How to Sell the Coins That I've Inherited

A coin collection in albums, folders, slabs, etc.

James Bucki

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 love to take advantage of you. The good news is that these unscrupulous coin dealers are few and far between. A vast majority of coin dealers are honest businessmen that run their businesses with integrity and fairness.

Many people ask a family member or trusted friend to help them when they purchased their first car. This is due to the fact that they are unfamiliar with the retail car industry. Having a guide to help you when you buy your first car will prevent you from getting ripped off. The same can be said about selling a coin collection. Unfortunately, if you do not have a family member or trusted friend that is familiar with coin collecting, you need to arm yourself with some information and knowledge.

However, you must arm yourself with some knowledge and experience in order to avoid the pitfalls of selling a coin collection below its market value. Take some time looking over the coins that you've inherited to familiarize yourself with the variety of items in front of you. Take time to learn how to identify individual coins and banknotes. Follow this advice, and you will avoid 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 reduce their value dramatically. A professional coin dealer will be able to spot a clean coin immediately. When it comes to grading a coin, bright and shiny does not increase the value of a coin. In fact, a cleaned coin will greatly decrease its value.

    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. Taking the time to educate yourself 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:

    Avoid the Quick Cash Grab

    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 ask "How much will you give me for this?" All of these approaches will usually result in you getting ripped off with extremely low offers on the coins that you inherited. The dealers that quickly throw a number at you are sure to lowball their appraisal in an effort to score a quick and hefty profit.

    Set Reasonable Expectations

    Many people look at an old coin and assume and must be valuable because it is old. 2000-year-old coins can be purchased for a few dollars. Take the time to learn how to identify the coins you have and estimate the condition they are in. People here that a 1943 Lincoln cent sold for $1 million. They assume that all 1943 Lincoln cents are valuable coins. When in fact, the million-dollar coin was made out of copper and not out of zinc-plated steel.

  • 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

    To start the process of evaluating the coin collection that you inherited, you need to get your arms around the size of the collection. Also, see if there is an inventory/catalog or checklist that the coin collector kept of his coin collection. This may provide valuable information when trying to get the collection appraised. 

    Therefore it is best to gather the collection and any supporting documentation into one location where you can start the process of inventorying and valuing the coin collection. Be careful where and when you do this and try to maintain secrecy to avoid theft or robbery of the coin collection.

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

    If the coin collection was well cataloged and the more valuable coins are easily identified, you may want to separate those coins from the ordinary coins in the collection. Remember, you cannot determine the value of a coin solely by its age or shininess. There have been many dull and dirty coins that have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  • 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 buys coins and puts them in a box or safe without assembling 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 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, place loose coins in a plastic container. Put sets (Proof sets, mint sets, collector sets, etc.) in a cardboard box. Folders and coin albums can be placed on the side because most of them are already identified. Finally, you may find storage totes 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 and group them 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. Pay close attention to the metal composition (copper, gold, silver, clad, etc.) this will help you organize the collection so you can pay particular attention to the higher value coins.

    There are several myths in coin collecting that you should know. First, just because a coin is old does not mean it is worth more. You can purchase ancient coins that are thousands of years old for only a few dollars. Secondly, just because the coin is composed 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 more substantial 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 collection rather than one that has seen better days. Therefore, the demand for coins in better condition is higher than the market 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 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 of 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 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.
    James Bucki

    The easiest way to value your coin collection is to have someone else do it. After reviewing the work that is required to assess the value of your coin collection, and 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. If the dealer identifies just one extremely valuable coin, his fee will be well worth the knowledge that you now possess.