Volume 53, Number 11, November 2016
Ripped off? IN late September the BBC One Programme “Rip Off Britain” included a segment on coins and coin collecting. In the piece a gentleman named Paul was told by an “expert auctioneer” (not I hasten to add from a specialist numismatic house but rather one from a general auctioneer that appears on the BBC regularly, not that that makes too much of a difference but it is worth noting), that the coins he had spent hundreds of pounds on were worth a fraction of the price he’d paid. It was then implied by presenter Gloria Hunniford that coins might not be a great investment and we were all urged to get our collections reappraised just in case (at least that’s how I saw it) and, needless to say, I was somewhat upset by this apparent slur on our hobby. Now it must be said at the outset that Paul had been buying coins from marketing companies, companies that sell beautifully packaged coins, often commissioned specifically by said companies, at prices far in excess of what you would pay a dealer at a fair. The kind of companies we are talking about don’t specialise in heritage or numismatic coins but rather coins to commemorate specific events, a Royal Birth, a Royal Wedding, etc. and they do their job rather well—they are the coin equivalents of tea-towels, mugs, postcards, et al—souvenirs of an event, and the market for them is not, as a rule, us coin collectors. In this particular case, however, the gentleman who had bought the coins hadn’t bought them as mementoes, as trinkets, as an alternative to a tea towel—he’d bought them specifically as investments; he had purchased them to make money on them in the future. He learned from Gloria that he wasn’t going to do that and another “rip-off” was exposed, the world was a safer place and across the country people decided that maybe coins weren’t so great after all . . . Now hold on a minute Ms Hunniford, I rather take exception to the premise in the title of your show in connection with coins—as I’m not actually convinced anyone was ripped off at all. First and foremost I’ve checked the pieces sold by the companies in question and none of them are sold as investments. Nowhere does it say that these items should be considered as anything other than what they are—commemorative pieces. The idea that money can be made from them in the future is entirely down to the buyer’s own perception. Secondly many of these “coins” are no such thing: they are commemorative strikes, medallions, if you will, that bear no denomination or issuing authority—indeed a commemorative Waterloo Medal was even seen in the piece, spinning happily in the background—that’s clearly not a coin, so to imply that it can be viewed in the same light, or indeed be classed as part of the same hobby as, for example, an Athenian Owl, a Gothic Crown or Cartwheel Penny is rather misleading. Thirdly, in this day and age information abounds—and there is plenty of information on what is worth what in the field of coin collecting. There are books (our new Coin Yearbook is just out by the way!), auction results, on-line resources, a hundred and one ways to check whether something is worth buying as an investment and, to give him his due, even Paul admitted he hadn’t done his research and urged others to read up on things before buying. So where’s the rip off? A man bought something from a company that didn’t sell it as an investment, without doing any research on its potential, or on what the alternatives were (he purchased one small gold coin for nearly £500—he could have bought a half sovereign for just over £120 and got a coin with more gold in it) or whether there was any kind of secondary market for it when he wanted to sell and he even admitted he was in the wrong for not doing the research. So where, I ask again, is the Rip Off? As regular readers will know we never encourage investors per se—we always believe you should collect coins because you enjoy it, however, we do recognise that people do buy for investment. If you are one of these collectors then that’s OK, but if you are hoping to make some money in the future, or even just get back what you paid for your coins, then please, please, please, do your homework: learn about the products, get to know the market (and the secondary market) and then, when you come to sell you won’t be left, like Paul, believing that you’ve been ripped off, even when you haven’t.
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