An Interview with Numismatic legend Douglas Winter

Famed Numismatic Author & Southern Gold Expert Partners with Coinfully

An Interview with Numismatic legend Douglas Winter

Nov 14th, 2023 · 6 min read

Celebrated professional numismatist Douglas Winter has joined Coinfully as Chief Numismatic Advisor.

He has a storied career in coin collecting and dealing – he began collecting coins at age seven, and by the time he was ten he was buying and selling coins at conventions in and around New York City.

He took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us about his career so far, how he first crossed paths with Coinfully’s founders Travis and Wyatt McDonald, his new role and his hopes for the future.

What drew you into the world of numismatics?

I was very interested in history from an extremely early age and I think either my mother or grandfather had some old coins that I looked at and that got me kind of interested.

Back when I was a kid, I grew up in New York City and that was a real hotbed of coin collecting. There were coin shops all over the place and I quickly learned that if I could buy a coin at one coin shop for five dollars, I could walk across the street and sell it for eight or ten dollars.

That quickly turned me from being a collector into more of a dealer. Making money in that way was great but I developed a love of coins from an early age. Even today, I get a real thrill from the coins themselves – the stories, the history, the market – it’s all pretty fascinating.

There used to be these one-day coin fairs in New York at hotels and I would take tables at some of those coin shows. You couldn’t take a table until you were 18 so initially I would work as an assistant for a couple of different dealers. And I was able to get a pretty early start because New York had such a thriving coin environment back in the 1970s.

And that love of coins has stayed with you ever since?

I think it’s genetic. I think you’re either born to do this or you’re not. Just like a soccer player doesn’t learn how to play at age 18, he or she is fully formed by the time they’re eight or nine years old.

It’s just something that I excelled at from a very early age and I think if you ask most coin dealers in the US or the UK they’d tell you they had a pretty similar experience.

Very few people enter this profession in middle age. You pretty much enter at an early age or occasionally somebody makes a conversion from a collector to a dealer, but most people are pretty hands-on dealers from the time they’re in their mid-teens or even earlier.


So this was a side hustle for you to start with, while you were still at school?

Yes, it was a side hustle. I knew from an early age I was going to go to university so even though I wanted to quit school at 16 or 17, I went to school and then upon graduation, went to work for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, TX.

I started my own company in 1985 and I quickly decided I wanted to be a specialist rather than a generalist and so I decided to specialize at a pretty early point in rare United States gold coinage. I just figured I wanted to be really good at one thing rather than just mediocre to good at a number of things. Since making that decision, I’ve been specializing in choice and rare pre-1933 US gold coinage.


Why did you specialise in gold?

At that time, gold seemed extremely undervalued. And it just seemed like all the really cool guys collected and dealt with gold. I wanted to be able to go to a coin show carrying one small box of coins, as opposed to the guys that were hauling three lorries full of stuff.

Coin dealing in the 1980s was like the Wild West, there was no transparency and there was no third-party grading. Third-party grading started around 1987, 1988. But before then, it was pretty much unchanged from 50 to 100 years prior.

Third-party grading really helped me because I decided at a pretty early age that I wanted to have a very transparent business. So third-party grading and the advent of the internet were the two things that I think really made my business come together.


What was coin dealing like back in those days?

Pre-third-party grading, you bought coins at one level and sold them at another level. So there was no uniformity of grading standards. So typically when a retail customer bought a coin it was at an inflated grade and when he tried to sell the coin it was usually deflated.

And the internet completely levelled the playing field. It allowed smaller companies like mine to compete against much larger companies because I could make it seem like I had 100 employees when in fact it was myself and an assistant.


And what’s your assessment of the coin market now?

The business has become dominated by the auction companies, but one thing about the coin market that is constantly surprising to me is the different levels, how many layers of the onion there are. There’s wholesalers, there’s retailers, there’s specialized retailers, there’s bullion dealers, there’s telemarketers – there are so many different categories of buyer and seller in this market, I think it’s pretty interesting.

I try to limit my exposure in terms of who I deal with because I prefer an environment that I can control. It’s more difficult to control the environment with somebody I’ve never done business with.


How did you first become aware of Coinfully?

My wife and Travis and Wyatt’s mom have been extremely close for 25 or 30 years. So I’ve known the brothers since they were kids.

It’s been really fun for me to watch their growth. They used to be pages at coin shows when I was in my younger days and they used to clean the glass on my cases or run out and get me coffee.

It’s been amazing and really fun to watch their business grow.


What will you be doing at Coinfully and what makes them a good organization in your eyes?

My role will be to add my numismatic expertise into the mix whenever and wherever it is needed. An advisors’ role is probably the most accurate way to describe it.

Coinfully gives a seller an opportunity to get a fair offer on their collection that wouldn’t be available to 90-plus per cent of the prospective sellers in the coin market.

Typically, when somebody walks into a coin shop or a pawn broker they’re in a situation that favours the buyer rather than the seller.

Coinfully is seeking to level that playing field and they’re doing a very effective job of that.

One of the things I’m excited to do at this point in my career is to get younger people involved in the next generation of guys who are going to step up.

Travis and Wyatt have so much potential and are such good guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have this blending of two generations working together.


What difference does the ability to perform an online coin appraisal make?

Ninety eight per cent of people have no idea what they’re doing with their inherited coins. And in most situations, they’re going to walk into a trap where they sell good stuff for pennies on the dollar.

That’s true even if the seller lives in a major urban area. But most of the people living in the flyover states are probably not going to live anywhere near a reputable dealer. I don’t want to give the impression that every coin dealer is disreputable, that’s not the case at all. It’s just that for most people, there’s not a lot of options out there.

Coinfully’s way of working gives them an option that for many people is going to be by far the best opportunity they’re going to get to sell their coins at fair market value.

Technology is something that most coin firms don’t understand. And one of the things that I really respect about Travis is he understands how to use technology in a way that most coin dealers, myself included, are less savvy with.


What are the warning signs people should look out for with the less reputable collectors?

Buyers who are little bit too anxious, who are a little too pushy, who don’t have any credentials, who aren’t fully capitalized. And a lack of knowledge and experience is always a big giveaway.

In other words, it’s the opposite of Coinfully.

Coinfully’s blend of ethics and technological know-how is intriguing, it’s the root of the company.


Is there a holy grail coin for you that you know is out there but you’ve never seen?

I’ve handled most everything that I’ve really wanted to handle, but I’m not sure that there’s a specific coin.

There’s probably a collection out there that I don’t know about, that I’d love to handle, and that would be something from a collection that was assembled before the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s laying completely untouched and it’s virgin original. That would be probably my goal, just to define something that’s been lying there dormant for 100 to 150 years.


What would your message be to someone who has just inherited their grandpa’s coin collection?

Don’t rush. Don’t panic. Do the research. And let Coinfully help!

The key thing is don’t do anything impulsive and anything that you look back a month afterwards and go ‘Oh, I was really stupid when I did that.’

Do a little bit of research. There’s a lot of good and bad information out there but the good information is there if you look for it. So at the very least, if you inherit a random group of 100 coins, do the research and figure out which are the best two or three.

Also, do enough research to get the seller or the potential buyer excited. The first question I ask somebody when they contact me about having a collection for sale is ‘what’s your best coin?’ If your answer is ‘I have no idea’ I’m going to probably lose interest in your collection fairly quickly.

If you tell me it’s a British sovereign from 1839 and it was acquired by your dad from Spinks in London in 1958 that’s going to be a lot more interesting than telling me your dad pulled it out of a coin machine in a grocery shop in 1997.

So the seller needs to do just a little bit of basic work to help maximize their profit.


Is 2023 a good time for coin collectors?

I think it’s probably one of the best times in history for being a coin collector, because you now have access to information in about three minutes that it took me more than 30 years to assemble. So if you’re willing to put in the work, you can achieve a level of competence that would never have been possible as recently as a decade ago.


And what fuels your motivation to continue in this field?

I just love what I do. I wake up every morning excited to go to work. I’m bummed out on Saturday and Sunday because I can’t make phone calls or get phone calls about coins.

It’s just something that I love. I feel fortunate that I’m one of the few people that does something professionally and am well compensated for doing something that I love doing.

I mean the fact that in my 60s I’m still passionate about what I’m doing says something and I think these guys are going to pick up on some of this passion and hope.


It’s also a hobby for you – what makes the difference between you deciding you’re going to sell something and you squirrelling it away in your own collection?

If it’s something that I look at and immediately want within two or three seconds then I probably want it. And if it makes sense for me to put it away, I’ll put it away. I tend to put away coins for just a couple of years.

I don’t have many coins. In fact, I don’t have any coins that I’ve had for 30 or 40 years.

There are some dealers that have coins that literally date back to their childhood. I’m much more mercenary than that.

I’ve sold everything from my childhood, and even up to my 20s and 30s. But I’ve written a lot of books on coins, and I tend to put away coins that I’m writing my next book on just because I know that the market’s going to go up when my book comes out.

So if I have a few of the coins that are going to be publicized in my book, I know I’ll make money on them.

So it’s not totally altruistic what I’m doing, putting coins away. It’s a market that I understand better than most people so just like if I was an insider in the stock market, I’d buy a lot more stocks or if I was an expert in 18th century British silver I would have a collection probably of 18th century British silver, but I’m an expert in US gold coins so that’s the type of coins that I like to collect just for my own purposes.


And is the Doug of today as thrilled to find something you’ve been looking for or that comes as a nice surprise as that 14-year-old boy on that stall back in New York?

Absolutely. The only difference is when I was a 14-year-old kid, I couldn’t afford any of the US gold coins and now I can actually afford to buy some really pretty cool coins.


Travis McDonald: Having Doug on board means a lot of different things for us. More than anything, it’s validation that what Wyatt and I have made to be our life’s work is on the right track.

We have looked to Doug for many years for support and guidance on topics as diverse as ethics, numismatic attributions and pricing. His wealth of knowledge is the best resource we could possibly have. Now, if we get a collection of pre-1933 US gold, we will be able to bid better than anyone in the entire country because the foremost expert of that material is with us.


Wyatt McDonald: His wealth of knowledge is the best resource we could ever hope for. As he said, the internet has some good information. But I’ll take Doug’s information over what the internet provides 10 times out of 10.

This is, for me, an opportunity to grow as a numismatist in a way that most people simply don’t get. The guidance available to us from Doug running his own successful coin business for more than 40 years is something I’m very excited about.If you have a rare coin or collection you’d like appraised by our expert team of numismatists, get in touch for a free online or in-person appraisal.

Coinfully Writing Team We are passionate about you receiving the best valuation for your collection. Our priority is always to educate collectors on their coins so they can have complete confidence in the decisions they make. Our process is ultra-transparent and undertaken without any pressure – so you can find out what your coins are worth without the stress.

Get an Appraisal

Think you’re onto something big with your collection? Let’s talk…

401 Hawthorne Ln, Ste 110-323 - Charlotte, NC 28204

Image of appraised coins on a table

Don’t put in all the work for an in-person appraisal just to be offered pennies on the dollar.