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I'm new to numismatics and I want to know if this is normal behavior from a dealer, if I did something wrong, or if I just need to take my business elsewhere.

I went to a reputable local dealer who has been in business for 25 years or so. I had decided I wanted to start a period collection from 1850-1860. The best large cent they had for that date range was a house-graded AU-50 from 1850. I looked at it closely, paid the sticker price, and left.

Three weeks later, I did some more research and realized that if I want to start a serious collection, I need to start with MS-60 coins at a minimum. I decided to cut my losses with the coin and sell it back to the dealer, explaining this exact scenario.

The dealer said he didn't recognize the coin. To my horror, he opened up the plastic case and handled it with his bare hands. I was asked if I had a reciept and which person sold it to me. I was asked if I did anything to it, and I said that I wouldn't even know what to do to a copper coin to alter it, and if I had altered it why would I be willing to sell it back for a loss? I thought the whole point of altering coins was to turn a profit. After about 10 minutes of examining the coin I was offered about 60% of what I had paid and, just wanting to get out of there, I took it and left.

The whole thing was very hostile and from my other 3 trips to the place they seem to be extremely paranoid and untrusting. It's as if they either want me to buy something RIGHT NOW or leave, especially when I flip through their books and don't find anything I like - I browsed a little while they were looking at my coin and they don't have MS-60 or better for anything in my desired time period. I think they expect me to have "pulled a fast one" on them and never return, but the truth is they probably just lost a customer with their hostile attitude. Their prices were all 10-20% or so above book value anyway.

Anywho, for my first real collection piece I ended up grabbing an 1851 trime graded MS-60 by PCGS on ebay for $155. I live in the Baltimore area so I'm going to drop in on the big coin show downtown this weekend to see how other dealers treat their customers and how their prices compare.
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>> Three weeks later, I did some more research and realized that if I want to start a serious collection, I need to start with MS-60 coins at a minimum. <<

This is not true at all, not even for an "investment quality" collection. Obviously, collecting very common coins in low grades isn't likely what you call "serious" but nice, problem-free tougher issues (key dates, older series) with original surfaces are desirable at almost any grade level.

The quality of the coin relative to its state of preservation is more important than the actual grade, IMO.

I'm wondering who told you that you must buy only "mint state" coins in order to have a serious collection. I have an XF/AU set of Indian cents and a good start on VF/XF Seated Liberty Dimes, and I consider those "serious" because they were built with a discriminating eye for quality and consistency of presentation, not just picking the first available coin at the "right" price and grade.

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This is not the norm, find somewhere else to shop and have fun at the show.
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Some dealers are jerks who only care about how much money they can make off of someone. Most aren't. Keep looking till you find someone who is willing to help. There are plenty out there.
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For starters, what Ziggy29 said.

I own many nice AU coins. In fact, these coins have more eye appeal than most 60, 61 and 62 s. Buy the coin, not the grade.

If you buy a coin and then end up selling it within a short period, you will probably take a loss. Coin values can appreciate, but it usually takes years. And coin dealers have to mark up merchandise just like every other business.

Personally, I only buy coins graded by PCGS or NGC. there is no arguing about the grade.

Having said that, as I mentioned, buy the coin, not the grade on the plastic. If a coin looks nice when you buy it (and you know right away if it does), it will look nice when you sell it. I love color and luster on my coins. I only buy coins that are solid for the grade or on the high end of the grade. Even though I recommend sticking with PCGS or NGC, I have seen coins graded by these firms that I wouldn't touch with a en foot pole. Learn to grade coins on your own.

Lastly, if a dealer treats you badly, as this guy seems to have done, take your business elsewhere.

I use a local dealer for inexpensive coins. For my expensive purchases, I use a guy named Mike Printz out of Chicago. I've dealt with him for years. He has a great eye, he's honest, and he's a nice guy to boot.

Here's a link to his website:

He's a class guy. And while most of his material is too expensive for me, he also posts lots of reasonably priced stuff.

OK, I lied - here's some more advice; I love a high end coin graded 64. People who don't know coins or buy them as an investment, usually want 65 and above. There are some great deals on high end 64s that look just as nice as a technical 65. Buy the coin!

And most important, enjoy the hobby!

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I just went to check on Mr. Printz and found this:

"Mike Printz Joins the Staff of Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.
I am proud and excited to announce, after weeks of consideration, that I have joined the team at Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. in downtown Chicago. Folks who know me can expect the same personalized service, choice inventory, quality images and accurate descriptions."


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Mike use to work with Larry Whitlow, a well known numismatist, for many years. They had a falling out about 6 months ago. I used the firm exclusively for years. They had high quality coins and were honest.

When they broke up, I stayed with Mike because he was the guy I spoke with and worked with. He is very knowledgable and always ready to help you. I collect mainly classic commemoratives but have also picked up many other beautiful coins along the way.

Mike was going to go out on his own but ended up going with Harlan Berk. The bottom line is I work with Mike. Where Mike goes, I will follow.

By the way, he also takes some of the best coin photos I've seen.

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The price you were offered--60% of what you paid--is a normal re-buy price. He has to resell it to make money. The behavior is inexcusable, but, in my opinion, normal for this business.

Years ago I did a little business with a guy named Tom Becker, in Laconia, NH. You can Google his name to get his email address. I don't think he does a lot of buying and selling any more...

He published a series of short articles about coin collecting in general and about particular series. I kept all of them as they were a gold mine of information about coins, insights about human behavior, and revelations about dealer behavior. I don't know if he ever published a book collecting all of them.

These pieces are by far the best pieces I have ever read about coin collecting and collecting in general. (Well, I just finished reading "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin, a very revealing novel about art collecting. It is set in the period 1990-present, in Manhattan).

You can try to find the below, as a starter..

Becker, Tom.
Confessions of a coin dealer.
Becker and Kuehnert, Laconia, 1991.

Good luck,
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Thanks for the input, everyone.

No one source told me to start at MS-60; it was more of a general concept that I put together on my own. Higher-graded coins have, historically, appreciated faster, plus I just want coins that look good. The coin in question in my original post just didn't appeal to me the more I looked at it. It seemed like every time I inspected it I found a new flaw. I guess that's part of being new and not knowing what to look for. I think I'll be better off for now buying graded coins, especially if I'm considering a purchase over the internet.

I did read in one of my books that the best guide for an investment-collection is to have the common coins in lower grades and save the home run swings for the rarer coins. I know the 1850s is a pretty tough decade for the rarer coins and I know I'm not going to get them all in 60 or better (or ever, for some), but I really don't mind building a collection one coin at a time. For me it's more than just collecting years, it's about collecting quality coins.

AW- thanks for the link. Those are some fantastic pictures. If I could take pictures like he does I'd start my own consignment business.

I made it to the Baltimore show a few hours before close on Sunday. I had dinner downtown with some coworkers Friday night and crashed at a friend's apartment literally one block from the convention center, but I was so incredibly hungover Saturday that I just couldn't make the walk. Even so, there were about 50 dealers left with everything under the sun and after browsing what everyone had and talking to a few dealers, I found a beautiful 1856 large cent, ungraded, listed for $160. I inspected it for a good 10 minutes, checking my reference book multiple times, deciding it was clearly better than AU-58, probably somewhere in the 60-62 range and possibly higher if not for the weak strike at the very top hairline. I haggled the price down a little and walked away feeling like a winner.
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