William T. Gibbs

Bill’s Corner

William T. Gibbs

William was appointed the managing editor effective May 1, 2015. He joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 as an assistant editor for "Collectors' Clearinghouse" and later became a senior staff writer before being appointed news editor. As managing editor, he manages the day-to-day editorial operations for Coin World, both print and online, and leads the editorial staff. He also serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications, including for all books published by Coin World since 1985. He has been project editor of mulitple editions of the Coin World Almanac. Bill began collecting coins at the age of 10 and soon discovered Coin World. As a teen interested in numismatics and journalism, he identified a writing position on the staff of Coin World as a dream job, which was realized shortly after he graduated from Bowling Green State University with a major in journalism. He collects store cards and medals depicting Adm. George Dewey of Spanish-American War fame.

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Sharing some thoughts on the state of U.S. coin grading today

The columns by John Kraljevich, Q. David Bowers and Beth Deisher this week all address the same topic — the grading of coins. 

Although they are from different generations, John and Dave both became numismatists at very young ages. Each is a talented researcher and cataloger, and they know a thing or two about grading. Beth, on the other hand, came to Coin World as an editor in 1981 with no knowledge of coins but a keen instinct for reporting the news.
In his column this issue, John examines the concept of grading as a specialist in early American coinage — those issues of the Colonial and Confederation periods that predate the 1792 founding of the federal Mint.

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“If you’d like to build a collection full of lustrous gems, each perfect and beautiful, Colonial coins may not be for you,” John begins, adding, “Various Colonial coin series, or even individual varieties, appear with their own typical, endemic flaws that help explain how they were made.”
Because of these natural flaws, “Problems inherent in the production of Colonial coins used to be judged more leniently [by] specialist collectors. Today, however, “in the era of certifi­cation, ... coins are now judged by an uncomfortable standard,” which he explains in his column, lamenting that “many die varieties are lumped under an identical heading.
While perfection may be elusive in early American coinage, that is no longer the case with coins struck by the United States Mint, “With literally millions of coins encased in plastic holders today bearing the grades MS-70 and Proof 70,” as Beth writes. Perfection was not reached among even modern coinage until 30 years ago, when “Page 1 of the July 30, 1986, issue of Coin World announced the earthshattering news” — that the first coins to ever be awarded a Proof 70 or Mint State 70 grade were revealed, though to “say that the perfect grade raised some eyebrows is an under­statement,” she adds.
Even today, with “perfect 70” coins common­place, some collectors still “raise their eye­brows” when they point to examples of “perfect 70” coins with no­ticeable flaws, wondering how these coins can still receive 70 grades.
Finally, in his column, in which he has been writing about the evolution of grading for the past month or so, Dave writes, “The seeming precision of num­bers as compared to adjectives in coin grading has opened the gates for countless thousands of coin buyers. Many, if not most, hope for quick investment profits, then leave when such do not materialize.
For many of the readers who correspond with me, grading remains an area of great concern, whether it be the specter of “grade­flation,” in which long-established standards are ignored by third-party grading firms, or the high prices charged for coins with lofty grades. 
They are looking for answers where there may be none, at least for now. 
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1 comment
In my humble and admittedly uniformed estimation, I would say that the answer is that the hobby is the hobby and the market is the market. As things change and evolve, collectors and investors adjust. They always have and always will. Although my favorite simile makes my collector friends groan, to me, the evolution of coin grading is like the development of grading U.S. meat. Meat grading formally started around 1902 and the systems and descriptions of what constitutes “prime” meat have changed numerous times in the last one hundred or so years, mostly based on costumer perception and “consumer desires.” It is said that the prime meat your grandfather ate was substantially better than that which is graded “prime” today. Some might characterize this as meat-grade-flation. (Interestingly, many meat grades now also have a “+” designation added to the grade to show that it’s top of the tier for the grade and, perhaps, just shy of the next higher grade. Go figure.) Although it might be argued that the standards have been lowered/adjusted in such a manner that virtually all meat is graded higher than it would have been in the mid-80’s, consumers have adjusted their expectations and the price they are willing to pay for certain cuts and grades of meat accordingly. If a piece of meat looks off, no one will pay the price of “prime” for it, no matter what grade the label says it is. You buy the meat, not the wrapper.