Coin Grading
Services

IN A NUTSHELL: Certified coin holders, or "coin slabs," can provide a measure of security when buying expensive coins, lessening your chances of getting stuck with an overgraded, doctored, or counterfeit coin. But some coin grading companies grade considerably more liberally than others, which can cause unsuspecting buyers to pay considerably more for a coin than they would otherwise. Note: Though I've attempted to provide information that's as accurate and up-to-date as I can, additions and corrections are welcomed to any of the material below.

 

"Buy the coin, not the slab" is an old, and true, numismatic maxim. Evaluate the coin yourself. Even the top coin grading services listed below make mistakes, occasionally overgrading coins or slabbing problem coins.

All of the top services today that grade, authenticate, and slab coins "market grade." That is, they grade a coin according to its technical wear, using industry-accepted standards epitomized by those published in the book
Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins and the book Photograde: A Photographic Grading Guide for United States Coins, and they subjectively factor in the coin's eye appeal. They weigh positive eye appeal factors such as luster and toning and negative eye appeal factors such as scratches and spots, all of which affect a coin's market value. A coin grading service's evaluation of a coin's market appeal, though, may differ from your own. In the minds of some, the coin slabbing services give too little weight to spots and stains and too much weight to scratches and dings.

The coin and authentication grading services also favor "originality." If a coin looks as if it hasn't been cleaned, they let other things slide, and it if looks as if it has been cleaned, they're more likely to bodybag it. Yet the coin slabbing services support the cleaning of coins, if it's done properly, that is, if it doesn't damage the coin. One coin grading service, NGC, works closely with a coin cleaning service, NCS (see details below under NGC).

The coin grading and authentication services are also biased toward provenance. If a wealthy, well-known collector once owned the coin, they typically grade it more leniently. Celebrity coins such as 1804 dollars receive grades 10 or 15 points higher than would be given the same coin type with a different date.

All the mainstream coin grading services offer guarantees that supposedly protect you if you buy a coin in one of their slabs and the coin turns out to be a lower grade than the grade on the slab's label or the coin has a problem. You're able to resubmit the coin (depending on the coin grading service, you may still have to pay the regular grading fee), and if the coin grading service agrees that the coin was overgraded or has a problem, it will refund money to you, typically the difference between the market value of coin as it was graded and the actual market value. Occasionally, resubmissions like this generate a sizable refund from a grading company. More often than not, according to anecdotal reports, the grading companies don't change their minds.

The biggest problem with the established, mainstream coin grading and authentication services is that their standards appear to be arbitrary and inconsistent, which ironically leads to more revenue for them. You can resubmit the same coin different times and receive different grades each time, which causes some collectors and dealers to resubmit coins multiple times, paying a new grading fee each time, until they come back at the highest possible grade. Grading company standards have also loosened over time, creating an incentive for collectors and dealers to crack out coins from older coin slabs and spend more money reslabbing them.

Anecdotal reports indicate that coins submitted using a coin grading service's most expensive option -- one-day service -- tend to be graded more generously than coins submitted though less expensive options. The grading services also seem to favor large dealers who submit lots of coins, giving their coins higher grades than those of others. One collector reported buying two 2006 Silver Eagles graded MS-70 by two different grading services from one of the television shopping networks. He cracked each coin out and sent it back to the same grading service that had graded it previously. One came back at MS-67, the other MS-66.

Despite these problems, all told, the top coin grading and authentication services do provide value. They provide a measure of security that a coin is authentic, that it hasn't been tampered with, and that it has market appeal, which can be worth the premium that you typically pay for slabbed coins. Also, the coin slabs themselves can be an attractive way to store coins. Coin slabs can be particularly appropriate for older or more valuable specimens or for those collectors creating "registry sets" with newer coins.

Each of the services below has its strengths and weaknesses, and each can be worth patronizing, depending on the specific coin. Updates, corrections, and additions are welcomed with any of this information.

First-Tier Services in Terms of Market Acceptance Today

PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service)
800-447-8848

  • PCGS-graded coins have highest retail value of any grading company, according to the Coin Dealer Newsletter.
  • Along with NGC, rated "superior" in a 2004 survey of PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) and ICTA (Industry Council for Tangible Assets) members in terms of grading accuracy and ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. Along with NGC, rated "superior" in a 2006 PNG survey (no service was rated "outstanding").
  • Rated the least consistent service of eight major services (others were NGC, ANACS, ICG, SEGS, PCI, ACG, and NTC) in a 2003 study by Coin World. PCGS's lack of consistency may be deliberate or not, but it has the effect of encouraging repeat submissions of the same coin, which generate more revenue for it.
  • Coins in older slabs generally graded more conservatively and worth more. Newest PCGS slabs have blue label; green label older; dot-matrix printed label older still. Detailed breakdown with approximate dates:

3/02-date: Light blue label, with barcode, with coin and series numbers
1/99-2/02: Light blue label, no barcode, with coin and series number
11/98-12/98: Light blue label, no barcode, no coin and series numbers
Mid 1995-11/98: Green label, serial number starts at right of left edge of barcode
1/90-mid 1995: Green (yellow through blue), label serial number starts at left of left edge of barcode
11/89-12/89: Slab within frame, doily label
9/89-11/89: Slab within frame, off-white label
1986-9/89: Small slabs

  • Net grades (lowers a coin's grade for minor problems) but does not note it on the holder.
  • Bodybags (doesn't grade) problem coins (major problems) -- no refund of fee.
  • With regular service, coins are initially graded by two graders independent of one another. If there's disagreement, a third grader grades the coin. If the third grader agrees with one of the other two graders, the coin receives that grade. If not, sometimes the grading is averaged, sometimes the graders reevaluate the coin. After these initial evaluations, the grading of the coin-in-slab is verified. Between 2% and 4% of coins are regraded at this point. A final verification ensures that slab insert information is correct.
  • Charges $30 for pre-1970 coins for 30-day turnaround, plus shipping and insurance.
  • You can submit coins to be graded through one of its authorized dealers or by joining the PCGS Collectors Club.
  • Guarantee: PCGS, unlike NGC, ANACS, ICG, and SEGS, is not specific about its guarantee at its Web site. On the phone, a customer service rep said if you buy a PCGS-graded coin and feel PCGS overgraded it, you can submit it to PCGS for re-examination. Unlike with NGC and ICG, however, you're charged the regular grading fee for this re-examination. If PCGS determines that the actual grade is lower than the grade on the slab, it will work with you, either paying you the difference between the fair market value of the coin at the re-examination grade and the fair market value at the grade originally assigned by PCGS or buying the coin outright from you.


NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America)
800-642-2646

  • Along with PCGS, rated "superior" in a 2004 survey of PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) and ICTA (Industry Council for Tangible Assets) members in terms of grading accuracy and ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. Along with PCGS, rated "superior" in a 2006 PNG survey (no service was rated "outstanding").
  • Can be more difficult to get less-than-perfect circulated coins in an NGC slab than a PCGS slab, depending on the series.
  • Newest slabs have fine perforation at bottom of label and small rounded square hologram on back; older slabs have full-width hologram.
  • Net grades but does not note it on the holder.
  • Bodybags problem coins -- no refund of fee.
  • Offers coin cleaning service through NCS (Numismatic Conservation Service). NCS will also authenticate and slab coins without grading them.
  • Charges $28 for coins over $300 with 12-day turnaround; $15 for coins under $300 for 21-day turnaround with 5 coin minimum, plus shipping and insurance.
  • Registered eBay users can submit to NGC and get a 10% rebate credited to their eBay account.
  • Any ANA member can submit directly to NGC through this Web page.
  • Guarantee: If you buy an NGC-graded coin and feel NGC overgraded it, you can submit it to NGC for re-examination for free. If NGC determines that the actual grade is lower than the grade on the slab, it will, at NGC's option, either replace the coin for one at the originally assigned grade or pay you the difference between the fair market value of the coin at the re-examination grade and the fair market value at the grade originally assigned by NGC, with the fair market value determined by NGC using "reliable current market information," which it says do not include Internet auctions/sales.


Second-Tier Services in Terms of Market Acceptance Today

ANACS (Amos Certification Service)
800-888-1861

  • Rated "average" in a 2004 survey of PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) and ICTA (Industry Council for Tangible Assets) members in terms of grading accuracy and "superior" in ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. Rated "good" in a 2006 PNG survey.
  • Regarded as more liberal with grading in general than PCGS or NGC.
  • Good choice for problem coins. Notes problem on slab label and gives both technical and net grade. Sometimes, however, problems noted on the slab can be more visible than the problems on the coin itself.
  • Physical slab holders are smaller and less attractive than slabs of other mainstream grading services.
  • Only mainstream grading service that offers an authentication-only option, though it doesn't mention this on its Web site or charge any less for this. You check a box on the submission form. NGS, known mostly as a coin conservation service, also offers an authentication-only slabbing option.
  • Provides helpful service at national coin shows, informally grading and authenticating your coins, though it doesn't guarantee that you'd receive same grades if you formally submitted the same coins.
  • Charges $12 + $10 for return shipping and insurance = $22 + $9 extra for five-day service = $31.
  • Without five-day service, turnaround five to six weeks.
  • Guarantee: If you buy a gold or silver ANACS-graded coin and feel ANACS overgraded it, you can submit it to ANACS for re-examination for a $15 fee. If ANACS determines that the actual grade is lower than the grade on the slab, it will refund your $15 fee and pay you the difference between the fair market value of the coin at the re-examination grade and the fair market value at the grade originally assigned by ANACS, using "the most accurate pricing guide(s) as determined by ANACS." On the phone, a customer service rep said that another option you have is to request that ANACS buy the coin outright from you.


ICG (Independent Coin Grading Co.)
877-221-4424

  • Rated "average" in a 2004 survey of PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) and ICTA (Industry Council for Tangible Assets) members in terms of grading accuracy and "superior" in ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. Rated "good" in a 2006 PNG survey.
  • Uses Intercept Shield slabs designed to protect coins from toning and other environmental damage (dealers can opt out of using Intercept Shield technology).
  • Criticized for being too liberal with PR-70 and MS-70 grades and for overgrading modern coins, particularly with grades MS-65 and higher.
  • Net grades but does not note it on the holder.
  • Bodybags problem coins -- credits fee to your account with exception of $5 processing fee.
  • Charges $30 for coins over $300 for nondealers for 15-day turnaround, plus shipping and insurance; $15 for coins under $300 for 21-day turnaround with 5-coin minimum, plus shipping and insurance.
  • Guarantee: If you buy a non-copper ICG-graded coin and feel ICG overgraded it, you can submit it to ICG for re-examination for free. If ICG determines that the actual grade is lower than the grade on the slab, it will, at ICG's option, either replace the coin for one at the originally assigned grade or pay you the difference between the fair market value of the coin at the re-examination grade and the fair market value at the grade originally assigned by ICG, with the fair market value "determined solely by ICG."


Other Grading Services

New grading services pop up all the time. Some may be bona fide attempts to create legitimate, industry-respected operations. Nonetheless, caveat emptor (buyer beware). Many of these services appear to be deliberate attempts to fool inexperienced collectors by "certifying" the practice of overgrading. They grade coins more leniently and sometimes far more leniently than published standards such as those in the
Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins and Photograde: A Photographic Grading Guide and more leniently as well than the standards used by legitimate grading services. Most of these services appear to be "self slabbers"-- small operations run by a single coin dealer. The holders, or slabs, of most of these services provide no more value than a dealer marking a grade in pencil on a 2x2 cardboard coin holder, with the dealer wanting you to think that an independent service graded the coin. As with all slabs, however, the slabs themselves can be an attractive way to store coins. But with U.S. coins, it's generally safer to go with one of the above four reputable and established coin-grading services (PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or ICG).

eBay enacted changes in 2007 to discourage the sale of certified coins through its auctions that are in the slabs of grading companies other than PCGS, NGC, NCS, ICG, and ANACS, prohibiting their numerical grades from being mentioned in auction headlines or descriptions and the coins in such slabs from being referenced to a price guide. Working with the consumer-minded president of the American Numismatic Society, Barry Stuppler, eBay was trying to eliminate the practice of some sellers using no-name grading companies to sell significantly overgraded coins at inflated prices by equating the coins to those graded using industry-accepted standards. Coins is such slabs, however, continue to be sold on eBay and elsewhere.


Foreign Coins

ICCS (International Coin Certification Service)
416-488-8620

  • Small coin-grading service in Toronto respected in the Canadian market.


Robert Matthews Coin Authentication

  • Specializes in authenticating British milled coins.


Ancient Coins

ACCS (Ancient Coin Certification Service)

  • Service of David Sear, author of the Greek Coins and Their Values, Roman Coins and Their Values, and other standard ancient numismatic attribution works.
  • Authenticates and attributes but does not grade or slab. Coins are accompanied by black-and-white photo and certificate.
  • Charges $35 for basic service or $45 for detailed service. Detailed service includes extra information about the coin's historical significance.
  • Turnaround two to three weeks. With express service, which costs an extra $20 per coin (three coin maximum), turnaround time is three working days.
  • Does not offer guarantee of coin's authenticity.

ICG (Independent Coin Grading Co.)
877-221-4424

  • Slabs are considered attractive coin holders to some ancient coin collectors, though most, unlike with modern coin collectors, prefer to handle their coins and view their edges, which slabs generally prevent.
  • Slabs ancients along with authenticating and grading them, but accepts only Roman coins minted from 69 to 307 AD.
  • Guarantee: If a coin it authenticates later turns out to be a forgery, it will either replace the coin with another coin of the same type, variety, and condition or pay you the coin's fair market value. Guarantee doesn't apply to copper coins.
  • Uses the U.S. grading system, which is more liberal than the grading system typically used for ancient coins, so the grade on any given slab will typically be higher than the grade that an ancient coin dealer would have given the same coin.
  • See above description for further details about ICG.


NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America)
800-642-2646

  • Until 2009 slabbed relatively few ancients, but new ancients service began in January 2009, headed up by respected numismatic author and dealer David Vagi.
  • In the past its attributions were typically far more general than those of ancient coin dealers, for instance dating a coin by the ruler who initiated the series rather than when the particular coin was issued even when the difference is hundreds of years. Appears to have also pandered to certain types of collectors, for instance labeling all Alexander the Great tetradrachms "Coins of the Bible" when they have only a very tangential relationship at best to the Bible, with most not minted in the Levant or having ever circulated there.
  • In the past used the U.S. grading system, which is more liberal than the grading system typically used for ancient coins. But new service uses a system that qualifies a coin according to wear, strike, surface, and style.
  • Slabs let you view the edges of the coin. But prongs in the slab that hold coin in place can be unsightly and interfere with the aesthetics of viewing the coin.
  • Despite name, National Guaranty Corporation of America, does not offer guarantee of coin's authenticity.
  • See above description for further details about NGC.


ANACS (Amos Certification Service)
800-888-1861

  • Web site indicates that it slabs a selection of ancient Roman coins, but it will actually authenticate and grade any ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins.
  • Does not actively promote its ancient coin authenticity service.
  • Guarantee: If a coin it authenticates later turns out to be a forgery, it will pay you the coin's fair market value. Guarantee doesn't apply to copper coins.
  • See above description for further details about ANACS.


IBSCC (International Bureau for the Suppression of Counterfeit Coins)

  • Service of the International Association of Professional Numismatists.
  • Based in Switzerland.
  • Authentication available only for dealer members of IAPN (International Association of Professional Numismatists). Works with more than 100 outside experts.
  • No certificate issued.
  • Does not offer guarantee of coin's authenticity.


The British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals

  • Authenticates.
  • Charges only return postage.
  • No certificate issued.
  • Does not offer guarantee of coin's authenticity.

 

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Coin Holders

Coin Photography

Pocket Pieces

Coin Jewelry

Ancient Coins

Ancients Market

Ancients Grading

Attributing Ancients

Language and Ancients

 Looting and Coins

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins
Pre-coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.