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Cashing In a Coin Collection: Two Sides to Know ...

What is the best way to sell a coin collection? It is probably worth in the neighborhood of $10,000. I haven't looked at it for 30 years, which precedes modern coin grading. It is mostly U.S. proof sets (1950-1980) and U.S. pennies (some quite rare). Is an auction house the best way?

Many older adults have coin collections squirreled away. We asked around in numismatic circles about the best way to cash these out and got a variety of opinions. The short answer: It depends.

If you're trying to unload a coin collection quickly and you're willing to leave some (potential) profit on the table, a coin dealer is your best bet. But if you think your coins are worth at least several thousand dollars and you're willing to work with an auction house to try to beat the wholesale price, you might get a larger return on your sale through an auction.

First, you need to pinpoint what you have. What makes you think your collection is worth $10,000? Many people guess at the value of a collection "based on what they see in a coin-value magazine. Keep in mind that these are retail values/prices, not what a dealer would pay," says Keith Scott, who runs a part-time business called Mountain View Coins in Morrison, Colo. "A lot of the value will be based on the condition of the collection," he adds; some older coin holders contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which can damage coins.

Coin collectors often refer to coin books such as the "Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins," or the "Standard Catalog of World Coins." They can give you an approximate range of value. With those numbers in hand, you may want to visit at least two coin dealers, who can appraise your coins and may be willing to do so at no charge. There are directories of dealers at pngdealers.com, the Web site for the Professional Numismatists Guild of Fallbrook, Calif., and at money.org, the Web site for the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Our reader is in luck, because "there are an awful lot of dealers" in the San Francisco Bay area, says Jay Beeton, marketing director for the American Numismatic Association. But keep in mind that dealers are going to offer you a wholesale price for your collection, not the retail value you may see in books, he says.

If your collection meets the criteria of an auction house with a deep base of coin-collector customers, you may be able to get a higher price. Heritage Auction Galleries, in Dallas, which claims to be the largest rare-coin company in the world and the third-largest auction house, starts by providing a "conservative estimate" of a collection's value. Then, it finds an auction -- either live or online or both -- in which to sell it, says Greg Rohan,Heritage's president. The company will auction any collection it estimates to be worth at least $5,000.

There are fees: Heritage charges the seller as much as 10% of the selling price, he says, including marketing and promotions. "You shouldn't pay any additional fees for insurance or photography," Mr. Rohan says. So, "if the auctioneer hammers it down for $10,000, you'll get $9,000."

How do you find auctioneers to interview? 

Reach Out to www.USAuctionbrokers.com for more information regarding the sale of your coin.