The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 13, March 30, 2003, Article 10


  On a related topic, Dick Johnson writes: "Every specialist in
  the numismatic field -- and I assume this holds true with other
  fields that deal in artifacts -- faces this problem of ethics every
  day. When someone offers you an item in your specialty and it
  is mispriced, what do you do? Does it matter if this person is
  a professional dealer or a lay person?

  Many pros I know hold this view:  If a dealer prices his
  merchandise and it is undervalued (even way undervalued) you
  buy it. If it is priced at close to retail you pass, allow him to
  sell it to a collector at the fair price for both. If it is overpriced you
  obviously pass but you have a choice of mentioning it or not
  (usually I mention it to a friendly dealer, or if, say, it is a flea
  market dealer I say nothing, he has to get his education

  For years I wondered why seasoned dealers would ask me a
  question about a medallic item or two in their stock. Hans
  M.F. Schulman did this to me many times.  It was more like
  "How would you grade this?" than a blatant question like "Is
  this priced correctly?" Subtlety, I thought, they were asking
  for my appraisal.

  [Hans was a dear friend of many years.  I made him the first
  weekly columnist when I started Coin World. Later, when I
  became a dealer in medals, he guided several collections my
  way, when he could have sold them himself. By his questions
  he was, in effect, educating me, strengthening my dealer skills.]

  In regard to appraisals:  A paid professional appraisal is worth
  every penny!  This holds true for both the vest pocket dealer
  and the seasoned pro, but particularly so for someone from the

  But even a professional appraiser can overlook something.
  Example: A bachelor collector in New England had built a fine
  medal collection. He paid Henry Grunthal, a former dealer but
  then a curator at ANS, to come look at his collection and offer
  an appraisal. There was one award medal that had been
  awarded to an early American photographer, a quite valuable
  piece among the collection. Apparently Henry didn't catch it.

  Our offer was near Henry's appraisal and the collector sold the
  collection to my partner and I.  We researched the medal,
  learned of its super rarity, and described it correctly in our
  auction catalog. It was purchased by an unknown photography
  collector who sent an agent to our auction to buy it for a hefty
  four-figure amount.  It realized more than we paid for the entire

  This fine tunes the ethics. Should we have shared part of the
  proceeds with the former owner even though our deal had
  been completed to the satisfaction of both parties? Or was
  this a legitimate profit for our expertise and research?  What
  would you have done?

  Dealers have the responsibility to correctly grade and price
  the items they offer for sale.  The public, it appears, is open
  game for most dealers depending upon their level of greed.
  My advice to all is: Get a bono fide appraisal from a specialist
  knowledgeable for that item before you offer any item for sale.

  I throw up my hands, however, for the sellers on eBay. They
  range all over the place:  From the arrogant and ignorant to
  the nicest, most sophisticated dealers you'll find. But the
  misinformation on eBay is omnipresent; I won't even mention
  the mispricing or their ethics. It is not only caveat emptor on
  the internet, its: Buyer Be Educated!"

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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