Coin Auction Viewings - A Rant

February 8, 2010

Just recently I and my fellow Australian Coin Collecting blog author were able to attend a smallish coin auction for both the lot viewing session and the live room auction the next day. The company holding the auction has been in business for more than 30 years and in this time has conducted quite a few more than 100 auctions. We've been to several of their auctions in the past and usually the experience isn't too bad at all. However this time a few things really got under my skin during the viewing of the lots and I feel like I should talk about them.

  1. Don't buy lots site unseen, view view view. If you can't view then get someone to view for you. Many of the coins we looked at that were described as uncirculated were clearly not, and a surprisingly large number of the coins were clearly cleaned or affected by PVC.
  2. The lots were incredibly poorly setup for viewing. In many cases the coins were sealed into PVC holders which normally isn't too bad for viewing and short term storage but the particular type of holders used were spotted with tiny black flecks so as a consequence every coin appeared to be spotted with tiny black flecks.
  3. Some lots with more than one coin had the coins sealed into PVC holders and then those PVC holders were sealed into a larger PVC holder. This made it impossible to view these coins properly because of the lack of clarity in the PVC and the fact that the coin dealer was trying to make everyone look through two layers of this horrible plastic.
  4. Most of the lots were labelled with a number written onto a white adhesive label. Now one would think the obvious place to put this was on the white note card attached to all the lots, but no, in some cases they'd decided to stick the white label on the coin holder so you couldn't see the coin because of the label.
  5. One high value lot was so poorly packed that it was virtually impossible to view without damaging the item for sale. We managed to remove it from the holder to view correctly but I could see how hundreds of dollars of value could be removed in just a few seconds by someone carelessly removing the lot from the holder and damaging it when all they want is a closer look.
  6. We understand that staff who conduct auction viewings have many demands on their time but this is no excuse for damaging the lots they are there to try to sell. We saw one staff member fold a high value item (which should have remained flat) and try to stuff it back into the holder it came from because he was clearly busy and impatient. There is absolutely no excuse for this and we were horrified when we saw it, any chance that anyone in the room would have bid on that item just went out the window (incidentally the item went unsold).

OK so now I've got that off of my chest here's some things I would change to make the viewing experience much easier.

  1. Get the coins out of the PVC holders. Put them into mylar flips (SAFLIPS would be good) and heat seal those coins in there. The mylar will protect the coin, it is contained, and the plastic is crystal clear allowing for easy viewing. If there's multiple coins in a lot then heat seal them into polypropylene album pages cut to size (like we did here). By all means then put the sealed up coin (or coins) into a larger PVC pocket and staple this to an information card. People can then take the coins out of the PVC pocket and view very easily. Doing these things will make for an easier viewing and also reduce your auction setup costs, it is far quicker to heat seal coins into holders than staple them or sticky tape them!
  2. Take some basic care when labeling lots. Sure we understand they need to be labelled so you can keep track but for goodness sake don't stick the label on top of the coin so we can't view it. If we can't view it we wont buy it.
  3. Take some care when handling lots and employ staff with some basic numismatic knowledge (or at least take the time to train them afterwards). I can think of several occasions now in auction viewings and coins stores where the staff have damaged items I was interested in buying because of poor handling, lack of care, or just plain ignorance. Clearly this is unacceptable.
  4. Apply conservative, consistent, and open grading when evaluating lots for your catalogue. If your lots are consistently overgraded, cleaned, and have faults that are not described then you will not receive site unseen bids and lots will not realise their real value. It's as simple as that.

I'm glad to get that off of my chest, the viewing was a frustrating experience and so easily improved with just a bit of thought and care being taken. The actual room auction was smooth and well run but as you'd expect the clearance rate was fairly ordinary. I wonder if it could be improved by taking some of the simple steps I've outlined above?

Posted by mnemtsas at February 8, 2010 6:03 AM
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