Coin grading services

Coins are sometimes submitted to one of the professional grading services for certification as to the grade of the coin. The coins are examined by the grading services experts, assigned a grade and sealed into a hard plastic "slab" with a label indicating the coin type, date, mintmark, variety and grade. Often a certified coin is accompanied by a photograph certificate. The holder affords protection from subsequent wear or damage but is not airtight and therefore will not prevent toning. Because any tampering with the holder will be obvious, it also prevents replacing the certified coin with something else. The grades assigned to the coins are accepted as accurate by most collectors and dealers. Because of this, slabbed coins are often traded sight unseen. A few of the major grading services, in alphabetical order, are:

Amos Certification Service (ANACS)

ANACS came into being as an arm of the American Numismatic Association, the world's largest coin club. In 1990, the ANA sold its grading service to Amos Press of Sidney, Ohio, publisher of Coin World and other hobby periodicals. It ranked "average" in a 2002 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. It is regarded as more liberal with grading in general than PCGS or NGC.

ASA Accugrade

Accugrade is in business since 1984, but many people feel it uses more liberal grading standards than the other grading services and those published in both the ANA and Photograde grading guidelines. It ranked "unacceptable" in a 2002 survey of PNG and ICTA members in terms of grading accuracy and ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins, but rated the most consistent grading service of eight major services (others were PCGS, NGC, ANACS, ICG, SEGS, PCI, and NTC) in a 2003 study by Coin World.

Independent Coin Grading (ICG)

ICG was founded in 1998 and is the youngest of the major grading services. However, it already ranks among the leading firms in terms of the volume of coins that it certifies and encapsulates. ICG owners and employees are not allowed to buy or sell coins - they lose their jobs and any stock they hold in the company. The company ranked "average" in a 2002 survey of PNG and ICTA members in terms of grading accuracy and ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. It uses Intercept Shield slabs designed to protect coins from toning and other environmental damage (dealers can opt out of using Intercept Shield technology).

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC)

NGC is recognized for consistent, accurate grading. Because of this NGC graded coins are readily accepted by authorized NGC member/dealers as well as other dealers across America and around the world. NGC is the official grading service of the American Numismatic Association. The company, along with PCGS, ranked "superior" in a 2002 survey of PNG and ICTA members in terms of grading accuracy and ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins.

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS)

The Professional Coin Grading Service began serving the coin-buying public on February 3, 1986. The founder of PCGS, coin dealer David Hall, is the man who devised the system of encaptulating coins, resulting in a dramatic improvement throughout the rare coin industry which have forever changed the way rare coins are bought and sold. PCGS-graded coins have highest retail value of any grading company, according to the Coin Dealer Newsletter. Along with NGC, it ranked "superior" in a 2002 survey of PNG and ICTA members in terms of grading accuracy and ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. It also rated the least consistent service of eight major services in a 2003 study by Coin World.

P.C.I. Coin Grading Service

The company ranked "poor" in a 2002 survey of PNG and ICTA members in terms of grading accuracy and "average" in ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. It recently changed ownership and the new grading standards appear to have become more liberal

Sovereign Entities Grading Service (SEGS)

Segs is the most recent service to enter the arena of "third party grading" services. The company ranked "poor" in a 2002 survey of PNG and ICTA members in terms of grading accuracy and "average" in ability to detect altered, repaired, damaged, cleaned, and counterfeit coins. In general, it is regarded as more liberal with its grading in general than the above grading services

Prices for submitting coins range from $7.50 to $175.00 per coin, depending on the service and turnaround time, plus shipping costs in both directions. The skills and equipment needed to encapsulate coins in slab-like holders can be acquired more easily than the expertise needed to accurately authenticate and grade coins. Holders from the services listed above are not the only types that appear in the marketplace. However, slabs from some "services" may not be regarded by experienced numismatists as legitimate and may not even be backed by a guarantee of the coin's authenticity. Learning about the service's reputation and soliciting other opinions about a coin's condition may save you from paying considerably more than its true market value.

Counterfeit and altered coins slabbed by major certification services are not unknown but are uncommon. The authenticity of a coin may be guaranteed by the company that slabbed it. Therefore, a coin slabbed by a major certification service offers some protection, especially when fakes are known to exist and the prospective buyer is not able to reliably determine its authenticity. Some certification services will not slab coins that have been altered, whizzed, cleaned (dipping is often acceptable), artificially toned or otherwise damaged. Others slab the coin and identify the problem on the label.

Resubmissions

Grades are opinions. The same coin may receive different grades if submitted to different services or even if "cracked out" and resubmitted to the same service. Furthermore, grading standards for some uncirculated coins have changed since slabs were first produced (1986), so a coin in an early slab may may receive a different grade if resubmitted now. The grade indicated on a slab represents the opinions of no more than a few persons who examined the coin at the time it was submitted, and not the final word on the subject. As a result, slabbed coins given identical grades may have different market values. Whenever possible, buy the coin, not the holder.

In reallity, resubmitting a coin is hardly a rare practise. Coin dealers often remove certified coins from their plastic holders and resubmit the coins to the same or a different coin grading service in the hope they will receive a higher grade. Most of the times, the coins will be assigned the same grade, ocaasionaly however "borderline" coins - those at the high end of a grade - will be upgraded to the next higher level. Since the difference in value between one grade and the next can be worth hundrends or even thousands of dollars, there is strong incentive for dealers to go through this process. This practice is not considered unethical or illegal, but buyers and sellers should be aware of it.