Many members on numismatic forums and NGC / PCGS Registry users seem to think that no good coin has ever come from eBay. This is a very elitist statement, but it is also factually incorrect. eBay is the single largest coin seller in the world, and at any given time there is upwards of 200,000 TPG graded coins. If you included raw (ungraded) coins, the number are mind-boggling. If you are like me and only consider coins approved by CAC, eBay still has a massive selection, currently listing nearly 5,000 CAC certified coins! This is a large and varied coin smorgasbord, with plenty to offer any low-end, high-end, or niche collector needs. NOTE: This post is not meant to disparage traditional coin dealers.
In my opinion, a collector who totally ignores eBay is doing themselves a great disservice by excluding this avenue. If you have a legitimate reason for avoid eBay that is one thing, but mostly I hear people complain about eBay who are perpetuating false myths or simply just don't know how to use the service. I want to dispel some of the myths, not to help promote the eBay brand, but to help fellow collectors get accurate information and perhaps evolve there thinking on eBay offers numismatics. Essentially, I consider eBay an artificial "coin dealer". Below I offer suggestions to help maximize your experience and minimize the time needs to locate quality (problem-free) coins.
In terms of convenience, eBay is just about a perfect coin seller. You can search hundreds of thousands of coins from the comfort of just about anywhere in the world you want to be. For the most part, eBay offers a consistent user experience, and everything is optimized to make your buying experience safe, easy, efficient, and repeatable. The only other seller that comes close to selection and ease of use is Heritage Auctions (www.ha.com).
This does not mean there are not issues on eBay; certainly there are bad sellers trying to take advantage of the eBay marketplace. There are eBay sellers listing items that they don't know enough about, or don't provide full disclosure, or are rude, or are excessively overpriced. But the same can be said for traditional coin dealers. One of the primary upsides to buying coins online through eBay or one of the larger Auction Companies are the advanced search, filtering, sorting, listed prices, and detailed coin images. Few traditional dealers offer all these features.
eBay buyers should follow common-sense rules to have pleasant buying experiences. Below I outline what I do for my own collection and hope that you able to use these in your own coin hunting. These suggestions may not work for you, and please don't consider this an exhaustive guide on eBay. My goal is to demonstrate that eBay is not only a legitimate source for quality coins, it can in fact be an EXCELLENT source of coins.
At the time of this writing in September 2014, I have 66 coins in my CAC Type Set, and of those, eBay was the single largest source for a total of 23 coins. I may be biased, but I think all the coins in my Set have superior eye appeal, are problem-free, and have a good chance of maintaining or appreciating in value over the long term. I am by no means a talented coin-grader, and I don't have the years of knowdlege that most coin dealers posses, nonetheless, I routinely safely buy coins from eBay. Please dispel from your mind the notion that eBay only lists over-priced problem coins for naïve collectors. I'll repeat, 35% of my coins came from eBay!
Buy only NGC or PCGS graded coins.
Buy only coins from sellers in the USA.
Buy only coins that accept Paypal as a payment method.
Avoid coins with known problems (no genuine or "details" TPG coins).
Avoid sellers that have not completed at least 50 recent sales (50 feedbacks).
Avoid sellers with low ratings. Anything below 98% feedback is "low".
Avoid sellers that are listing items outside their specialty. (don't buy coins from a dress-maker)
Avoid listings that are selling 1 of XXX items. Coins are unique, all listings should show the exact coin you are bidding / buying.
Avoid sellers who consistently have errors in their listing Title, Body, or Item Specifics. (you will start to see patterns)
(mostly) Avoid coins that have prices too-good-to-be-true. As always, there are exceptions.
(mostly) Avoid coins that have bad coin photos.
Avoid listings that are lacking full NGC / PCGS slab photos.
Avoid sellers that don't use complete sentences, or proper English. (If they can't type a few coherent sentences, you don't want to waste your time and money.)
Avoid listings showing damaged TPG holders, cracked, chipped, deep-scratches, or a covered in 10 years of sticker glue. (unless it's an exceptionally scarce coin, your better off waiting for the next one)
Some of my eBay purchases
Learn To Use eBay Search
On eBay, there is searching, and then there is searching. I for one, can't even imagine wading through thousands of auctions without knowing how to used the advanced eBay search and filtering. Here are the basics:
Quotation marks: Searches for the exact word or phrase
Parentheses around keywords separated by commas: Acts as an OR operator
Minus sign (-): Acts as a NOT operator
These search terms can be strung together, with multiple instances of each, but keep in mind there is a max number of characters that the eBay search box allows for, after that it will get truncated and ignored, or sometimes there will be an error and no results are returned. For example, say you wanted to search for CAC coins, but exclude Morgan and Peace dollars, you would type this into eBay search box:
How about a CAC coin from 1880 or 1881, excluding Morgan and Peace dollars:
cac (1880,1881) -(morgan,peace)
How about a CAC coin from 1880 or 1881, that is also a proof coin, excluding Morgan and Peace dollars:
cac proof (1880,1881) -(morgan,peace)
If I were to translate that search, it would read: I only want to see coins that are CAC approved AND proofs, from year 1880 OR 1881, and exluding any Morgan OR Peace Dollars.
A good boilerplate for eBay searches would be:
From there, customize as needed, adding keyword(s), dates, price ranges, etc to narrow down until you hit a sweet-spot of removing unwanted items and false-positives, without being too restricted to the point of no results.