For the knowledgeable, cherrypicking opportunities exist galore
among certified coins, enough so that some dealers make most of their
living this way. They find certified coins that are, say, high-end
Mint State 64 and resubmit them once or several times in an effort to
score a home run MS-65 grade.
Rare die varieties also can be found among certified coins,
especially early slabs of Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and Professional
Coin Grading Service. Some slabs simply list the variety according to
A Guide Book of United States Coins. Rare or other technical variety
identified in a specialized reference can be worth multiples more.
Go back to before 1986 when PCGS started: No slabbed coins with
certified grades. Grades varied all over the place. In Coin
World and elsewhere a coin might be advertised as MS-65+++,
whatever that meant. To buy coins, a professional numismatist had to
know how to tell counterfeits from the genuine. John J. Ford Jr.
remarked that at a national coin show more than 50 percent of the
“1916-D” Winged Liberty Head dimes he saw were fakes.
True, if a dealer bought a fake, he might get a refund from the
seller, but often this involved spending thousands of dollars in legal
costs for expensive pieces. Other times the buyer just swallowed the loss.
A dealer needed to know how to grade. This was an important part
of the learning curve. The American Numismatic Association offered two
summer courses — basic grading and advanced grading. I used to send a
lot of our staff members there to learn.
Today, a dealer does not need to know anything at all about
grading or authenticity. There is no need to do much pricing research
either, as 101 guides are available.
Accordingly, someone can start today and be in business right
away! Of course, this means a lot of dealers are clueless as to
in-depth knowledge of numismatic tradition, history and subtleties.
How many newly minted dealers could discuss for a minute such
figures in numismatics as B. Max Mehl, William H. Sheldon, James Swan
Randall, W.E. Woodward, Joseph Mickley, Col. E.H.R. Green, T. Harrison
Garrett, William Kneass, King Farouk, John Albanese or David Rittenhouse?
Or spend a minute on the numismatic significance of Machin’s
Mills, Nichols Hoard, the Mint at The Dalles, Castine Hoard, Kellogg
& Humbert, Bangs & Co., the Scovill Manufacturing Co. or what
a milling machine does at the Mint? Probably not many.
This is progress, I suppose.
By the way, James Swan Randall of Norwich, N.Y., had a huge hoard
of copper cents dated 1816 to 1820, the origin of the illustrated coin.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.