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Overview

Ka-ching! 'Collectible' money costs big bucks

Last reviewed: June 2011
Ad for gilded $2 bills
Dubious deal
The ad says that these gilded bills are "a real steal."

You'll be one of the "really smart ones," says the ad from a company called World Reserve Monetary Exchange, if you pay $144 (plus $6.88 shipping, handling, and "vault processing") for three "seldom seen full uncut sheets of never circulated $2 bills." Each sheet, in a sleeve, has four bills, for a face value of ... $24.

It's just one of many currency offers that suggest you're getting a great deal when you're not. In fact, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) sells similar sheets of new bills for $63, including shipping. (A source at the BEP said the higher-than-face-value charge is for the novelty of frameable uncut sheets and "some overhead involved to get the product out.")

The list goes on: A company offers sheets of 32 $1 bills for $73 (available from the BEP for $55). How about $56.90 for a 1921 Morgan silver dollar claimed to have been discovered in a Midwest farm cellar? Its value: about $27. Another company charges $9.98 for a coin with an image of President Obama.

It's unlikely that many of those "investments" will skyrocket in value. "If an Obama coin is something you want for personal reasons, great," says Jay Beeton, marketing and public relations director for the American Numismatic Association. "But if you are buying it because you think you are going to be rich, I think you are going to be sadly disappointed."

That's especially true for anyone who buys the hype that may come with those promotions: certificates of authenticity, restrictions on how much you can buy, company names that include "mint" or "reserve," and pictures of federal landmarks.

In March, the St. Louis Better Business Bureau warned consumers about two Texas companies, United States Rare Coin & Bullion Reserve and United States Coin and Gold Reserve, whose ads picture the U.S. Capitol. "These seem to be typical bait-and-switch ads," the bureau said, "where the salesmen use the bullion offer to convince callers to buy higher-grade, so-called collector coins at highly inflated prices."

What to do

That ad for the $2 bills says, "We're bracing for all the calls." Our advice: Don't dial. Just because money is old or in great shape doesn't mean it's valuable or even worth the price a company is charging.

  • Find out how much you'll actually pay. A company might say that the currency is free but charge for a display case—a Collectors Coin Chest, in one ad, that you can "claim" for $9.
  • Don't assume you're dealing with the U.S. government. If you're considering a current government coin or bill, check the federal site, at www.moneyfactorystore.gov.
  • Don't feel special. The ad for the $2 bill says that the offer is limited to the first 10,537 people who order and that they must live within a listed range of ZIP codes. The list includes virtually every ZIP code in the 34 states in which the bills are offered.
  • Learn about currency before you invest. The American Numismatic Association recommends "A Guide Book of United States Coins," "A Guide Book of United States Paper Money," and the "Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 1928 to Date."