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Using the Internet to Trade Coins
Efficient, affordable, educational way to expand collection, gain friends
By Jeff Starck

For coin collectors intent on collecting the world, the task may seem Sisyphusian, but it needn't be. Several Internet sites provide information for people who want to trade coins with like-minded collectors from around the world.

Don Norris has been trading coins with fellow collectors internationally for nearly 10 years. He says that he's completed several hundred trades.

Benefits to trading coins

Norris, who operates the Web site www.worldcoingallery.com where he posts images of newly issued coins (along with thousands of other world coin images), said there are many benefits to trading coins with international collectors. (Some of the images are of pieces Norris has in his collection, including pieces that he traded to obtain.)

Norris said the practice is efficient, saves him money and is educational about world geography and new coin issues.

More important, he adds, are the friends he's added since he began.

Trading online rather than requesting a list on paper from a dealer or searching through binders and bins of coins creates a list that is always electronic. This makes finding desired coins much quicker, Norris said.

He joins an Excel database he created for his collection with a list of the coins available for trade, and when they are merged, the program highlights available items not already in his collection.

"I can complete this process in a matter of minutes, reducing an initial list of thousands of coins down to usually less than one page of ‘keepers' to be printed and examined more thoroughly," Norris said.

For collector Yiannis Androulakis, who lives in Greece, trading coins using online resources is more than a matter of ease.

Though his father was director of the national Mint in Greece, Androulakis had few collecting opportunities after becoming interested in coins as a young child.

Androulakis has never attended a coin show, having only read about them in coin collecting books, so using the Internet to trade coins with other collectors was the best option to expand his involvement in the hobby beyond the foreign coins relatives would bring home from trips, and the U.S. coins an uncle in Florida mailed to him, he said.

There's value in trading

Trading coins allows collectors to grow their collection affordably.

Norris said, "I have obtained lightly circulated, great condition coins at near face value that would have otherwise only been available in pristine Uncirculated condition from dealers at quite a markup."

The best example of this is the entire series of Austrian commemorative 20-, 25-, 50- and 100-schilling coins issued before Austria adopted the euro, Norris said.

Another benefit to trading coins internationally is that it makes you more conscious of world geography, Norris said.

He posted a map next to his computer, and now knows "instinctively" what countries can be found in certain regions.

"As I reply to e-mails, I often find myself scrutinizing the tiny islands of the South Pacific, looking for Tuvalu, Vanuatu or New Caledonia," he said.

Awareness of new issues

Norris counts the awareness of what new coins nations are issuing as another benefit.

"When Canada issues a new circulating commemorative quarter or Poland circulates a new 2 zlote or Western Europe issues a new €2 design, I know about it right away," he said.

As well, his coin trading friends are always anxious to trade their new issues for the latest State quarter dollar or Presidential dollar coin.

Norris said: "You simply can't beat having friends around the world to keep you posted on new issues. So be sure to pick up a roll or two of each new state quarter at your bank. You're going to need them."

As you get to know people through repeat trades and regular correspondence, you can develop real friendships, Norris notes.

"I now have great friends in Bulgaria, Israel, Hong Kong and Vietnam who send me holiday greetings, snapshots of their growing families and news of the current events in their countries," he said. "After the attacks of [Sept. 11, 2001], I received dozens of e-mails from friends around the world, expressing their sympathies."

How to get started

Several resources will help you begin exchanging coins with other collectors.

Perhaps the most thorough is the guide written by Androulakis and Marcel Zumstein, maintained at www.fleur-de-coin.com/trade/tradefaq.html.

Androulakis provides an exhaustive guide for would-be traders at this site.

The site addresses how to find collectors who are willing to trade (and which ones to avoid), and what are "good manners" when exchanging coins. The guide gives tips on how to package the coins, as well as what type of postal services to use.

The site is born of Androulakis' experiences trading coins through the mail.

In 1997 Androulakis began building his first Web site, which mentioned his hobby. He added information about his collection and soon found coin collectors with whom he started exchanging coins, he said.

The Internet expanded his numismatic world dramatically; until he went online, the only coin exchanges Androulakis took part in were those with a friend a block away, he said.

The proportions of his trades inverted though, and soon 99 percent of his exchanges were facilitated through the Internet.

He added sections to the Web site to assist others in being as successful with trades as he was.

Finding people to trade with

Though Androulakis has stopped exchanging coins due to lack of time, his site remains a literal, and virtual, clearinghouse for collectors searching for people to trade with.

Androulakis said: "There is a thriving coin collectors community online. There are literally thousands of coin collectors who are in the habit of exchanging coins using the Internet."

A database on this site provides links to numerous lists and e-mail addresses of bona fide traders.

It is found at www.fleur-de-coin.com/trade/coincollectorslist.asp.

As with any online endeavor, collectors should be cautioned about potentially negative experiences with would-be traders.

Androulakis said: "There is a trust issue there (exchanging coins with people you will never actually meet)." His site includes links to numerous databases of people collectors should avoid exchanging coins with.

Some people could have added to such "black lists" unjustly, either for spite or by mistake, but "finding someone's name in several different lists is a serious indication that he is not to be trusted," according to the site.

Androulakis has created a five-star rating system for his database of collectors, "because there have been incidents with ... well ... thieves. I hope [the evaluation system] will enable people to start exchanging higher value coins," he said.

Simplifying the process

To simplify your trading endeavor, you should create a list of coins that you're offering for trade. Many collectors list coins by nation, date, denomination and by the catalog number assigned by the Standard Catalog of World Coins by Chester Krause and Clifford Mishler.

Unless otherwise stated, most collectors are assuming the coins you're trading are lightly circulated or otherwise "acceptable." If they are heavily worn or have defects, be sure to indicate that.

At the top of the list, include contact information and any explanation of symbols, colors or definitions you may have used.

Androulakis suggests creating an ASCII text version of the file, instead of using Microsoft Word, Excel or HTML.

"It produces very small files which can be viewed by non-commercial programs on all digital platforms, and it doesn't carry any viruses like the proprietary document formats mentioned," he said.

If your list is in another format, you can export it to plain or ASCII text. You could also offer your trading partner a choice of formats.

If the file is too large, break it up alphabetically, by region or even topic.

Make sure you actually have all the coins you say you do.

"Finding out you are missing a couple of coins after you have reached an agreement could cause a great inconvenience and it's irresponsible," Androulakis advises.

He suggests a Web-based e-mail account like those offered by Yahoo or Hotmail, because you won't have to change it even if you change your Internet service provider.

Collectors should have a working knowledge of a widespread language like English, he said. Online translation services are available to assist those with language barriers, but the text can sometimes be unreadable or hard to comprehend.

Once you've met those requirements, you can begin trading.

Good trading manners

Use the lists of collectors that trade coins to find one that might work. If the collectors have posted a list of available coins, check that against any "wish list" you may have to see if it's worth contacting them.

Be brief. If your list of coins for trade is short, you may consider including it, but otherwise you should simply mention that a list is available.

In stating what you want, too, be specific and brief. Focus on the exchange.

Androulakis said: "We don't need to know anything about you, your past, education, occupation, etc. If someone asks you for this [information], then by all means, give it to him; otherwise try to stick to the point."

Many of the "good manners" suggested by Androulakis relate to e-mail: Don't send large e-mails, and don't flood potential traders with mass e-mails. Don't send large attachments, unless requested.

Respond to e-mails quickly, even if it's simply to decline a trade offer.

Packing, shipping coins

One of the major issues with using the Internet to trade coins is trust, Androulakis said.

Once the trade is confirmed, send the coins promptly. Waiting for your coins to arrive before sending out the coins you're trading is a precarious linchpin in the trading process; if you're both waiting for the other coins to arrive, the deal will die very quickly, he said.

You may have a "bad feeling/indication" about a transaction, so if you wait to receive the coins before sending yours out, Androulakis said, it is sometimes fair to send your coins using an express service to make up for some of the delay. "It will cost more, but why should the other person ‘pay' for your own mistrust?" his site reasons.

Coins should be packaged securely for shipping to protect them from being jostled, and to conceal contents from possible thieves.

Don't use tape directly on the coins, and wrap the coins carefully, making sure they won't slide out from packaging. Specially made corrugated mailing inserts work the best for small packages.

Bubble mailers, while excellent at concealing the packages' content, may be excluded from certain U.S. mail classes, the site said.

Before sending a package, give it a good shake, testing for sounds that would indicate coins unsecured.

Sending packages outside of the United States requires a customs form. Androulakis' site suggests using a vague description, like "hobby supplies," so as to avoid theft and possible postal restrictions. "The U.S. has postal restrictions against sending coins or currency to many countries, but the postal agents seem quite content to deliver ‘hobby supplies,' " the site said.

Deciding which service level to use is an important decision, the site said.

As noted earlier, an express mail delivery may make sense in an instance where you've waited to receive coins first, or if you've been otherwise delayed.

If the value or number of coins being traded is large, registered mail is sometimes necessary, though that can significantly increase the price.

The final note, the site said, is, once you've received the coins, to notify and thank the sender.

All of these guidelines fall under the Golden Rule: treat other collectors as you want to be treated. That, and some common sense, will go a long way in creating a positive coin trading experience.

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