4. Anticipate What a Buyer Might Want or Need to Know.
When I began writing coin descriptions my instructor explained one simple company rule. The description must contain all the information the customer might need to make a well informed purchase. Making optimistic assumptions concerning any customer's knowledge or access to reference materials can hinder sales. The experts will forgive you for repeating facts they already know. They will also recognize sellers who provide false or misleading information. If you really don't know much about what you are selling don't pretend otherwise.
When providing information use a standardized format for each description. Following this plan will also enable you to work quickly and avoid forgetting to mention something important. Like a newspaper article, your description should begin with a “headline” of sorts that can be read at a glance. Don't expect the customer to read half of your description before determining if you are selling a dollar or a twenty-five cent piece.
5. Refine Your Sales Pitch
My experience has been that when reading coin descriptions customers expect to be given an optimistic appraisal tempered with honesty. I wouldn't expect the seller to tell me the surfaces of a bronze coin include black corrosive spots that mar the surfaces. That the coin has a few “carbon flecks” delivers the same message without ignoring such flaws.
As expected, the tendency of many coin describers is to inflate the purchaser's expectations by including unsubstantiated verbiage. For many years this nonsense has worked to sell coins primarily to customers who lack the experience necessary to distinguish an “awesome”, “stunning” or “monster” coin from an average one. These consumers want to believe the $20 coin they are buying is at least scarce if not rare. If your intent is to profit by deceiving customers then there is no reason for you to continue reading. I have no tips to offer.
If building a positive reputation matters then it is probably best to avoid stating what you know is not true or can't substantiate. In my opinion, it is acceptable to reference your experience when this may provide insight. For example, if you have handled ten 1948 dollars in the MS-63 grade and this one has the strongest eye appeal that might be worth mentioning. To suggest the potential customer will never encounter a “nicer” example for the grade is totally presumptuous and foolish.
Opinions and observations should always appear at the end of the description. If you are serious about using print or electronic media to sell coins then doing all you can to avoid having a coin returned should be incorporated in your description. For example, let's say I'm trying to sell a 1948 Canadian silver dollar that easily deserves a MS-63 grade but has a rim nick. It should be obvious that someone who may be interested in buying a coin of this grade and value will also be aware that rim nicks have a negative influence on desirability. The flaw must be mentioned but can be done while reminding the reader that your asking price has been reduced to compensate. Another positive approach to use when describing coins is to remind the reader that certain flaws are in keeping with the grade. A MS-60 silver dollar is expected to have some fairly heavy contact marks and light scratches are typically found on Fine grade large cents. Some may disagree. I think it is suitable to mention a coin is well struck even if a sharp strike is normal for the issue.
As touched on previously, it is often a good policy to be viewing the photo you will use while writing the description. Apparently this is not a common practice for some major dealerships or auction houses. Too often the picture is telling me one thing and the words something else. Ideally, the written description and the photo are combined to provide an informative presentation.
While not directly related to creating coin descriptions, it's worth noting that what you say about the grade and how you grade the coin can have a major influence on successful sales and generating repeat business. A common and predictable tendency is to over grade coins. There are many times when intentionally under grading a coin is the best policy. Such a practice makes sense when the difference between adjacent grades is slight. For example, when offering a circulated 1892 cent I may decide that the coin barely deserves the VF grade. Because the difference in value between a Fine and VF is slight it would be far better to simply describe the coin as a strong Fine. Doing so would cost little in the way of profit and should result in pleasing a customer. It is interesting to note that in the numismatic marketplace over grading a coin is considered a greater sin than over pricing. The seller who uses conservative grading standards but asks “too much” for their coins will end up generating more business than one who over grades but sells at bargain prices.
I once made the silly mistake of providing a grade for each of twenty ten cent pieces I was selling as a lot. The coins were all typical average circulated examples. The lot was returned because the customer though two of the coins I'd specifically graded as VF were no better than Fine. Had I offered the coins as average circulated he would not have had reason to take exception. Offering a grade range such as VF to EF for a mixed lot can also be a good way to avoid returns. It is always wise to avoid making unnecessary claims.
6. Descriptions Do Matter.
Because I was writing coin descriptions long before photographs or scans were standard equipment, I still think words matter. I can recall numerous times when a coin failed to sell until the description was slightly changed. I'm confident the manual I produced on how to write descriptions that sell coins dramatically increased sales for one coin company. If your intent is to sell coins using print or electronic media I would strongly suggest you spend some time refining your descriptive skills. In face to face transactions it may be true that good coins sell themselves. This is not always the case when using other marketing methods.