage the surfaces. Collectors prefer the original surface of the coin, and cleaning can seriously devalue an old coin. Consider wearing soft gloves like the professionals do.

What Are They Worth?
Taking photographs (front and back) and making an inventory of the coins is absolutely necessary so that no unscrupulous potential buyer can take or switch any of the coins without your client's knowledge. Coins are categorized primarily by year and mint of origin. Sometimes there are differences in design or materials that were made mid-production, resulting in coins that are rarer than others, and therefore more valuable. There are several guides that can help identify coins and their values, of which the Red Book (A Guidebook to U.S. Coins: The Official Redbook, By R. S. Yeoman, Kenneth Bressett - Whitman Pub LLC (2009)) is the most popular. It should be noted that the Red Book doesn't accurately reflect market prices, but it DOES give a good idea what different coins are worth in relation to each other. Having even a vague idea of what the collection is really worth is one of the best protections against getting cheated in the selling process.

Next, advise your client to take the collection to a reputable dealer to be appraised. A key thing to look for in a dealer is membership in a respected professional numismatic society, like the Professional Numismatists Guild, which provides protection in the form of a bill of rights, and a binding arbitration process if you have a grievance. You can find a member at www.pngdealers.com. The website includes a comprehensive list of questions to ask when interviewing a prospective coin dealer.

When making an appointment with the dealer, encourage your client to tell the dealer up front if they are interested in selling or just seeking an appraisal: They should expect to pay a fee for an appraisal. It's a good idea to get appraisals from more than one dealer, if possible. Understand that dealers will offer less than retail price, because they, too, need to make a profit. Warn your client to avoid letting the dealer cherry-pick the most valuable coins from the collection: It will be harder to dispose of the rest. Impress upon your client that he should NEVER leave the collection alone with a dealer, even a reputable one.

Transportation and Storage
If Grandpa lived in Florida and your client is in Idaho, this can be the trickiest part of the process. Measures must be taken to protect and insure what is hopefully a rare and valuable collection. If possible, your client should retrieve it himself, personally. If not, make sure that whoever is shipping it wraps the coins tightly for protection and to prevent any rattling that might alert thieves as to what's in the package.

FedEx and UPS will not accept coins for shipment. The safest means of transportation is by using insured registered mail through the U.S. Postal Service. The coins can be sent by registered mail and can be insured for up to $25,000. In addition to insurance, your client will pay for the actual cost of shipping and additional services such as delivery confirmation and delivery restriction to a named individual. According to Suzanne Stewart of Wayne Herndon Rare Coins, insured registered mail is the preferred method for coin dealers when shipping valuable coins. There should be an itemized list of contents included in the box with exact copies maintained by the shipper and recipient. Suzanne also recommends delivery to a PO Box so that a postal employee can witness your client opening the package if there is any evidence of package tampering.

If the coins need to be stored for any length of time before they can be sold, it is advisable to get a safety deposit box.

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