How to use coin auction records


22 June 2022
The relentless march of technology has given today’s coin collectors the tools to quickly and easily research the fluctuating price of specific coins, and as Jeff Garrett explains, these electronic records are a ‘must-use’ for any serious numismatist.

It hard to believe, but in the mid-1990s there was no such thing as electronic auction records for collectors or dealers to search before making a purchase.

There were quite a few price guides for US and World Coins, but most contained information that was dated at best.  The only auction records that had been assembled and published, where done on an annual basis. They were very difficult to use, and it was impossible to carry them to conventions for reference.  

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Using auction records

Today, auction records are one of the primary sources of information for many when making a purchase. Price guides give you an indication of value, but auction records tell what actual coins have sold for. Auction records have become an invaluable tool, but knowing how to use them can be very important.   

These auction records can be quite confusing, as it is not uncommon for the coins in the same grade to sell for vastly different prices. There are many factors that must be taken into consideration when using auction records.  

Auction records are particularly important for World and Ancient coin buyers as many of the standard price guides have become woefully obsolete. Some have been discontinued altogether.

Most major auction companies now maintain auction records for coins they have sold in recent years. The annual fee for the more advanced version is well worth the price for any serious collector or dealer.  

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Be sure to use records carefully

Collectors and dealers must understand how to use these important tools as the information can sometimes be confusing.

In recent years collectors have begun to assign much higher values to coins with great eye-appeal. This means coins that may be technically nice, but which also have really superior lustre, toning, strike, and appearance. These coins sell for premium prices in contrast to coins which may be accurately graded, but are for some reason unattractive. 

On the opposite end of this spectrum is the sometimes crazy prices that coins sell for that some deem under-graded.

Dealers aggressively compete for this fresh material and many coins sell for record prices for the grade. For anyone checking auction records, this data would be very confusing. Auction buyers also pay what some would consider insane prices for coins with vivid toning.  

When using auction records you should only rely on prices of coins with multiple sales in the recent years.

For coins with only one or two sales, the information can be unreliable. Sometimes only two bidders can run the price of a coin up to unsustainable levels. Just because two buyers engaged in mortal combat over a coin at auction, you have no way of knowing if this would happen again. In most cases it would not.  

Beware added auction fees

Another issue that should be consider is the auction fees that seller must incur to sell a coin at auction. It usually runs about 10-25% of the final price. Therefore, when you see an auction price of $5,000, the seller probably only received about $4,250.

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This should be a factor when negotiating the purchase of a coin. If you pay the same $5,000 auction price that a similar coin sold for, you could only expect to receive about $4,250 if the coin was resold at auction. Believe me, these auction fees add up and must be carefully considered when buying or selling.  

To properly use auction records you should also carefully examine the photograph of each coin you research.

Most auction houses now have great websites that can be easily searched. They also have wonderful images that you can use to compare with similar coins that you may be considering. 

Auction records are not the perfect pricing tool but they are useful and you should learn how to use them.