you landed a time machine in 1961, you’d find yourself in an exciting
but troubled time for coin collectors. The hobby was growing, people
bought coins by the roll, and values zoomed like helium balloons. But
villains lurked in every bourse and coin shop: counterfeit coins,
along with their genuine but overgraded evil cousins. The numismatic
marketplace was hot, but fakes and misdescribed coins made it a hot mess.
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leaders found that educational programs alone could not cleanse the
numismatic stable. Finally, some decided to divert a river through it,
in the form of a third-party service to determine authenticity (and
eventually, grade). The second such service, American Numismatic
Association Certification Service, was founded in 1972, and the third,
International Numismatic Society Authentication Bureau, was
established in 1976. Thirty years ago, the first modern grading
service, which certified authenticity, determined grade, and “slabbed”
coins, Professional Coin Grading Service, opened its doors.
and ANACS are still industry leaders, but the very first such service
is forgotten today. The Institute of Numismatic Authenticators or INA
was founded in 1962 by that era’s ultimate numismatic scholar, Walter
H. Breen. He recruited Don Taxay, a rising star coin dealer, and Lynn
Glaser, a numismatic prodigy. One of these three hotshots would
examine a coin, then issue a handwritten certificate of genuineness on
INA letterhead, explaining the reasons for their determination.
was numismatic brainiacs against the counterfeiters, but the heroes
immediately encountered problems. INA neither encapsulated nor
photographed the coins they examined, so it was easy for crooks to
submit a genuine coin in order to get an INA certificate, then switch
out the genuine piece for a bogus one.
the biggest reason INA quickly folded was sloppy “safeguards.” As
fellow Coin World columnist David Alexander has written, INA’s
“office” was Breen’s fourth-floor walk-up New York apartment, and the
absent-minded Breen lost several valuable coins in his own clutter,
including an 1804 Draped Bust gold eagle eventually found, after a
frantic search, languishing under a sink!
went belly-up in 1963, but Breen retained the letterhead, and used it
for years thereafter, as demonstrated by the illustrated certificate
from Aug. 21, 1968. Breen, bewhiskered and resplendent in his tie-dyed
shirts, shorts and sandals, was regularly approached on the bourse for
on-the-spot coin authentication. Ironically, someone began forging
Breen’s certificates, and he responded by writing with a highly
distinctive violet ink.
“pre-violet” 1968 certificate focused on a 1918/7-D Indian Head 5-cent
coin, which Breen “unhesitatingly” declared genuine because: the
overdate is identical to all known originals; the coin shows no signs
of tampering; it has all of the required diagnostics. He even graded
it as “Good +.” The coin was long ago separated from the certificate
and probably resides in a modern slab.
INA partners all came to sad ends. Breen was convicted of child
molestation, and died in prison. Taxay became an acolyte of the “Love
Guru,” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and disappeared to India in 1980.
Glaser became a dealer in antique maps, and was repeatedly arrested
and convicted for stealing maps from libraries from 1974 to 1992.
that remains of INA, a great idea foiled by its founders’ foibles, is
a handful of original certificates serving as the last links to the
granddaddy of today’s multimillion-dollar third-party authentication
and grading industry.