US Coins

Slappin' slab orchestra produces 'music' for the bourse

I have that observed people — mostly dealers — really enjoy treating encapsulated coins (slabs) with contempt. They hold no qualms about tossing a slab onto a table or glass display case with intended malice.

Showing a potential customer a rare coin in a slab is seldom done gently. You cannot walk down a bourse aisle without hearing the slap of a slab on a glass-top case. Often the customer (usually another dealer) will slap a slab onto another dealer’s case to see if he or she is interested in purchasing it. It’s all very slaphappy.

What is the origin of this “orchestra of slappin’ slabs”? What could be churning in the collective psyche of the coin dealer population with regard to grading service slabs?

Maybe it’s the fact that dealers are given the peace of mind that they don’t have to practice such tender loving care for their inventory the way they did in years past. They can, if they choose, haphazardly throw the slabbed coins on a case or in a box and not have to worry about the coins getting damaged. On the other hand, having a large percentage of slabs at least quadruples the mass and weight of the inventory a dealer must lug from show to show.

Perhaps dealers are comforted by the fact that they don’t have to grade the coins or bother to label them and put them in holders — the slabbers have done the work for them. On the other hand, many dealers are disgusted with grading service evaluation of coins and the fact that they can be wildly inconsistent from time to time.

But the dealers have to be pleased by the fact that they simply could not sell certain coins if they weren’t slabbed. Some coins languish for years in dealer inventory, but if they get slabbed it will greatly increase the odds that those coins will find a collector. On the other hand, dealers kill their margins with grading service fees on run-of-the-mill coins in hopes that they come back marketable.

So, what is the origin of this “Orchestra of Slappin’ Slabs”? It’s obvious! It’s the love-hate relationship between dealers and slabbers that creates an electrified bipolar bourse floor symphony!

Let’s take a listen. Each slab has its own unique tone. If slapped down in the correct sequence you can hear Brahms, Mozart or Lennon/McCartney! (In a sort of fingernails-on-a-chalkboard kind of way.)

Your basic music scale has eight notes, doe, ray, me, fa, so, la, tea, doe. I learned this from Julie Andrews. Each grading service slab corresponds to one of these notes, and with different combinations you get different tunes. For example, if you slap down slabs from SEGS, PCGS, ICG, ANACS and SEGS, in that order, you get “Jimmy Cracked Corn”! NGC, PCI, ANACS, ANACS, PCGS, PCGS and ICG gives you Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” and PCGS, PCGS, PCGS, ACCG and PCI is the beginning stanza of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

Do you believe it!? You can slap out Hendrix! And the CAC stickers and “coin sniffer” shields offer the flat and sharp tones.

It’s a veritable Boston Pops! Once at a very busy show I heard “The Flight of the Bumble Bee”! I started dancing but it made me dizzy.

Also working their way into the total bourse floor audio experience are cellphone ring tones. If the slabs aren’t slappin’, the cellphone rings, beeps, bloops, toots, tones and moans will fill in the void. (It must have been very quiet on bourse floors back before all this noise — I mean, music.)

If anyone is interested in an investment opportunity, here is a million dollar idea. Slappin’ Slab Ring Tones: A ring tone that sounds like slabs slappin’ on a dealer display case! Coin geek heaven!

My friends, with this deeply entrenched dealer and slabber codependent collaboration, the Slappin’ Slab Orchestra is here to stay. So tilt your ear, grit your teeth and let your shivering spine absorb the slappin’ sounds of slabs on glass.

Jeff Reichenberger, of Wisconsin, collects U.S. coins, ancient coins, medals, paper money and numismatic literature. He enjoys history, research and writing. His “Low Relief” column is dedicated to low-stress discussions of insignificant numismatic subjects, written from the angle of a “regular guy.” Comments are welcomed at

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