In just the past decade, the hobby of coin collecting has changed significantly. Purchasing coins has never been easier. Besides the traditional coin shop and coin shows that are also dozens of ways to purchase coins online. eBay, Heritage, and Stacks & Bowers auctions are just a few of the exciting ways to add to your collection.

eBay has truly been a game-changer in the numismatic world. Coins once thought to be rare have been posted on eBay by the handful. No longer must collectors hope that their holy grail turns up at the coin shop just down the street. It might be half a world away, but now it can be bought on eBay.

The Downsides

However, there is a downside to bidding for coins on eBay and other auction sites. Who are you really buying from? The first thing to remember is that you’re not actually buying “from” eBay. You’re buying from an individual seller, who may be an established coin dealer who has opened a shop on eBay – or someone who’s come across a coin and has decided to post it on eBay without knowing much about it.

How can you be sure that the coin you buy arrives as-advertised? First, check out the seller’s feedback. This is your chance to judge the coin seller’s reputation, which as just as important online as it is in the real world. Also look for a good return policy. Does the seller allow returns if the coin is not in the condition described?

Take a close look at photos, but don’t rely on them too much. Photos can be doctored, and there is almost no chance of telling the difference between an MS65 coin and an AU58 coin from a photo, no matter how much experience you have in grading coins. Some coin buyers advise not to bid more than you’d pay for the coin in AU condition, no matter how good the photo looks, unless the coin has been graded by a reputable company such as PCGS or NGC.

What about blurry photos? Many sellers post blurry photos of coins, often because their digital camera simply isn’t capable of taking clear closeups of a coin. Should you bid? Some bidders are willing to take the risk, particularly if the seller offers a good return policy. Others will not bid on an auction with a blurry photo, since they can’t see important details about the coin.

Proceed with Caution

Before making your purchase, make sure you know exactly what you’re buying. Some sellers will quote an “estimated” grade, only to disclose later in the description that the coin hasn’t actually been sent out for grading. Others will use “stock photos,” rather than images of the coin you will actually receive. Carefully read all of the details in the listing, and ask the seller plenty of questions before placing your bid.

Some would say that auction sites are the best place to find coins. Others would say it’s the worst way to go about adding to your collection. If you proceed with caution, you might find the chance to finally add your “holy grail” coin to your collection, or get a great deal on silver bullion rounds and other collectibles.