Many important numismatic transactions occur based solely on the acceptance of digital images. That means that if I sell something to a collector I am just going to tell him the asking price and send him a front and back image of the bank note. I am a dealer so I will be sure to accurately describe the condition and point any issues that may not be obvious at first glance. I am of course aware that if I misrepresent the note that it will get returned and I will have wasted everyone’s time. However, what happens when you buy something off of eBay or other venue and all the seller has done is show images and described something in a non-certain term like “nice” or “high grade”? You saw the pictures, so what’s the worst that could happen? Well it is very easy to make a note that is in very fine condition appear to be in AU or better condition. Check out the following example.
I bought this note in the Fall of 2011. The first picture I am showing is the scan that the seller sent me. I think that 99 out of 100 dealers would agree that the note appears to be at least XF. Most dealers would consider it AU. I have seen some notes in similar condition grade as high as a 63. Mind you, the person selling this to me wasn’t trying to misrepresent the condition. He simply put the note on a flatbed home scanner and sent the image to me.
The note came in the mail and I could immediately tell that I was certainly not dealing with an XF or better note. The image below shows what the note looked like as it was lit from the side with an LED flashlight. You can get a much better feel for the condition. So how can the same note look so different? The simple answer is lighting. When you take a scan the light source is directly on top of the bank note. Light folds and bends are not picked up. However, when you light a bank note from the side then all of the ridges and old folds create shadows and it is very easy to spot the wear.
If you are trying to sell a bank note then you want to represent the condition as accurately as possible. Clear digital photos with a natural light source (like near a window) or with a sidelight in a dark room are really going to help show the true condition of the note. As a dealer I can always pay more money when I feel confident about the condition of the item I am buying.