The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 14, April 3, 2011, Article 19


Coin Update highlighted dealer Doug Winter's excellent post on how the Internet has changed rare coin auctions in the past ten years. Here are some excerpts. -Editor

The impact of the internet on coin auctions in the past ten years has been monumental; more so, I'd venture to say, than virtually any other collectible. Ten years ago, the auction business had a number of vital firms offering coins; today it is essentially a duopoly. Ten years ago, auctions were primarily a place where dealers battled against each other in a sort of numismatic bloodsport; today, they are kinder and gentler. Most importantly, the numbers have grown beyond what I would have ever expected. It is now commonplace for an auction to realize $40-50 million; a decade ago this would have been startling, front-page-of-Coin World news.

The fact that everybody now uses fast computers is compounded by portability of these machines. Ten years ago, a collector might panic when he realized that an auction he cared about was the same time as his family's spring break trip to Florida. With laptops and iPads, your location is almost meaningless. This makes participation is an auction easier than ever as does, of course, the increased memory of today's computers.

For me, the greatest coin sales of all time were the Bass auctions, held in 1999 to 2001. I can remember at the Bass II sale (to me, the single most memorable of the four sales) there were less than a dozen collectors in the auction room participating. And, of course, no internet and probably not much mail or phone bidding. Today, a sale of this magnitude would attract hundreds of well-heeled collectors from all over the world. The internet has made coin auctions so much more accessible and, as a result, they are now so much more collector-dominated.

Transparency is the numismatic buzzword of this decade; sort of like "green" is to consumer products. Ten years ago, the thought of transparency made numismatic auction firms recoil in horror. Only Heritage was smart enough to realize that by being transparent they would gain the trust of their clients and, in turn, do more business. The lack of transparency (and the failure to embrace technology early on) was one of the main things that did in Heritage's largest rivals in the coin auction business.

The coin auction business is now built on a platform that is far more transparent than other collectibles. This has had an impact on both collectors and dealers. In the past, a dealer could buy a coin from an auction, mark it up (or upgrade it) and offer it for sale, often with the potential buyer having no idea where it was from. Now, most coins in dealer's inventories can be easily traced to auctions. If a dealer offers a coin for $8,000 that just sold at a Heritage sale for $5,000, it might greatly offend a potential client. Margins, for internet-savvy buyers, tend to be smaller as a result.

This access to information has put the collector on much more level playing field than ever before. Even a new collector can see what coins bring at auction and now have a degree of comfort knowing that there is (hopefully) a legitimate under-bidder at 5-10% less than what they just paid.

To me, the existence of such huge databases as the Heritage auction archives and the PCGS auction prices realized archives are incredibly valuable. Ten years ago, I had my own databases for most branch mint gold but this was a ton of work. Now, someone else does the work for me and, frankly, they do it better. The amount of information available to collectors has leveled the playing field; not always the best thing for me as a dealer but certainly a great thing for the collector. Actually, let me correct myself. It probably, in the long run, is great for me as a dealer…

To read the complete article, see: How the Internet Has Changed Rare Coin Auctions (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster