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How to buy ancient coins


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I have a web page on how to buy ancient coins. It is written for beginners, but does have ideas for intermediate collectors too. The page has been up for many years (more than twenty) and it has been revised many times. The latest revision was today:


Today's additions are mostly in the paragraph about buying at auctions. 

Some of you may have a different perspective, or think of illuminating things I could have said, or think of a better way to say what I did attempt to say. I hope you will respond here with your thoughts about how to buy ancient coins. Web pages are very easy to change and I would love to improve it. 

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Very useful. It could perhaps be clearer on auction fees, which are ever higher and a downside of auctions compared to fix prices unless you’re lightning fast at arithmetic.

The advice to buy more coins to reduce shipping costs has been my downfall on many occasions 😂

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21 hours ago, John Conduitt said:

It could perhaps be clearer on auction fees,

Yes, you are right. I added a bit on that page and I added a link to my page about auctions. 

Here are the revised paragraphs on my page about buying:

I hope my advice is useful to beginners and to collectors who only buy from one or two sources when there are actually many good sources.  


Why do you say coins are cheaper at auctions?

Because it's true. 

However, there are good reasons to buy fixed-price coins. You can be sure you will get it at that price (plus shipping). You can get it right away. You can browse and find something you like and immediately satisfy the desire to have it. Also, you won't have to deal with the substantial downsides of auctions. Auctions don't happen "right away". A coin you see and like might not close for weeks and you can't be sure your maximum bid level will be high enough to win it. Also, shipping can be 20 euros or maybe 35£ and that is a lot if the coin or coins you win are not worth hundreds (I inquire in advance and many firms agree to ship for only 10 at "my risk").  Many buyers are surprised that coins they won at auction cost much more than they expected because of the fees, different currency, and shipping cost. If you bid 100£ and win you might think "100" or "Ah, $124" (when the pound is $1.24), but no, it will cost a lot more. Add the 20% "buyer's fee" and maybe 25£ shipping to the US and it will be $180 even before PayPal fees or currency conversion charges. Auction bidders must learn to factor all that in. 

On the other hand, it you have a "want list" you may find the coin you want is at auction, not fixed-price. Extremely nice coins are usually offered at auctions. Excellent coins of very common types, say, Roman emperor Constantine, are commonly auctioned. I am price sensitive and have a long want list, so I am not in a great hurry to get any particular type. That is reason to buy at auctions. Logically (and, I admit, bidding is not always logical), if two coins are comparable and one is on the web at a fixed-price of $X, there is no reason to bid higher than $X (fees included). You could just buy the coin instead. Therefore, in a rational world with highly-informed bidders and buyers, coins at auction should sell (fees included) for less than comparable coins at fixed-price. Usually, but not always, they do. The fixed-price sellers can make money off the collector's desire to get the coin right away, and profit from the collector's fear of the complications of dealing with auction firms, especially those firms in other countries.

One of my best collecting friends in the US only buys from CNG. I show him nice coins on his want list (by sending the links) that are being offered by foreign auction firms. Regardless of those opportunities, if CNG does not offer it, he doesn't bid on it.  He's comfortable with CNG.  Okay, but that's not the way to get the best price.

Why do sellers sell coins at auctions if fixed-price prices are higher? Well, at least they sell. And, they sell at a certain time. Owners often want to get their money out soon. Many fixed-price coins don't sell and linger unsold for years. Also, when older collectors are ready to sell their collections, they usually sell them "on consignment" which means they don't get the money until the coins sell. If they want their money within, say, six months, that can happen if coins are auctioned, but not if the dealer sells them fixed-price. If the dealer must buy the coins outright his offer will be lower. He needs to avoid paying too much for coins he might have difficulty selling, and if he has to buy them it would be a lot of borrowed money to tie up in stock.

I have a lot to say about bidding in auctions, both on eBay and on better coin auctions. It may be more than you want to know at this time. Continue with this page and come back and follow that link if you want to know more about auctions. 

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