There are primarily three different ways that uncleaned ancient coins are presented for sale on e-Bay: The Wishing Well Method, The Treasure Pile Method, and The Cards-On-the-Table Method. They range in seeing exactly what you are getting (to just short of touching them) to throwing a dime in a wishing well hoping your wish comes true. As a coin buyer I have experienced each of these selling approaches to entice me to purchase uncleaned ancient coins. What follows deals mostly with Roman coins, Holy Land Coins, and Greek Coins.
1. The Wishing Well Method: In this case one sees a picture of individual Roman coins that look fantastic. What museum or advanced collector would not want them? You do not get to see the actual coins you will buy. We are told that our coins will come from the same lot or will be very similar. These coins are often sold as a Dutch Auction or a Buy-it-Now for a lot.
Why sell this way? Two Reasons: First, the dealer is so busy he or she does not have time to photograph every coin for sale and list them that way. Indeed, it is time consuming and expensive to prepare individual lots with unique photographs and commentary. Second, perhaps the dealer does not want me to see the coins I am buying because if I did I know what they looked like, I know I would do better buying some fast food and a magazine. These types of operations generally have a lot of colorful verbage and claims and attract (and then disappoint) new coin collectors, and in some case turn them away from the hobby forever.
In August-October, 2005, I purchased samples from 8-10 of such dealers. I was satisified with only one lot. While there are many reputable dealers using the Wishing Well Method, there are many dealers using it who I would not allow my daughters to buy from.
Overall: The Wishing Well Method requires the most blind trust from the buyer, who is buying coins sight unseen, and the least amount of work by the seller.
2. The Treasure Pile Method: This is where you get to see a pile of coins in the photo. We are told that the coins pictured are the coins you will receive. In many cases you will see a ruler alongside so that you can eyeball the sizes (Rulers are our Friends!). The best dealers will also have a size range mentioned in the listing, e.g., coins range fron 24mm to 10mm in size. Ancient coins are measured in millimeters and not inches or centipedes.
The plus side of this method is that you see the very coins you will be bidding on. The down side is you do not see all of them. Some dealers will photgraph them where they fall, others will put the best coins on top. In the same test period mentioned above, I was satisfied at least 50% of the time with the treasure piles I had bought.
Be aware that if the Treasure Pile does not mention size range or show a ruler, you will generally think you are bidding on much larger coins. One of the first lot of coins I ever bought had no ruler and no measurement. I thought I was buying coins the size of a Kennedy Half Dollar from the photo. The dealer was not dishonest. I just did not know how big or small they were - they were all smaller than a dime.
Overall, the Treasure Pile Method, compared to the Wishing Well Method, requires less blind trust from the seller. The buyer gets to see many of the coins he or she would be bidding on. It requires more work from the dealer to make individual lots, photos, and listings (with their inherent fees).
3. The Cards-On-the-Table Method, also known as the Guilty Conscience Method. Here you see the coins laid out flat so that you can see exactly what you are bidding on. Generally there is a ruler to offer immediate size-comparison. Usually, the listing will also explain the size range of the offered coins. In rare instances, when a single coin or only a handful of coins is being offered, you will also get a photograph of the other sides of the coins (since that cost more per listing it is not usually done for groups lots, plus it eats into an already low profit margin).
In some cases a dealer will offer a photo of coins all laid out, but with no ruler or mention of the range of sizes. In this case one may be thinking they are buying coins that are larger than the coins really are.
The dealer will generally put the best side of a coin up. If one side of the coin is terrific and the other side is slick or excessively pitted, the dealer will sometimes mention the condition of the other side of that coin. This occurs infrequently.
Overall: Short of actually touching them, the Cards-on-the-Table Method, offers the best pre-bidding information to the bidder. It is also the most expensive in terms of cost and time for the dealer. It requires more time to set up an auction, commentary, and photographs, and if additional photos are offered, then the listing costs more as well.
Which Method is the Best?:
If one does not want to wait for an auction to close, then the blind Buy-it-Now group lots can be the quickest and easiest way to go. But, then one buys coins they have not actually seen.
If one is really interested in searching for specific coin-types and.or just knowing what she or he is buying, then the Treasure Pile or the Cards-on the Table methods are the best. But they tend to take longer for the auctions to end.
Elvis Sings "My Way":
It is no secret that I tend to use one of these methods when I present uncleaned coins to bidders. Why do I do it the way that I do, My Way?
Because I imagine, What if my daughters were buying uncleaned ancient coins? How much information would I want them to have before bidding? What would I want them to feel when they opened the package of coins? I know this may sound sappy, but I only want to sell what I would be happy to buy myself or for my family.
Ultimately, it all comes down to finding dealers you can trust. There are ancient uncleaned coin dealers who are naughty, and there are ancient uncleaned coin dealers who are nice.
Ancient Uncleaned Coin Collecting is terrific! I Love It! It's why I became a dealer.
I hope this information is useful to you.
Semper Pax, John