PCGS - A Rose By Any Other Name?

We deployed a new feedback tool across the site a few days ago - you may have noticed a rather annoying popup box when surfing throughout the site these past few days. If this hasn't been fixed by the time you read this and it's annoying the hell out of you, please use the feedback tool to complain about it as I'm forwarding them all to my web designers - that should get it sorted promptly!

The feedback tool has given me some great material to work with, and interestingly I've had some feedback on a range of issues that I wasn't expecting. One today was like waving a red rag to a bull, and involved the fact that I've had a range of coins slabbed by PCGS recently.

Here's the feedback I got, verbatim from the email: "I query the need for most of the sovereigns to be PCGS rated - surely you of all people don't need "experts" who have grown up with the world's most boring money to grade what are among the world's most exquisite coins. Slabs are an abomination."

Set aside the fact that none of the sovereigns that we have at present have been slabbed by PCGS, and the debatable personal opinion put forward regarding the artistic merits of the coins & currency produced by the US, and we have a rhetorical(?) question regarding my use of the Sheldon grading standard to describe the condition of the coins that I handle, and also my decision to get a few coins graded by PCGS.

I took some time to read the PCGS guide to grading coins last year, and found it to be the best book on coin grading that I've yet come across - hands down! Let me be clear on this however, I do not think it is perfect, nor do I follow it slavishly. I do believe however that it approaches what is a complex topic in a rigorous and thorough manner, and for that reason I reckon it is required reading for any collector, no matter what kind of coin you collect (modern issue collectors need not apply however).

I particularly like the distinctions that PCGS has arrived at between various grades of Mint State coins, and believe them to give a much clearer idea of the condition of a coin than the adjectival system does. This is the reason I use it now - I want to make it as easy as possible for my clients to get a quick appreciation for how I see the condition of the coin.

The reason I chose to send a modest number of coins across to PCGS for their independent assessment is because I can see that this service is starting to gain some traction in the Australian market - I am coming across more and more collectors that are keen to acquire coins graded by PCGS!

Anyone that has been in the market for the past decade or so will have seen "slabbed" Australian coins, coins that have been independently graded by a range of companies. Not all of this work has been productive - I have personally heard horror stories of novice collectors spending tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on slabbed coins, only to find out that the grades stated on the slabs were not universally admired. There are still numerous companies that make an earn out of providing optimistic grades to the coins they "slab", and these coins are invariably sold to novice collectors keen to scoop up a bargain.

In the past 12 months or so however, coins graded by PCGS do seem to be reasonably keenly chased by collectors - novice and expert alike. Newer collectors that may not necessarily have grasped the full set of skills required to accurately and consistently grade the coins they're interested in collecting, appear to have an interest in PCGS coins because they draw comfort in the fact they can buy a PCGS coin and end up with something that is guaranteed genuine, guaranteed to have original surfaces and has been graded to a consistent standard. More experienced collectors like to have their coins independently recognized as being in superior condition - that is a real trophy to get!

Now do I personally want to only buy PCGS graded coins? No! Do I need to buy only PCGS graded coins - absolutely not! Do I think that if I have some coins graded by PCGS it may help to sell them slightly quicker? Yes!

This is what it all comes down to - if PCGS grading helps liquidity in rare coins and sees them turn over more quickly, then I'm all for it. When I look at a coin that is in a PCGS slab, I do actually look at the coin, and only cast a passing glance at the grade attributed to it. This is the same approach I take to coins or note that I see when I'm attending an auction, looking at something in another dealer's window or in a collection presented in my office. I'll make my own assessment of any coin or note that I handle, and that assessment may or may not be the same as that which is attributed to it by PCGS! Coins that I've sent across to PCGS have come back graded differently to that which I had given - some were a point higher, most were the same, some were a point lower. This doesn't necessarily concern me as the grades attributed are PCGS grades - they are a reflection of how the good people at PCGS see those coins in relation to their published standard, no more or no less. Now or at any time in the future, I can choose to view my own coins against the PCGS standard, or I can continue to view them against the adjectival standard.

As for people that object to slabs, let's remember the wise words of William Shakespeare, himself an Englishman, the very nationality that produced "what are among the world's most exquisite coins":

"Tis but thy name that is my enemy; —
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other word would smell as sweet
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title: — Romeo, doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself."

 For those of you that "hate" slabs; have a homophobic paranoia about anything that remotely resembles poetry and have a healthy disdain for androgenous youth prancing about in tights crying about lost love, I'll take some liberty here and attempt to paraphrase what our mate Shakey Bill may have been attempting to say here, were Juliet talking about coins: a coin is a coin, regardless of the packaging it may be in, regardless of the grade that may be attributed to it by one person or another. Sure, some collectors may prefer or even need to have their coins in plastic slabs with Sheldon grades on them, that need be no concern of yours!

Should you come across a coin that you are dead keen to purchase, and it unfortunately is in a slab, I remind you of this handy little invention that can be used to remove it:

Just ensure that you strike the slab on the edge, and not the actual coin! If that approach seems to be a little violent (remember a few minutes ago you were probably questioning the somewhat camp reference to Romeo & Juliet, so you can't have it both ways), this video may be of interest - it shows an American collector expertly "cracking out" two coins from their slabs. I prefer the hammer myself - invigorating and cathartic!