US Coins

The Joys of Collecting: Certification solves problems

If I say this 1849 Coronet gold dollar, not certified, is Mint State 65, I would not have much credibility with most buyers, although I think I have an in-depth knowledge of grading. If PCGS says it is MS-65 (as it did), no question about it!

Images courtesy of Q. David Bowers.

Certified coins by Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and a couple of other firms are front row center. Today, the majority of buyers rely on “slabbed” coins when they buy. Other considerations such as eye appeal or dismal lack thereof, sharp strike or weak strike, are not considered.

Consider these illustrations. Say an 1809 copper cent lists in A Guide Book of United States Coins for $1,400 in Very Fine 20. If one as ugly as a toad (believe me, many large copper cents have little eye appeal) but certified as VF-20 were offered for sale, even illustrated, for $1,000, buyers would flock in droves! If a coin with the same certification is sharply struck on a glossy light brown planchet, and has stunning eye appeal, again illustrated, but is offered at $2,200, no one would touch it! Actually, I would.

When I started in business in the 1950s, I always had a sharp eye for quality. Back then an ugly coin would have few buyers, and I stayed away from them. Low-quality coins were shunned by others as well. Probably 90 percent of the customers back then were sophisticated. They had to be, as there were no grading standards or services, no authentication services, and no listings of current market prices. The annual Guide Book was “it” for valuations, plus an awareness of advertised and auction prices.

Today, there is a very strong market in coins that have low eye appeal, are weakly struck, or otherwise would have found few buyers 50 or 60 years ago.

Also, if Harvey Stack, Lester Merkin, Arthur Conn, I or some other dealer sold, say, an 1849 Coronet gold dollar as “Choice Uncirculated,” back then it would often be the case that a buyer would take it to Joe, who ran a neighborhood coin shop, and be told, “That coin is overgraded” or “It has been cleaned,” even if that was not so, and “Send it back!”

Joe, of course, wanted the collector to buy from him, not from me or some other dealer.

Today, certified coins solve the problem. Few people care what Joe in his coin shop, or Harvey Stack or I think about a certified coin. It might as well have been imprinted by God! Just about any certified coin is marketable, and if offered at a discount from “bid” (not well defined in most instances), buyers will flock in droves with checkbooks in hand!

Next week: Another “blessing” by which countless millions of dollars in coins are sold for high prices, that would not be if they were not certified.

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,, or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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