By Ian Russell, co-founder of GreatCollections.com
We are fortunate at GreatCollections.com that our business model operates in all environments, even during this unprecedented pandemic. We’ve seen an increase in website traffic and new clients over the past year, and I expect this momentum to continue unabated.
More collectors are regularly bidding in auctions online. There has been a big difference over the past year. There was always a small group of collectors who would only buy coins at coin shows, paying retail from coin dealers. These collectors never bought at auctions. I would talk to them at coin shows pre-COVID, show them our auction highlights, but they really just wanted to buy at a fixed price and not bid in an auction. Although this was a small part of the total number of coin collectors, it was always my mission to convert these collectors or tempt them to try bidding in auctions.
With no major coin shows taking place currently, many have tried our auctions and have personally told me that they wished they tried it years ago. They are enjoying the weekly action, the huge variety of coin offerings, and the ability to avoid paying full retail and bid at a price that suits them. This new breed of coin buyers now understands that our images show how a coin appears in-hand, so they have the confidence to bid.
We’re available 24/7 to describe coins in more detail by e-mail or over the phone. With the vast number of coins in our auctions each week, it’s like having a coin show from the luxury of your own home; you can spend hours browsing our website and all the new listings.
A DECADE OF OBSERVATION AND INTERACTION
GreatCollections was founded in 2010 by Raeleen Endo and me to improve how coins and paper money are sold at auction. Since our founding, GreatCollections has successfully auctioned over 850,000 certified coins, graded by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), as well as ANACS. In addition to certified coins, GreatCollections also auctions certified paper money by Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) and PCGS. The numismatic community frequently reports our results, and our complete auction archive is available at no monetary charge as a research tool for coin values.
Our first auctions took place in April 2011, which means we are approaching our 10th anniversary. A lot has happened during this time within the market, and also in our company. We’ve grown from two persons to about double that number, and our sales have increased ten-fold.
Before our launch, we did a lot of work behind the scenes, including designing the software and initial feature list. The process took about ten months before we could auction a single coin. We went live with about 95% of the features completed, and we finished the list later in 2011.
Our goal with the website was to have buyers and consignors access everything they needed about their accounts. From a bidder’s standpoint, that includes bids placed, items won, invoices, and shipping information, among other details. For consignors, this includes consigned items and consignor statements.
We’ve made over 16,000 changes to our website since launching in 2011 and have a thousand more changes planned for the next 18 months. We’ve upgraded servers three or four times, one of which required thousands of lines of code to be updated for the newer operating system. Our current server can handle 100 times the traffic and bidding activity compared to the one we launched in 2011.
When we designed our website, I put myself in the shoes of collectors regarding what features they would want to see on a website, how coins would be offered and what would create the highest level of client satisfaction. We started from scratch, so we had no legacy issues or expectations to take into account.
I knew I wanted coin auctions to end over a few hours on a Sunday and have them all end at a set time. Some auctions end consecutively, depending on how long the bidding lasts. We have set bidding times for each coin. So if you’re bidding on a 1932-D Washington quarter, you can see how long bidding for that item lasts. But more importantly, with GreatCollections, you can bid any time while the coin is listed, even if there is a week left in the auction.
As for our fees, obviously, a company in coins that supports staff can’t work on zero fees, but we wanted to offer the lowest fees possible. Our discounted buyer’s fee is still an industry-low 10%, which is half what the big dogs charge. We also disclose our fee structure from the outset: zero seller’s fees for coins over $1,000, or just 5% for coins that realize $1,000 or less. When considering our low buyer’s fee, the GreatCollections fee structure is the lowest in the industry. It’s still surprising that a few companies in the coin auction arena still don’t publicize their fee structure. As a consignor, I don’t know how I could decide to consign without knowing a company’s fees. Imagine driving up to a gas station and not knowing how much the gas per gallon costs.
One of the successful programs we introduced in 2011 was the GreatCollections Grade & Auction program for raw/uncertified coins. Consignors can submit coins to GreatCollections, and we will arrange grading at PCGS or NGC at our discounted rates.
Apart from reviewing and arranging the grading, it saves the consignor on shipping costs. Usually, GreatCollections will pay the grading costs upfront and then deduct them from the consignor’s check.
I tell people that perhaps the most fun part of my job is checking in with our receiving department in the afternoon once that day’s packages are open to see what consignments arrived. Just last week, a very rare Saint-Gaudens double eagle arrived. It’s dated 1920-S and is expected to realize about $100,000.
In addition to grading coins for clients, GreatCollections in 2020 was the largest submitter of coins to CAC (Certified Acceptance Corporation), a third-party verifier headed by industry leader John Albanese. CAC affixes a green holographic sticker to the PCGS and NGC holders of coins that it feels are high-end or solidly graded. CAC coins typically sell for more money, and it’s been a growing area of the coin market over the past five years. Each week, GreatCollections has an extensive offering of CAC-approved coins for sale.
THE GREATCOLLECTIONS WEBSITE
Imaging. We spent months working on the imaging before launching and have continually improved the quality since. Our on-staff photographers photograph all coins and notes. We don’t enhance images, which is key.
The Saved Search. Thousands of collectors use our Saved Search feature, which notifies users when a lot in a current auction matches their search terms. For example, imagine you are looking for Lesher dollars, which do not appear on the market every week. You can set up a saved search for the word “Lesher,” and we will notify you when there is a match. We can help you set up a Saved Search. Just send a list of what you’re looking for to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll set it up for you.
The Auction Archive. Our auction archive is a valuable tool used by thousands of people. It contains over 850,000 auction records for certified coins and paper money and is easily searchable by coin series, date, and grade.
Searching 10,000+ Coins. You can search over 10,000 coins currently in auction at almost any part of the week, and more coins are listed daily.