Rules for Coin Shop Etiquette – As Seen through a Dealer’s Eyes

In three years of working at Southgate Coins in Reno, NV, I have witnessed many instances where customers in the store, through email, or on the phone have not exercised proper “coin shop etiquette.” These offenses can be minor or grievous, and they can show that even if the person considers himself a “seasoned” collector, there are times when he just doesn’t follow the unspoken rules.

From  The Numismatist  - July 1945

From The Numismatist - July 1945

To help you avoid violating proper coin shop protocol, I have provided the following guidelines for you to use when visiting your local coin shop:

  1. Don’t try to act smarter than the coin shop owner (or his assistants) – Chances are, unless you are a retired coin shop owner yourself, you probably don’t know all that goes into the day-to-day operation of the business. Coin dealers are a rugged variety, constantly struggling against economic trends to make the bottom line. The majority of them try hard to please their customers.
  2. Don’t argue about the condition ratings of raw (unslabbed) coins – The key to remember is, if you’re in a coin shop that has raw coins on display, there’s probably a reason why they are still raw. A reputable coin dealer has every opportunity to submit his coins for grading. 
    There are a few reasons why raw coins wind up in the display cases: 1) Some coins just don’t warrant getting slabbed. For instance, if a coin is worth $50 (or less), and the grading fee is $25, it’s probably going to stay raw because the coin dealer can’t justify the extra expense. 2) Some coins have minimal problems (cleaning, damage, etc.) that prevent them from being slabbed. These problems may not be readily apparent, but they will (should) reflect in the dealer’s asking price. 3) Coin dealers need to have raw inventory for raw coin collectors, especially young ones. Not all collectors need PCGS or NGC coins in their sets, some just want to fill Dansco albums.
  3. Don’t wave a Greysheet in a dealer’s face when haggling over price – When a customer comes in and pulls out his Greysheet to compare prices, this sends up a red flag to the coin dealer. Generally, the coins on display in the frontline cases at a coin shop are the shop’s finest quality, retail items (especially the slabbed coins). If you subscribe to the Greysheet, you want to make sure to read the fine print at the bottom: “[The Greysheet] reports the Dealer-to-Dealer wholesale coin market, monitoring all possible transactions and offers to buy and sell coins sight-seen.”
    Basically, if you are in a dealer’s shop, looking at his nice retail coins on display, it is foolish (and arrogant) to refer to prices from a dealer-to-dealer wholesale pricing guide when negotiating.
  4. Don’t walk into one coin shop and tell the owner (or his employees) how wonderful another coin shop is – You don’t do this at other businesses—grocery stores, clothing stores, etc.—why do it at a coin shop? Keep your opinions to yourself or share them with other collectors, but don’t insult a coin shop owner by comparing his store unfavorably to another.
  5. Comparing same-grade coins is NOT comparing apples-to-apples –Often, coins of the same date and mintmark graded the same (even by top grading services), vary greatly in appearance (eye-appeal), wear, luster, and detail. Instead, think of a coin’s grade as you would a car’s mileage. If you have two identical cars that both have 120,000 miles—one in day-to-day trips to-and-from work with maintenance done every 10,000 miles, and the other in rugged, off-road, mud-pit driving, with no oil changes ever—there will be differences in the quality of the vehicles, regardless of the mileage.
  6. Don’t badger a coin shop dealer about his firm prices – If you’re new to the coin shop, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask what the pricing policy is, as this is something that differs from shop to shop. But, if you’re in a shop that states “the prices are as marked” or “the prices are firm,” you won’t get anywhere trying to beg and whine your way to a discount.
  7. If you’re greeted by an employee at a coin shop, don’t demand to speak to the owner – Often, the owner is busy, and the specific reason he has hired help is to assist him with the walk-in customers. To discredit a frontline assistant before you’ve even talked to her is insulting to her and the shop. You might be surprised—some employees can be very knowledgeable, and may even surpass your expectations. If after asking the employee your questions, she determines you need to talk to the owner, it will usually be arranged.
  8. When you bring coins into a coin shop and you’re asked if you’d like to sell them, don’t say “it depends on what you’ll give me.” – To coin dealers, this is obvious. You’re not going to sell if the offer doesn’t seem fair to you. This is why many dealers provide pricing guides and offer to walk their clients through the process of evaluating their collections.
    (A common dilemma for coin dealers is when they ask walk-ins if they want to sell, and hear, “it depends on the price,” and then find out the walk-in has no idea what his coins are worth. How does a person determine if an offer is fair if he hasn’t done his homework or gotten an appraisal? He has nothing on which to base his decision.)
  9. Do not engage in customer-to-customer transactions inside a coin shop (This is a BIG one!) – This is a sure-fire way to get you and your new acquaintance thrown out of a local coin shop. Here’s the scenario: You bring a group of coins into a coin shop, and the coin shop owner says he’s not interested in buying it (for whatever reason). Another walk-in, who has been eavesdropping, goes, “psst, let me see what you have, maybe I can make an offer.”
    Just like that, you and the eavesdropping walk-in have offended the coin shop owner. A coin shop is not a bourse floor. It is an established business. Walk-ins don’t pay the owner rent. Any transactions not involving the coin shop need to move outside.
    Think about it: you wouldn’t go into a Taco Bell and set up your own taco stand. You’d get kicked out of there, too.
  10. Be conscious of the time you spend asking questions – If you know your budget won’t allow a $10,000+ purchase, there’s no need for you to waste the coin shop’s time asking to view such expensive coins, asking what the cheapest price would be, etc... Try to ask questions only on the items you’re truly interested in. And don’t beat a dead horse to death asking the coin shop’s employees what direction the price of gold is headed. Come to the coin shop to get educated, but be respectful of the owner and his employees’ time.
  11. If you call on the phone and a coin shop employee says she will call you back with an answer to your inquiry, don’t keep calling every half hour to check on her progress. – This doesn’t benefit either party. You will still get your answer—when the employee gets her answer and calls you back.
  12. Be courteous – This sounds simple, but it’s the golden rule. A coin shop isn’t going to go the extra mile for you (reduce prices, check the back vaults for inventory, give you a good education, etc.) if you are rude from the get-go. Reputable coin shops pay their employees to provide you with excellent customer service. You should give them the respect they deserve—even if they are not the final experts to whom you will eventually talk. We have a motto at Southgate Coins, which applies to owner-to-employee relationships, employee-to-employee relationships and employee-to-customer relationships: “You’ll receive like treatment for like behavior and like attitude.”

I hope these twelve basic guidelines give you a better understanding of what coin shops go through on a daily basis, and how the coin shop owners wish their customers would act. These dealers struggle daily to provide customers with a friendly, knowledgeable, and expansive numismatic shopping environment. It’s a tough business that can be very rewarding—both for the dealers and their customers. Let us just all try to get along.

By Maya Roberts