The membership of the Professional Numismatists Guild attending the organization’s April 17 meeting adopted a three-point definition of what constitutes “coin doctoring” to help resolve any future complaints involving allegations of sales of doctored coins by PNG dealers.
The vote was conducted during the PNG’s membership meeting held in conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society spring show at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, Ill.
The 59 PNG members in attendance voted 58-1 to adopt the definition. PNG officials declined to identify the lone dissenter. The organization has approximately 270 members.
The nine-member PNG Board and the 20-member coin doctoring policy committee individually approved the committee’s proposed coin doctoring policy before it went to the full PNG membership in attendance.
“This is a complex issue, but we needed to have a concise definition to help combat the deliberative and unacceptable alteration of coins in an effort to deceive,” said PNG President Jeffrey Bernberg.
Bernberg said the PNG leadership has now addressed the issue with a specific definition, but believes the topic is not necessarily settled totally.
The coin doctoring definition as adopted by the PNG membership reads as follows:
“Coin doctoring refers to the alteration of any portion of a coin, when that process includes any of the following:
“Movement, addition to, or otherwise altering of metal, so that a coin appears to be in a better state of preservation, or more valuable than it otherwise would be. A few examples are plugging, whizzing, polishing, engraving, ‘lasering’ and adding or removing mint marks.
“Addition of any substance to a coin so that it appears to be in a better state of preservation or more valuable than it otherwise would be. The use of solvents and/or commercially available dilute acids, such as Jeweluster, by qualified professionals is not considered coin doctoring.
“Intentional exposure of a coin to any chemicals, substances, or processes which impart toning, such that the coin appears to be in a better state of preservation or more valuable than it otherwise would be. Naturally occurring toning imparted during long-term storage using established/traditional methods, such as coin albums, rolls, flips, or envelopes, does not constitute coin doctoring.”
PNG Executive Director Robert Brueggeman said: “We’ve been working on this for over two years with Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and Professional Coin Grading Service as well as a committee of dealers and collectors to formulate an industry-acceptable definition. I told our members at the meeting that the numismatic world is watching us. We need to take a vote. We need to make a decision now on adopting a definition.”
In July 2010, the PNG Board of Directors, in partnership with Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and Professional Coin Grading Service, adopted a definition of coin doctoring. However, the definition subsequently was rejected by PNG members in January 2011.
“The PNG By-Laws provide the general membership with the opportunity to override decisions made by the Board,” Brueggeman said. “In this particular case, the membership voted overwhelmingly in early 2011 to keep the previous PNG Code of Ethics definition in place and not adopt a more-substantive new wording specifically about coin doctoring until the issue could be more clearly defined,” Brueggeman said.
“We then formed a committee headed by John Albanese and composed of PNG members and non-members, dealers and collectors, to research and draft an industry-acceptable definition of coin doctoring.”
“It frankly took longer than some of us expected or wanted to get something substantive finally approved, but the [overwhelming] vote now by PNG members to support a specific coin doctoring definition is an important, major step for the hobby and the profession. It needed to be done,” said Brueggeman.
Albanese — a co-founder of PCGS, and founder of NGC and Certified Acceptance Corp. — said a specific definition of what constitutes coin doctoring and that the coin industry would accept was needed.
“How can you take coin doctors to court without a definition?” Albanese asked. “I can’t think of any coin doctoring that would not fit into one of those three definitions. Those bullet points are pretty broad. It was the committee’s responsibility to define and the PNG’s to enforce.”
Albanese said if a new form of coin doctoring would surface that would not be addressed by the adopted policy, the policy could be amended.
Albanese said the only bone of contention he encountered was whether the practice of “dipping” — immersing part or all of a coin in acetone or a commercially available chemical solution to remove verdigris or toning — should be considered for inclusion in the doctoring definition, even though it is a widely accepted practice in the hobby.
Laura Sperber, a partner of Legend Numismatics in New Jersey, a non-PNG member who was vocally critical of the PNG’s previous inaction on the coin doctoring policy, hailed the April 17 vote.
“This is not only a huge step for their organization, but for consumer protection in our hobby and for self-policing,” Sperber said. “It’s about setting standards for what appears to be a doctored coin. This is an iron-clad starting point open to interpretation.”
Sperber said she believes adoption of the policy will slow the coin doctoring by holding dealers accountable for selling doctored coins. She said it may take a few test cases to see how strong enforcement of the policy will be.
Having balked at seeking PNG membership because of the lack of an industry definition of coin doctoring, Sperber said she may reconsider her previous reluctance.
Maryland dealer Julian Leidman, a PNG member since 1972, said although he voted in favor of adopting the three-prong coin doctoring definition, he felt the existing bylaws were sufficient to be able to mediate any possible complaints.
Leidman said that in the nearly two decades Brueggeman has been the PNG’s executive director, the organization has not received a single complaint against a PNG member alleging the sale of doctored coins.
Leidman said the PNG will proceed with action against any PNG member against whom a complaint is registered.
“Putting in a definition doesn’t add anything,” Leidman said. “It’s cosmetic. If someone has a complaint, they have to make the complaint. The PNG is not going to go out and inspect everyone’s inventory.
“The public has always had the ability to make a complaint. It comes down to the relationship between a dealer and a collector. You want to make the customer happy.
“Numismatics is a luxury. You don’t want to make it more difficult for the collector to collect coins.” ■