By Lianna Spurrier for CoinWeek …..
When purchasing coins online, most people’s go-to venue will be eBay or one of the major auction houses. There are well-established marketplaces with large offerings, and these are (especially when looking for something specific) usually the best option.
However, with the rise of social media, new marketplaces have developed. Facebook is widely known among collectors; there are plenty of groups to join with regular auctions and coins for sale. But another avenue that’s just as active, and poses some advantages over Facebook when it comes to building a community, is Instagram.
On any “traditional” site that sells coins, being able to search is a ubiquitous function. No one would ever be expected to scroll through the thousands upon thousands of eBay listings to look for one specific piece. On Instagram, there is no functional search. You can try searching for certain tags, but it isn’t very effective. The only way to find pieces for sale is to scroll.
If you’re only interested in very specific things, maybe this isn’t the place for you. However, if your interests are broader, or if you simply want to learn more, then it’s an invaluable resource.
On Instagram, you’re exposed to a wide variety of coins that you may not have been interested in previously and will learn an incredible amount rather quickly. Occasionally, you’ll stumble on that special piece you’ve been searching for, commonly at a very good price.
Because it’s a smaller user pool than eBay or major auction houses, there are commonly very good deals to be found.
Even more likely to be home to excellent deals are live auctions. Some sellers will periodically host live auctions over Instagram with comparatively few participants. Only the people who tune in during the auction can participate – there is no bidding before it opens. While you won’t find $20,000 coins being sold this way, there are some interesting items to be found. If the small audience isn’t particularly interested in a coin, you’re likely to get a very good deal on it.
If scrolling through your feed and hoping to come across something you’re interested in isn’t for you, there are plenty of other users willing to help you out. For example, a user putting together a set of toned Lincoln cents frequently asks others to tag him in the comments of any pieces for sale that might fit his collection. If he purchases one, whoever tagged him in that post receives a small finder’s fee. It’s hard to find a toned Lincoln post that he hasn’t been tagged in, so he has a steady stream of relevant posts picked out for him by other users.
One concern may be the reliability of buying and selling over a platform like this. There isn’t a larger company overseeing transactions, so it is a bit riskier. However, it’s also self-policing; sellers who don’t ship quickly or don’t live up to their promises are quickly called out. Reliable sellers are pretty easily identifiable by a large following and the high quantity of pieces for sale.
In general, joining for a month, following a lot of other coin accounts, and watching their posts, stories, etc., should give you a good idea about who the serious sellers are and who aren’t. In addition, you can always request references before buying from someone or ask others if they’re trusted.
Community-building is where Instagram shines in comparison to Facebook, for one key factor: anonymity. This may seem counter-intuitive but bear with me.
Many coin accounts have a profile picture that is a coin, and the bio makes no mention of their age or gender. This puts everyone on a level playing field, and a person’s knowledge and expertise can be judged only by what they post. Friends are made based on shared interests, and sellers become respected based on their conduct and knowledge. In fact, some of the most reliable sellers are high schoolers, but they handle themselves such that you’d never know.
It’s no secret that numismatics can struggle to entice both women and those 25 and under. As a member of both groups, I can say from experience that many collectors tend to assume we aren’t overly knowledgeable. In fact, I admit to doing the same thing – it’s human nature. Instagram can remove this bias for all of us and give everyone an equal voice.
The community as a whole is very welcoming to new accounts and eager to grow. Countless people run giveaways, all the way from a single silver Roosevelt dime to the occasional gold piece. With a relatively small pool of participants in a lot of giveaways, winning is a reasonable possibility.
Getting involved is surprisingly easy. The community is eager to grow, so by simply following other coin accounts and posting regularly, you’ll find yourself highly connected pretty quickly.
A Learning Experience
Did you know that Germany minted some porcelain coins in the 1920s?
Or that Phoenician city-states minted dated coins over 2,100 years ago?
Or maybe that a British man in the early 1900s bought an island and began issuing his own (illegal) coinage with a unit called a “Puffin?” Me neither. I learned all of these incredibly random factoids from simply scrolling through Instagram.
No matter what your level of expertise, you’re sure to stumble upon plenty of new information. This results in a much wider knowledge base than if you stay focused on your main area of interest. In addition, most new information is laid out in short posts, giving you just enough to know if you want to dig deeper.
If you’re just starting out, most people are more than happy to explain anything you don’t understand, and it provides a large community to ask questions. Even for the more experienced collector, it can be a good place to get a wide variety of opinions on a piece you own. Whether checking for a certain variety, wanting opinions on grade or whether or not a coin has been cleaned, others are happy to give their opinion.
Aside from getting feedback on your own pieces, it can be a good place to sharpen your grading skills. Many people will post a “Guess the Grade” game, showing a graded coin but hiding the label. Others comment on what grade they think it received, and, eventually, the original poster will share the official grade.
You may not normally consider Instagram – or social media in general, for that matter – when looking to buy coins, but it provides a unique combination of community and marketplace. You learn while finding new friends in the hobby and coming across some great deals along the way. What more could you ask for?