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Buyers Beware? Navigating the World of Rare Coins on Ebay

Our coin experts discuss the pitfalls and pleasures of purchasing on eBay…

It sounds like the plot of a bizarre TV drama. A well-connected antiques dealer with a penchant for Savile Row suits is arrested on forgery allegations. Then more details emerge: the staff of Moses is among the ‘rare’ items he’s offering for sale. Numismatists can also purchase two of the 30 silver coins that Judas was paid for betraying Christ. Amazingly, this isn’t fiction. It’s a true story involving Kochi resident Monson Mavunkal, who was arrested last year.

Coins and con artists

Even without bizarre cases such as the Judas silver, the world of coin collecting and buying is no stranger to con artists out to make money. It’s said that the first coins, minted around 600BC in what is now Turkey by King Croesus, created an instant market for forgeries. And it’s been an ongoing fact of numismatic life ever since, which can make the world of dealing and collecting even more difficult to negotiate.

Added into this problematic mix in 1995 was the huge online marketplace that is eBay. This boasts an estimated two billion daily transactions, making it difficult to police… meaning the treacherous can more easily exploit the trusting. Should numismatists avoid it and its imitators at all costs? We sought expert advice…

“A massive, international marketplace”

Ema Sikic, World Coin Expert.

Ema Sikic, World Coins Specialist at Baldwin’s, doesn’t think collectors can easily dismiss the planet’s biggest marketplace. “We can’t discount eBay because it’s massive and it’s international,” says Ema, who’s also an archaeologist. “Many reputable dealers use eBay because it’s easy and approachable. “However, always be mindful that your dealer has good feedback, a solid reputation and is a member of a numismatic trade association. It’s better to be on the safe side.”

Chris Tyrimos, our British Coins Specialist, is also open to what eBay has to offer. He explains: “It can be a misleading marketplace filled with non-accredited sellers. Overpriced and wrongly described items seem prevalent there, too. “Equally, there are recognised dealers selling in line with British Numismatic Trade Association [BNTA] guidelines. It can be a great place to browse and learn for people in or out of the trade at any level.”

“Be extremely careful”

Dominic Chorney, Ancient Coin Specialist.

Ancient Coin Specialist Dominic Chorney, who sits on the council of the British Numismatic Society, is less enthusiastic. He issues the following words of warning: “Be extremely careful. Many reputable dealers have eBay accounts and buying from a BNTA authorised dealer over eBay should be completely fine. “However, online auction websites can be a minefield when it comes to forgeries. I’d exercise extreme caution.”

Specialist Consultant Jeremy Cheek, who’s held the position of Honorary Numismatic Consultant to the Royal Collection since 2008, echoes this view. “It’s very risky buying from eBay, rather than a coin specialist online,” says Jeremy. “The chances of buying a forgery without an enduring guarantee or paying far too much are high.”

“Forgeries listed as genuine”

Baldwin’s Managing Director Neil Paisley perhaps gives the most succinct analysis of the perils of eBay. “I’d definitely say ‘Buyer beware’,” adds Neil. “The majority of eBay sellers are not members of the BNTA. If you’re dissatisfied with your purchase, it’s often difficult to get a refund. You’re also buying from a picture, which often makes it difficult to see if there are any problems or if the coin’s been cleaned. There are many forgeries listed as genuine, too. These can fool a lot of collectors and they only learn of their mistake when they come to sell the coin at a later date.”

“I’d definitely say Buyer beware”

Neil Paisley, Baldwin’s Managing Director.

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