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Suggested Form Proved Too Costly
By F. Michael Fazzari, Numismatic News
October 16, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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In a “Viewpoint” published in the July 30 edition of this paper, J.D. Roberts expressed a common problem many collectors face with regard to grading coins and professional grading services. He believes that the grading services should explain the grades they assign to coins. Let me answer his question as to why they do not. I don’t speak for any grading service here, although I have worked at five of them, including all the majors except for the Professional Coin Grading Service.

Roberts made some good points. Grading is based on “eye appeal” and “condition.” Grading is subjective. “It’s a fact that we all see things differently and have different opinions. Some have problems seeing things, and some should have their eye glasses checked more often.”

He also believed that the top grading companies have different grading methods and grading descriptions (standards).

Now let’s address his main concern: “… there should be strict guidelines for the grading of coins and we, the collectors, should be aware of these guidelines and be given a written, detailed summary by the grading company as to the problems they found with each of your coins.”

Roberts stated that the Red Book came to be the basis that collectors use to determine the condition of their coins. That may have been close to the truth before Photograde and the ANA’s Grading Guide were published decades ago, but times have changed.

Today, with few exceptions, the criteria for grading found in the Red Book are not very detailed. That’s because the Red Book is more of a basic guide to coin types, values and mintages. I believe every collector should own a copy and read it, but there are other, more up-to-date value guides published weekly.

Collectors also have access to more detailed grading guides than the Red Book. I have four of these books on my desk and I use them. The internet provides other sources. For example, the PCGS website has a photographic representation of graded coins as a guide.

Roberts use of the Red Book rather than an acceptable grading guide to evaluate his coins leads me to believe that some of his coins received lower grades than he expected when they were slabbed. In fairness to Roberts, it must be said that anyone can find examples of overgraded, undergraded, and correctly graded coins in the millions of slabs that now exist. Despite this, most undergraded examples are upgraded eventually so the majority of slabs are commercially acceptable.

As for his statement that different grading standards are used at the major services, I don’t find that to be entirely true. If we allow for changing market conditions and the small tighter/looser gyrations this may cause, the plain truth is that the major grading services basically grade the same. However, the perceived value of coins in the same grade is often different depending on which grading service’s slab it is in.

Any older numismatist can tell that coin grading has evolved in the past and continues to change so that it has become less strict with regard to standards and some applications. Perhaps that is one reason the major grading services tend not to publish detailed descriptions of their standards.

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It is unfortunate that Roberts received shabby treatment from an employee of a major grading service that does not cater to collectors. If true, the reply of: “It’s our opinion and no explanation is neededgiven in response to his questions hurts both the collector and the hobby.

I believe another disservice was done by the person who told Roberts that you cannot distinguish the difference between a MS/PR-69 grade and an MS/PR-70 assigned by a major grading service. That is just not true. An MS/PR-70 coin is perfect with great eye appeal, luster and strike. Using magnification, there should be no marks, no hairlines, no spots, no stains and no defects. Although some graders may disregard the tiny “as made” imperfections as made at the Mint, I personally would not want a coin graded “perfect” to have any imperfections – Mint made or not.

Should a grading service tell a collector how they reached their opinion? Probably not. That’s because it’s not practical, unless you want to pay dearly for it. Let me relate a little known fact to all you 40 to 50-something collectors reading this.

At the first third-party grading service, the International Numismatic Society’s Authentication Bureau located in Washington, D.C., one optional, extra-cost service we provided was called “In-Depth Grading.” I’ve illustrated both sides of the original report that I designed and completed for our customers who requested this service tier. I think one of these reports, offered more than 36 years ago, would satisfy Roberts’ requirements, but it is time consuming to make and not cost effective for a grading service receiving several thousand coins a week. Nevertheless, should he choose to contact me at Numismatic News, I’ll write one up for his coin in question.

As for purchasing blank slabs and grading coins by the Red Book or any way you wish, it has been done for years by all of the “fly-by-night” grading services. Unfortunately for collectors, you’ll have no idea of what you’ll get. Stick with the major grading services that guarantee their product.

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