If you were a frequent eBay silver buyer like me, you might feel a little shell-shocked looking at the latest prices for staples like American Eagles, Canadian Maples, and the Austrian Philharmonic. That’s because silver is no longer dirt cheap (now it’s just cheap, minus the dirt) and I haven’t seen mega-sellers with any big inventories for 1oz coins. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I remember guys putting up 100 1-ounce Philharmonics at $19/oz and just sitting there for a week or two before they needed to reload. Nowadays, you won’t find any 1oz silver for under $40/oz on eBay unless you’re putting some time and effort into it.
If you’re having trouble finding good buys on eBay, here are some items to put you on the right track. This list is by no means definitive, but should prove helpful if you’re just getting started buying silver on eBay. I almost exclusively use eBay for buying silver nowadays, with only occasional visits to the coin shop where I usually leave – disappointed – because they don’t have any silver left.
- Get a Krause Standard Catalog of World Coins. It covers 1901-2000, and there are editions for later coins. It’s a heavy, expensive book, but it’s invaluable to searching for lesser-sought silver. Some older editions have CDROMs included, making it much easier to manage. When you see auctions that have a ‘KM #’ listed by them, they’re referring to the Krause identifier. It’s worth the money to know what’s out there. If you don’t have this or something similar, you are working with a major disadvantage to others.
- In a quick-rising market (like silver tends to be), save some sellers that have big eBay stores. Most likely, they won’t be able to update their prices fast enough. My thinking is that most of them fix their prices to a premium they like, maybe 15% above spot when they list the item. If they’ve got 100 or 200 items in their stores, 20 or 30 of which are silver coins, chances are they aren’t going listing-by-listing and updating the prices. I had a saved seller from a month ago with a lot of interesting silver that was too much above the market for me at the time. When I checked his stuff out recently, a lot of the prices hadn’t moved! When I did a ‘Buy It Now’ and grabbed a few ounces, I ended up getting a couple bucks below spot. When I checked back on the auction a few hours later, he had already raised the price by $2/oz.
- You need to stray from your comfort zone. When silver was mired under $15/oz, I didn’t need to go out and buy ‘exotic’ silver from some island nation I’ve never heard of. That’s because the brand-name pieces were widely available and relatively cheap. Today, though, you have to do the homework and get what you can. When I first got into coin collecting, everyone told me to avoid the obscure pieces because of the belief that the market was limited for their value. As far as numismatic value, I completely agree. Silver value, on the other hand, is much easier to market. It has no nationality. Would it be hard to sell someone on some cupronickel ‘rare’ coin from Vanuatu? Absolutely. Would it be hard to sell someone on the very same coin if it were made of silver? Hardly. If it’s in Krause, if its got silver, and the seller doesn’t want a monster premium for it, they’ve got a market.
- Try not to bid. I know that might sound counter intuitive, but bidding screws up your hopes of getting cheaper silver. For starters, interest draws interest. I think that some people, mostly casual buyers, are reluctant to be the first bid on some items, especially ones you’d need Krause to confirm. If there are no bids, some people may assume there’s something ‘wrong’ with the item and pass on it. Conversely, lots of bids, for some reason, appear to be validation in the eyes of some buyers. That explains why there are ’100 mills’ (silver plated) bars on eBay going for $35 with plenty of bids, even though the bars are worth a fraction of that. When you see initial bids, they’re often not maximum bids anyway. Ever see an auction for something you know is worth $100 that starts at $0.99? If you’ve ever bid on these, you probably just threw in the minimum bid for the hell of it just in case the universe aligns and no one else sees the auction. That mentality comes into play below.
- Snipe, snipe, snipe. So you’ve got the item in your sights, there are no or low bids, and the auction is going to end within minutes. Time to lock and load. Within a few seconds of the close (make sure to give yourself enough time to place the bid, confirm, and allow some latency), put in your best bid. Because you won’t have a second chance, you’ll need to bid true to what you’d really pay. If there’s just a lone bidder, there’s a great chance they went low early on and really didn’t set up a true proxy. These guys are ripe for the snipe. As they watch the final few seconds tick away excited to get a mega discount, you’ve put in your ‘true’ bid, easily trumping theirs, and leaving them no time to raise. When you do so, you might be surprised to see how low their ceiling actually was. A month ago I found a terrific piece bidding just $105 on only a couple of bids with 15 minutes left. Within the last minute, I put in a bid for $140, which was about 10% equivalent under spot. As the auction closed, it ticked up to just under $120 leaving me the winner with an amazing 23% difference to spot. Where else you going to get that kind of break?
- Make offers make sense. Some listings are fixed Buy It Now-style with the option to make an offer. If the Buy It Now price is too much of a premium (and a lot of times it is), the seller is really just soliciting an offer with the added chance of someone actually paying the premium. In my opinion, the best times to make an offer is right as the auction is listed (you can search for newly listed items with best offer options) and right before the listing ends. As they are listed, you might catch someone who is desperate for some cash who will take a reasonable offer for a quick sale. As the listing ends, you might be the last chance the seller has to liquidate. That said, don’t get too cute. If the Buy It Now is actually reasonable enough, offering and waiting for the response is just giving someone else time to pull the trigger.
- Consolidate Shipping. The price of everything is going up, and shipping is no exception. Paying $4 for shipping on a $37 coin means silver has to hit $41/oz for you to break even. If you could buy two coins, though, and have the seller pop them in the same padded envelope, you’d only need silver at $39/oz to break even. A lot of sellers will combine shipping in some fashion; some will offer cheaper rates for each individual item, and others will offer the additional items for free. After all, shipping (4) 1oz coins from California to New York only costs $1.79 via snail mail and under $5 with priority mail. The seller doesn’t lose a whole lot by combining shipping, but they might gain our business by doing it. When in doubt, ask.
- Milk promotions. There are all sorts of ways to trim some of your costs down, even with the beloved Bing Cashback gone. Are you using eBay bucks? If not, you’re missing out on a quarterly 2% cashback on your eBay purchases. How about FatWallet? That’s another 1% payout per purchase (yes, in addition to the eBay bucks!). How about the $15 eBay Gift Card for $7 that Groupon is offering for the next few days? If you were buying $100 of silver at spot today, you can get your cost down to under $90 without breaking a sweat. It all ads up.
Got your own suggestion for buying silver on the cheap? Let us know in the comments!