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I made a tier ranking of the best (and worst) coin photography amongst some of the major ancient coin auction houses...


filolif
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Great auction photos are sometimes hard to come by. After looking at dozens and dozens of auctions, you really start to appreciate places that put effort into photographing their lots. Here is my ranking of how the quality of some of the different auction houses compare. What are your thoughts? Who do you think is best and worst?

ranking2.jpg

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Really cool chart and a great idea! 👍
 

I think HJB deserves a higher spot. At least middle of the pack which is where I like to see auction house photos. I prefer the photos to show the coin at or slightly below the in-hand quality so I am not disappointed when it arrives. 
 

CNG and Nomos take great photos for detail but undersell toning significantly. Again I prefer this approach as well.  You could do a number of different rankings by isolating different photo aspects. Detail, depth, color balance, toning etc.
 

I think @Severus Alexander had the optimum photo quality dialed in for his AMCC auctions. I always knew the quality of the coin from the photos and was never disappointed by a flattering “glamour shot.”

 

I wonder where Frank Robinson would rank in this list. 😉 

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Nice list!

I don't know all the auction houses in the chart, but I agree with what @Curtisimo said about underselling toning. The same could be said about Leu, I feel. Downside with underselling is that you might be tempted to take a chance ('it'll be better in hand'). I fell into  that trap once and, naturally, ended up with a bland, lusterless coin.🤢

On the other hand, Savoca and Nauman have a tendency to overexpose their silver. So much so that the highlights of the coin blend seamlessly into the snow white background. Very shiny, but way too flattering.

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2 hours ago, filolif said:

Great auction photos are sometimes hard to come by. After looking at dozens and dozens of auctions, you really start to appreciate places that put effort into photographing their lots. Here is my ranking of how the quality of some of the different auction houses compare. What are your thoughts? Who do you think is best and worst?

Cool idea! I'd personally put Nomos down into the A or B tier due to their tendency to overexpose and not control the highlights, I'd bump Roma up to B tier, maybe put Hess Divo in A tier and drop CNG down to B. The last one just because I think Hess is better than CNG. If considering Roma's "alternative" photos for the higher end coins separately, I'd probably put them up into A or S tier because they make the coins look great.

But the main things I judge auction photos on are probably: resolution, exposure+highlights, and how attractive they make the coin look. Kuenker seems to show every little fault and flaw in their coin, which is great for signalling the issues to perspective buyers but I think it makes them look worse than they really are. And by "resolution" I should probably say "ability to resolve detail" as some auction houses have decently sized images but the coins are out of focus or just up-scaled from lower resolutions.

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3 hours ago, Curtisimo said:

CNG and Nomos take great photos for detail but undersell toning significantly.

 

2 hours ago, DANTE said:

...but I agree with what @Curtisimo said about underselling toning.

Interestingly, I recently won a coin in CNG's latest Feature Auction mainly because I was offered an opportunity to view the coin in hand after inquiring about it directly with CNG.  Below are CNG's online photo and an enhanced version of that photo that looks a lot more like the coin in-hand but even then doesn't do justice to the coin's luster:

image.thumb.jpeg.2414ac69b7d526c4024ebf48950a5ab4.jpeg

Plus the scratch below Hadrian's ear is much less obtrusive than it appears, and really only visible when the light is coming from a specific angle.

Personally, I wonder if the darker original image was meant to emphasize the coin's very slight toning at the expense of its luster.  

Which do you prefer?  

I find the (bottom) more natural-appearing version much more appealing and after viewing the coin in-hand, reset my budget accordingly higher.  Even then, I thought the hammer price was an incredible bargain.  

Still searching for an older provenance on this coin, though.

 

 

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4 minutes ago, idesofmarch01 said:

 

Interestingly, I recently won a coin in CNG's latest Feature Auction mainly because I was offered an opportunity to view the coin in hand after inquiring about it directly with CNG.  Below are CNG's online photo and an enhanced version of that photo that looks a lot more like the coin in-hand but even then doesn't do justice to the coin's luster:

image.thumb.jpeg.2414ac69b7d526c4024ebf48950a5ab4.jpeg

Plus the scratch below Hadrian's ear is much less obtrusive than it appears, and really only visible when the light is coming from a specific angle.

Personally, I wonder if the darker original image was meant to emphasize the coin's very slight toning at the expense of its luster.  

Which do you prefer?  

I find the (bottom) more natural-appearing version much more appealing and after viewing the coin in-hand, reset my budget accordingly higher.  Even then, I thought the hammer price was an incredible bargain.  

Still searching for an older provenance on this coin, though.

 

 

First of all... congratulations on such a beautiful and artistic example. 🥳 Your Hadrian’s travel series collection gets better all the time.

As I alluded to above I think that CNG prioritizes depth and detail over things like toning and luster. The darker version of the photo above is a good example. The darker contrast really brings out the detail in subtle areas like the hair and beard and gives a sense of depth to the portrait that emphasizes the subtlety of the engraving.

This also means that imperfections such as the scratch you noted will stand out in higher contrast. Coin photography (and photography in general) is a difficult skill to master and there are always trade offs.

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1 minute ago, DonnaML said:

HJB's bad photos are somewhat balanced by the decent videos they now have for all their coins.

You're absolutely right, Donna. I really appreciate their videos... and anyplace that includes videos of their coins - NAC, Nomos, etc.

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9 hours ago, Curtisimo said:

I wonder where Frank Robinson would rank in this list. 😉 

Give Frank a break.  There are many worse (most on eBay).   Recall a couple years ago he sold his old camera on one of his sales and that got our hopes up.  Seriously, a major skill everyone needs to develop is to learn how to 'read' the photos on any site so you can make an educated guess as to what the coin actually will look like.  

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18 minutes ago, dougsmit said:

Give Frank a break.  There are many worse (most on eBay).   Recall a couple years ago he sold his old camera on one of his sales and that got our hopes up.  Seriously, a major skill everyone needs to develop is to learn how to 'read' the photos on any site so you can make an educated guess as to what the coin actually will look like.  

One does get used to the fact that his photos are taken at a very low resolution and can't be enlarged without blurring them. The photos do give a basic idea of the coins' appearance. After all, I'm sure Frank comes from a time when many auction lists weren't illustrated at all!

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14 minutes ago, DonnaML said:

 

One does get used to the fact that his photos are taken at a very low resolution and can't be enlarged without blurring them. The photos do give a basic idea of the coins' appearance. After all, I'm sure Frank comes from a time when many auction lists weren't illustrated at all!

And yet I own auction catalogues from the 1920s that are illustrated. It's 2020, I don't think he really should get a break for his very poor photos anymore with the simple access to cheap cameras.

The way he takes his photos makes it so that the buyer is effectively taking a large amount of risk when purchasing from him. If he took high res photos it's possible to see what issues a coin may have, but as it is that isn't a possibility.

 

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6 minutes ago, Hesiod said:

And yet I own auction catalogues from the 1920s that are illustrated. It's 2020, I don't think he really should get a break for his very poor photos anymore with the simple access to cheap cameras.

The way he takes his photos makes it so that the buyer is effectively taking a large amount of risk when purchasing from him. If he took high res photos it's possible to see what issues a coin may have, but as it is that isn't a possibility.

 

You have a point! (Although in fact it's not 2020; perhaps you've lost track!) It's easy enough to take clear photos with a cellphone camera, even if they're not masterpieces. I wonder if the low resolution photos have something to do with limitations on the amount of data he can put up on his website. I have no idea if that's a possible cost issue for him. In any event, it's a choice he makes. 

Edited by DonnaML
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1 hour ago, dougsmit said:

Give Frank a break.  There are many worse (most on eBay).   Recall a couple years ago he sold his old camera on one of his sales and that got our hopes up.  Seriously, a major skill everyone needs to develop is to learn how to 'read' the photos on any site so you can make an educated guess as to what the coin actually will look like.  

I only meant it in jest. I like Frank’s old school approach to all things coins. If Frank changed his photo set up it would probably bum me out. I remember being kinda bummed when he started hosting his auctions on biddr. I still email him my bids.

Besides... his photos get the point across well enough once you get used to them. Examples of his photos and mine below.

B9C132AA-0B83-4FEA-8612-46B41242BDB9.jpeg.380e3822be28b9b306733949e635e7ca.jpeg
430B332D-0967-4C59-A3A9-A2952709A86D.thumb.jpeg.881f238f1c575401587f1881f3d262b9.jpeg

Edited by Curtisimo
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Thanks for the compliment, @Curtisimo!  Though I don't think I really deserve it, my photos are far from professional.  I do try to accurately represent the coin, though... hard when you're taking many hundreds of photos however.

I'm actually on @Hesiod's side regarding Frank's photos.  I don't think there's any excuse any more for the lo-res stuff... in fact I imagine it's quite difficult to make them that bad.  And I have had to send several coins back in the last few years (or have just sold them) because of the poor photos not revealing smoothing and other issues not described. I like Frank a lot (especially his awesome jokes) and he was one of my go-to guys in the 80's and 90's but I rarely bid in his auctions any more, what with the poor photos and the highish start prices.  (Of course the latter problem is because I'm a cheapskate... 😊)

Some other comments: Both Leu and CNG get the colour of AE wrong very frequently, a colour saturation thing I believe.  I find that quite frustrating because it's difficult to compensate in any consistent manner for loss of saturation.  I would definitely bump them down a notch or two.

Naville's photos aren't sharp enough, but there's also something really nice about their photos of silver... a certain kind of gentleness to the gradients that I like.  Not sure that's enough to bump them up a notch.  I'd bump Naumann up though, I think their photos are OK and I haven't had any rude surprises.

10 hours ago, Kaleun96 said:

I'd bump Roma up to B tier,

Agree with this.

10 hours ago, Kaleun96 said:

Kuenker seems to show every little fault and flaw in their coin, which is great for signalling the issues to perspective buyers but I think it makes them look worse than they really are.

I agree with this too, but would bump them up for that reason - I want accurate photos.  On the other hand they go way overboard with the direct/shiny lighting.

I don't buy from Berk often enough to judge their photos, but agree 110% with @nikitov about their extraordinarily bad website!  I hate using it and that's probably partly why I rarely buy from them.  Geez, learn how the back button is supposed to work for pete's sake! 😆

 

Edited by Severus Alexander
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20 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

Thanks for the compliment, @Curtisimo!  Though I don't think I really deserve it, my photos are far from professional.  I do try to accurately represent the coin, though... hard when you're taking many hundreds of photos however.

I'm actually on @Hesiod's side regarding Frank's photos.  I don't think there's any excuse any more for the lo-res stuff... in fact I imagine it's quite difficult to make them that bad.  And I have had to send several coins back in the last few years (or have just sold them) because of the poor photos not revealing smoothing and other issues not described. I like Frank a lot (especially his awesome jokes) and he was one of my go-to guys in the 80's and 90's but I rarely bid in his auctions any more, what with the poor photos and the highish start prices.  (Of course the latter problem is because I'm a cheapskate... 😊)

Some other comments: Both Leu and CNG get the colour of AE wrong very frequently, a colour saturation thing I believe.  I find that quite frustrating because it's difficult to compensate in any consistent manner for loss of saturation.  I would definitely bump them down a notch or two.

Naville's photos aren't sharp enough, but there's also something really nice about their photos of silver... a certain kind of gentleness to the gradients that I like.  Not sure that's enough to bump them up a notch.  I'd bump Naumann up though, I think their photos are OK and I haven't had any rude surprises.

Agree with both of these points.

I agree with this too, but would bump them up for that reason - I want accurate photos.  On the other hand they go way overboard with the direct/shiny lighting.

I don't buy from Berk often enough to judge their photos, but agree 110% with @nikitov about their extraordinarily bad website!  I hate using it and that's probably partly why I rarely buy from them.  Geez, learn how the back button is supposed to work for pete's sake! 😆

 

They (Harlan Berk) actually finally fixed the back button like a couple months ago, it brings you back to where you were... though much slower than I'd like

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18 minutes ago, Hesiod said:

They (Harlan Berk) actually finally fixed the back button like a couple months ago, it brings you back to where you were... though much slower than I'd like

Hooray!  Website still sucks though. 😆

Another pet peeve: you still can't have a watchlist on Roma.  Still true?  So annoying! 🤨😉

Back to photos: Heritage Europe is almost as bad as Frank!

Sorry, I guess I must be in a complainy mood tonight, not like me.  I'd better go to bed! 😴

Edited by Severus Alexander
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That's a great OP @filolif and thank you for presenting such a good idea. Of course to an extent, what you expect from photography is subjective and we all see different things. I have a friend who is colour vision deficient ( colour blind ) and he wouldn't pick up any lustre on anything. From my point of view I agree with the comment made by @Curtisimo that it is good to receive coins that are better in hand than the photography and until recent years this was usually the way as all images were always black and white. 40 years ago most lists did not have photographs and even then, the leading sellers in the UK such as Seaby and Spink did not show everything. 

I also agree with @dougsmit that you need to interpret the images and this is a skill that can be learnt. From my point of view,  I am experimenting with photography which is now an adjunct hobby, and I have been amazed at how the software can change appearance. My photography is pretty poor but improving and as I wrestle with editing I am finding that sometimes I can produce not what I have but what I want! I was messing around with a Republican denarius image the other day and found that I could add a fantastic blue lustre to it and did so. Had I seen this on a website I would have bid on it or bought it. I now have images of what I have and what I would like to have so there is some philosophical point here in respect of personal preference. I like to hold coins and books and the digital world and slabs do not give me the same satisfaction of ownership and tactility I enjoy by physical connection. If I am travelling I can view my coins  without physical connection, ( or at least some as I have a backlog of images to take!) and I can make that reality whatever I want it to be. I can't change a coins condition but I can certainly change a coins appearance. I suppose the underlaying concern with all of us would be not that the images are poor but have they been taken with a view to enhance value? The simple answer is probably yes at both ends of the quality spectrum.

I am no Luddite and progress is progress and there is no excuse for poor photography these days as they are the store window for these auction houses and dealers and what you see is what you should get. I have received coins that were smoothed and others where surface defects were not noticeable from the online images but thankfully  I have had no terrible experience to complain about. These particular purchases were not expensive and I could not be bothered to argue with an auction house but I learnt from the experiences and of course fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I no longer get caught up in last minute bidding and take a more measured approach and try to work out the difference between "want" and "need".

One of the dealers I buy from has a no quibble returns policy, I often buy unseen because he appears to have a policy of deliberately under grading which I reckon is to minimise returns. It's a bit like years ago when you assumed the dealer was more knowledgeable than you so there was more reciprocal trust.

We live in a much more demanding society with a bewildering array of choice and it's quite true that the more you have the more you want and the more you eat the hungrier you get. My pet irritation is poor performing websites that are difficult to navigate or seem to go all out to make access as difficult as possible. 

I have limited time because of other responsibilities so platforms such as Biddr , Numisbids and Sixbids are really convenient and I am grateful for them , their downside is that to find a "bargain" you would need to be really erudite or lucky as they have a global audience of millions. I still seek out coins from store dealers or rural auction houses when I can as no one can be expert in everything. Sadly the prominence of the Internet has decimated store dealers and you can't have a chat and cup of coffee with a webpage. The closest you would get to interesting banter these days is with Frank and I am sure that @DonnaML is right , he is from an age when most auction lists would not feature images.

A great follow on to your tier system @filolif would be a tier system of accessibility, navigation and content in addition to images. One glitch that happened to me during the past two years of Covid nightmare was placing bids for Heritage on Biddr , losing bids, even though a couple of my bids were higher than the selling price, and learning that my bids were mislaid because Heritage don't work Sundays. I have no issues with people not working weekends but I assumed that the bids were automatic so forgot all about them and what is worse is that I could have bid on one of the lots elsewhere had I known my bid wasn't registered. The point of this is that I assumed that in the digital world everything relies on interconnectivity but I was wrong. It would be interesting to know of regular issues with auction houses to try and avoid them.

The back button issue is one that has frustrated me too. I guess as I get older my patience is not what it used to be.

As a thread of huge significance to everyone who buys at distance, which I guess is all of us, this was a great idea and lateral thought by @filolif and I really appreciate it.

 

 

 

Edited by Dafydd
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7 hours ago, Curtisimo said:

I only meant it in jest. I like Frank’s old school approach to all things coins. If Frank changed his photo set up it would probably bum me out. I remember being kinda bummed when he started hosting his auctions on biddr. I still email him my bids.

Besides... his photos get the point across well enough once you get used to them. Examples of his photos and mine below.

B9C132AA-0B83-4FEA-8612-46B41242BDB9.jpeg.380e3822be28b9b306733949e635e7ca.jpeg
430B332D-0967-4C59-A3A9-A2952709A86D.thumb.jpeg.881f238f1c575401587f1881f3d262b9.jpeg

LOL, very much agreed. I have always really liked Frank’s auctions! 

This is Frank's pic as well as his attribute:
upload_2017-2-28_7-44-48.png 
GELA, Didrachm, 490-480 BC, Horseman with spear r/Forepart of man-headed bull r; cudlike die break at rev upper right edge

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I don't mind Frank's photos. And you can tell from his detailed descriptions that he comes from the mail order catalog days, when snail mail was the way to go. I suppose he could get an android or i-phone and spruce things up a bit. On the other end of the spectrum I really enjoy the photos Leu puts up for their online auctions.

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Hirsch appears to be missing from the list but I'd add them in the 'F' category. I agree with the rest of the rankings: HJB's photos are horrible but their videos are solid so perhaps they should be upgraded slightly.

Here's Hirsch vs my photo of the same coin:

image.jpeg.c6d2097ad99b706b04644b48c63a7994.jpeg

image.thumb.jpeg.23871644b42ecf17b6d48190d8688bae.jpeg

 

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7 minutes ago, Etcherdude said:

@AncientJoe imagine your reaction if the coin at bottom was the dealer’s and the one on top was the one delivered.

I'd have been immensely frustrated! Thankfully I knew the coin as I underbid it at a Tradart auction a few years prior. Their photo was much closer to real-life (but they don't have enough sales to be included in this list). A photo makes a major difference: I paid < 50% what I was willing to bid in the earlier auction.

image.thumb.jpeg.a9de9893d6ed86310474a4283d348d8f.jpeg

 

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