How to Sell the Coins That I've Inherited

A coin collection in albums, folders, slabs, etc.
A coin collection in albums, folders, slabs, etc. Image Copyright: © 2015 James Bucki; All rights reserved.

Congratulations! You've inherited a coin collection and you would like to sell it. Unfortunately, there are a few "sharks" in the coin collecting hobby that would just love to take advantage of you. Here is some advice to help you avoid the mistake of getting ripped off when you sell the coin collection that you've inherited.

  • 01 of 07

    A Few Quick Do's and Don'ts

    UK - London - Pawnbrokers shop on Camberwell Road
    Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

    If you are not a coin collector, there is a lot to learn. The more information you possess will give you the advantage when it comes time to sell. The education process may take a while, but it is more than worth it to avoid getting ripped off when you sell your coin collection. Here are a few essential tips to get you started:

    Never clean your coins! No matter what you think, cleaning coins reduces their value dramatically. A professional coin dealer will be able to spot a clean coin...MORE immediately. When it comes to grading a coin, bright and shiny does not increase the value of a coin.

    Slow down. Unless you are on the verge of bankruptcy and you desperately need the cash from this collection, take your time and gather at least a basic understanding of how coin collecting works. This will give you the knowledge to ensure that you're going to get the best deal for the coins you're going to sell.

    Knowledge is power! If you are going to sell the coins yourself it is best to purchase a couple of books to help you on this journey. I recommend the following two books that are available for around $10 each:

    Definitely do not go to a store or jewelry shop that has a big "We Buy Gold and Silver" sign in the window. The best you will do here is get bullion value for coins that could be worth several times more. Additionally, don't go to a business that sets up in a hotel or other temporary location. Finally, do not go to a coin show or dealer and just ask "How much will you give me for this?" All of these will be sure to result in you getting ripped off of the coins that you inherited.

  • 02 of 07

    Gather the Coin Collection into One Location

    Inspecting a Coin in a Coin Folder
    Inspecting a Coin in a Coin Folder. Image Courtesy of Getty Images

    In order to start the process of evaluating the coin collection that you inherited, you need to get your arms around the size of the collection. Therefore it is best to gather the collection into one location where you can start the process of inventorying and valuing the coin collection. Be careful when you do this and try to maintain secrecy in order to avoid a theft or robbery of the coin collection.

    Additionally, make sure you take proper precautions to ensure that the coins do not get...MORE damaged while you are cataloging and inventorying the collection. Depending upon how the collection was initially stored, you may need to buy some basic coin collecting supplies to avoid damaging the collection during this process.

  • 03 of 07

    Separate the Collection into Logical Groups

    2014 United States Proof and Uncirculated Mint Sets
    2014 United States Proof and Uncirculated Mint Sets. Image Courtesy of: The United States Mint,

    There are "coin collectors" and "coin accumulators." A coin collector will have his or her coin collection logically organized into sets, folders, albums or labeled containers. A coin accumulator is a person who just buys coins and puts them in a box or safe without organizing them into a coherent collection.

    If the coin collection that you inherited is truly a "coin collection," then most of the work has already been done for you. If you inherited a "coin...MORE accumulation," then you need to start organizing the collection into some resemblance of order.

    First start by grouping like items into separate containers or boxes. For example, loose coins can be placed in a plastic container. Sets (proof sets, mint sets, collector sets, etc.) can be placed into another container. Coins that are stored in folders and albums can be placed on the side because most of them will be already identified. Finally, you may find boxes of encapsulated or slabbed coins. The label on these coins identify the coin with the information that you will need for cataloging and inventorying.

  • 04 of 07


    U.S. Type Coins
    United States Type Coins. Images Courtesy of: Heritage Auction Galleries,

    The next step is to start identifying the items in the collection. These can be grouped into five major categories:

    1. U.S. coins
    2. U.S. paper money
    3. Foreign coins
    4. Foreign paper money
    5. Medals and exonumia

    The books that are mentioned above will help you identify the U.S. coins in your collection with pictures and descriptions that are contained within the books. Pay close attention to the metal composition (copper, gold, silver, clad, etc.) this will help you organize the collection so you can pay special...MORE attention to the higher value coins.

    There are several myths in coin collecting that you should know about. First, just because a coin is old does not mean it is worth more. There are many ancient coins that are thousands of years old that can be purchased for just a few dollars. Secondly, just because the coin is made out of copper does not mean it is worth less than a coin that is made out of gold. There are many early American copper coins that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Inventory and Cataloging

    Old Mercury Head Dimes - Coin Collection Series
    leezsnow / Getty Images

    Once you have your coin collection organized into logical groupings, you can begin the task of cataloging the collection. If the collection has under 100 pieces, you can do this on a piece of paper with a couple of columns. For larger collections, you may want to use a spreadsheet on a computer to help you organize the information.

    The second part of valuing your coin collection is to determine the grade of the coin. Any coin collector would much rather have a pristine unblemished coin in their...MORE collection rather than one that has seen better days. Therefore, the demand for coins in better condition is greater than the demand for coins that have been circulated. Determining the grade of a coin can be somewhat tricky, but with a little practice and education you can estimate the grade of the coin in order to determine its value.

  • 06 of 07

    Determining the Value of Your Coin Collection

    Paying Cash. Tetra Images / Getty Images

    Now that you have identified and graded the coins in your coin collection, you can now determine the approximate value. There are many factors that go into determining the value of a coin, but the bottom line is that a coin is only worth what someone will pay you for it. However, we can come up with a ballpark estimate for the value of your coins.

    Using a handbook like A Guide Book of United States Coins is a great start to determining a coin's value. But keep in mind, this book lists...MORE approximate retail prices that you could expect to purchase a coin from a coin dealer. Like any retailer, a coin dealer makes his profit by buying coins below the retail price and selling them to coin collectors at a reasonable profit. Therefore, the prices that you see in this book will be 30% to 50% greater than what a coin dealer will pay you when you sell your collection.

  • 07 of 07

    Easy Is Not Cheap

    A coin dealer inspecting a coin in his coin shop.
    A coin dealer inspecting a coin in his coin shop. Image Copyright: © 2017 James Bucki; All rights reserved.

    The easiest way to value your coin collection is to have someone else do it. After reviewing the work that needs to go into valuing your coin collection, if you feel overwhelmed or you do not have the time to complete the tasks accurately, you could pay a professional numismatist to organize, catalog, inventory and value your collection for you. This service can run anywhere from $35-$50 per hour but you will gain the knowledge and wisdom of a professional coin dealer.