Coin Doctors Target Online Auctions

Proxiblog is dedicated to helping auctioneers navigate the pitfalls of numismatics, especially concerning “doctored coins” being consigned increasingly in online sessions.

Click on the picture to expand, and you will see a deviously altered coin that was “whizzed” with a Dremel-like brush and heated so that hairlines could be hidden. The coin sold for $120, but was worth only face value because it was, well, defaced.

Before we discuss “numismatic malpractice,” please keep in mind that Proxiblog does not expect auctioneers to be coin experts. Some are, of course. But there is too much to know about numismatics, even for so-called experts, and many houses only handle coins infrequently.

Unfortunately, coin doctors are counting on that lack of knowledge when consigning altered lots that actually violate federal code (18 U.S.C. § 331). Some lots were altered years ago, and unlucky estates merely acquired them. Intentional or not, such coins cause problems for auctioneers.

We’ve heard from several auctioneers that some customers demand reimbursement when they attempt to certify their coins with NGC, PCGS, ANACS or other third-party grading company, only to learn that coin surfaces have been altered. Some clients have issued charge-backs from their credit card companies. Other customers simply stop patronizing a particular auction.

If you have had this experience, you know how unpleasant auctioneer-customer exchanges can be in seeking resolution. We applaud Proxibid for acting as intermediary when this occurs.

It pains us, though, to see altered lots in Proxibid auctions. Recently in one such auction we identified several altered coins. You can view pictures and read about that in depth by clicking here.

There are some steps you can take to protect yourself from consignors who may be banking, literally, on lack of numismatic knowledge:

  1. Ask a member of a local coin club to examine consignments and even write lot descriptions for you. Most will charge a nominal fee, usually less than $100.
  2. Create a consignment form that gives auctioneers the right to charge sellers for altered and/or counterfeit coins. True, you can claim the Proxibid registration contact protects you sufficiently; but when problems arise, as they always do, such a stance can harm your reputation as an ethical, customer-friendly house.
  3. Continue to educate yourself about altered and counterfeit coins, especially if you plan on doing more business in this lucrative area.
  4. Consult a numismatic directory, such as CoinFacts, for information about the weight and dimensions of each type and denomination. This comes in handy if you suspect you have doctored or fake coins.

Concerning that last recommendation, Proxiblog unwittingly purchased two counterfeit coins from one of our Honor Roll houses. The coins’ weight was wrong. Rather than precious metal, the items were made of gold-plated bronze. When informed about the fakes, the auctioneer asked that they be returned, promising to credit our account.

We appreciate that. We also appreciate your situation and will continue to alert you about numismatic malpractice. We won’t eliminate it in online auctions, but we’ll decrease the likelihood that it will happen to you. That’s our goal.

Proxiblog is an independent entity with no connection to the auction portal Proxibid. Our intent is to uphold basic numismatic standards as established by the American Numismatic Association and the National Auctioneer Association and to ensure a pleasurable bidding experience not only on Proxibid but also on similar portals such as iCollector and AuctionZip.

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