There are a lot of coin collections in the world. Some are extensive and valuable while others are basically worthless. There are certain coins that can turn an ordinary collection into a prize. The problem is that there is a huge amount of variation in the price of each coin.
When looking into the values of coins, you have to note a few facts. First, the vast majority of coins are common and of low value. Some are even worthless since they can't even be used as currency anymore. Coins with holes, bent coins, and those with severe damage, are most likely of quite low value. Second, coins have been made with 'base' metals for a long time. In the United States, it has been over 40 years since any silver was used in regular circulation coinage. There is seldom any bullion value in most of the coins you find in collections. Third, undamaged coins you find tend to be common issues, in low grade or both.
Condition of coins plays a major factor in each coin's value. The best coins are in top quality, or grade. The standard way of grading coins places a numerical score on each coin. The higher the grade, the higher the score. Any wear on the surface detracts from the grade. As a coin wears in circulation, it get progressively lower in grade. The value also declines. Interestingly enough, this is not a linear scale. That is, a coin half worn out might be worth substantially more than one nearly completely worn out. Those coins without any wear may be worth substantially more than those with barely any wear. This is where the coin market plays a major role in the valuation of coins.
To get an accurate coin collection valuation, you must have a knowledgeable person review the coins. This person should be familiar with the type of coins. That is, a collection of American coins should be reviewed by an American coin dealer or an expert that specializes in the coins of the United States. They have more ability to understand the particular varieties that exist which boosts the accuracy of their valuation estimates.
There are coin catalogues available that you can use to value the coins of a collection. These are often available from the local library. They can be quite useful for a quick evaluation of the collection's value. Unfortunately, there are often different prices listed for grades and varieties that the ordinary person will not understand. For example, there are 4 varieties of the 1909 American penny. Catalogue values for this coin will range from $2 to $550 for regular, heavily worn examples. Which one might you have? The difference is very subtle. Depending on the catalogue, it might show the identifying points. Even with pictures, the amateur may not be able to correctly determine the variety. By all means, use the catalogue but watch for extreme price variations such as the 1909 American Lincoln penny. If you have such a piece, you will definitely want to get an expert to look at it.
Grade, or coin condition, is also a problem when valuing coin collections. The price difference between low and high grades is substantial, even extreme. Without specialized training or experience with a particular coin, you have little chance of determining the correct grade yourself. As a general rule, any coin you look at can be estimated for grade using one of three grades. If the coin is really worn, is practically smooth and possibly has edge wear on the lettering, use an estimate of "G-4" when reviewing values in catalogues. This grade is "GOOD" with a numeric score of 4 out of 70. In reality, it isn't very good at all. It really refers to the clarity of the letters only. Next, if your coin has seen obvious circulation but you can see details, you can grade it "F-12", for "FINE". There can't be any obvious features worn away. Lastly, if the coin looks very nice and even has luster on it, you can estimate a grade of "EF-40", for "EXTREMELY FINE". Note that the older the coin is, the less likely this will be the actual grade. If you have coins that you assign this grade and the catalogue shows them to be valuable, you should consult an expert.
There are other factors that affect the coin collection valuation. Top quality coins are often graded by independent agencies. These are generally easy to value. There are counterfeit coins hiding in collections. These may be held for years without the owner knowing that they are not genuine. Coins that are cleaned, or otherwise damaged, are worth substantially less than whole examples.
When you are preparing to sell a collection, or get it valued, you should not alter the coins in any way. Even dirty or dull coins may have substantial value in their natural state. A quick cleaning using a brush or solvent will remove much of the value from the coin. A lot of people have cleaned coins so the collector community really values those that haven't been cleaned. The effects last a long time, too. Coins cleaned 50 or more years ago can still be negatively affected. It is simply never worth it to clean your coins.
A good way to sell a collection is by using eBay. There are a lot of collectors who review every listing. They will usually bid the correct wholesale market value for your coins. Sometimes they will enter a bidding war for your material. The best way to ensure top bids is to provide full information. This should include descriptions of every
coin and photographs. Give the experts out there as much data as you can to ensure that they bid highly on your collection.
There are other factors that can influence your ability on whether you want to sell a collection or even seek a valuation. Intangibles such as the first dime a person owned, or maybe a silver dollar that was awarded to mark an event, are part of a lot of collections. These usually add nothing to the real value of coins. They can be important to the family, however. Any such stories should be written down on a card, place in a plastic envelope and sealed with the particular coin. While it won't usually increase the value, it will preserve the story for the future generations of the family. If it is a particularly interesting story, (coin received from a King who gave a signed card with it), the value of the coin could be increased. These instances are rare, though.
These days, with the Internet, there are more ways to research coins to determine a rough coin collection valuation. For basic informational purposes, they might be acceptible. For those star collector items, you should be very careful. If you have an 1803 American silver dollar, you want your family to profit from it, not some random person.