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Selling on eBay: Taking Quality Pictures
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
July 24, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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It’s time to talk about selling on eBay. For openers, you’ll need a picture or pictures of your coin(s). If the coins are raw (uncertified) and limited in number, then a scan of each side may do the trick. I’m assuming here that you have an all-in-one printer/copier/scanner. If you don’t have one, you’ll find that they tend to be remarkably inexpensive.

If the coin is certified, however, your scanner won’t work, as the surface of the coin won’t be against the bed of the scanner. As a result, the coin will be out of focus.

If you try to take a picture of it with a hand-held digital camera, the flash will be reflected in the plastic of the coin’s holder, and you won’t be able to see the coin. If you cut off the camera’s automatic flash, the resulting picture will almost certainly be blurred, as you won’t be able to hold the camera still enough with the longer exposure necessary.

Part of the answer is to purchase and use a copy stand. If you Google “copy stand coin photography,” you’ll find links that will take you to a myriad of choices of copy stands as well as general articles on coin photography. Two of the latter that look especially useful are Mark Goodman’s “My Approach to Coin Photography.”

Goodman is the author of a book published by Zyrus Press titled Numismatic Photography, and I would highly recommend the purchase of this title if you’re seriously interested in the topic. Table Top Studios, where the “Coin Photography Techniques” article is found, is an online store that offers a Professional Coin Photography Kit for $275. The kit includes everything you’ll need except the camera.

Copy stands by themselves can be found for much less than $275, of course, and you can easily put together a set up for less than $100 that will provide adequate photos to use on eBay. I’ve been using a less-than-optimal outfit for several years and have sold many thousands of dollars worth of coins in that time. Of course, it’s possible that I could have made more money from the coins if I had had better pictures.

Let’s assume that you’ve figured out how to take serviceable digital photos of your coin and are ready to create your first eBay sale. You’ll find there are choices of format. Would you rather sell the coin in an auction, or would you feel better with a fixed price sale? In either case, how long do you want your sale to run?

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From my experience, popular coins with significant demand tend to sell for a price somewhere between wholesale and retail, but perhaps a bit closer to the wholesale figure.

Typical retail values can be found in magazines such as this one, or in weekly coin newspapers such as Numismatic News. As for the wholesale value, there’s the venerable Coin Dealer Newsletter, which everyone who sells coins on a regular basis seems to have access to.

Another wholesale figure that I use is one that I find on the Heritage Auction website. Specifically, it’s the Numismedia Wholesale amount provided by Heritage on its My Collection feature. If you have an inventory of your coins in My Collection, the program automatically assigns the current Numismedia Wholesale Ask figure to each coin.

For example, the Heritage site tells me that my PCGS-graded EF-40 1909-S V.D.B. cent has a Numismedia wholesale value of $915. A recent issue of Numismatic News “Coin Market” gives the coin a retail value of $1,450. Presumably, if I sell the coin on eBay, it should bring somewhere between these extremes, although probably closer to the lower value.

In fact, an advanced search revealed several examples with the same grade that sold on eBay recently. The range of prices was from $822.16 to $1,199. Not surprisingly, the coin with the lowest sell price did not have a good look for the grade, whereas the $1,199 piece had a nice, natural color, with sharp detail for the grade. Interestingly, the coin that brought the most money was the only one listed in a Buy It Now (BIN) format.

So, how should I list the coin: BIN or auction? And, once I decide on the type of sale, how should I price it, either as a starting bid in an auction or as a BIN coin? Lately, I’ve been listing coins in BIN sales for periods of either 10 or 30 days, which are longer than most auction sales (typically seven days). Then, if the coins don’t sell in that format, I list them as auctions.

As for pricing in the BIN sales, I usually base the price on what I have in the coin. If I have paid a reasonable amount, such as wholesale or below, then I’ll add 12 percent or more to what I have in it (I think 12 percent is about what you need to break even, given eBay and PayPal charges, postage, etc.). I should note here that I’m not trying to make a living selling things on eBay: I’m just trying to recover some or all of what I have in whatever I’m selling.

Of course, if I bought the coin many years ago, when the wholesale price was much lower, then I definitely try to get the going rate in today’s market. As an illustration, the EF-40 1909-S V.D.B. cent cost me $340 in 1997. Needless to say, I’m not going to offer it in a BIN sale for $340 + 12 percent ($40.80), or $381. I would probably list it for $950, which is slightly above its wholesale value.

Next month, I’ll have a bit more to say about pricing. I’ll also talk about postage charges/costs and how you should handle the sale and any potential problems.

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On August 7, 2013 Dustin Jones said
Thanks this really helped. It's amazing what a good photo can do to an eBay listing. I also did a research recently that showed examples of pictures for eBay listings. The results showed a 10% increase in the final auction price over small differences in a photo.

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