Interview: coin condition and coin grading

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19 September 2018
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We asked Max Spiegel, Senior Vice President of the USA-based firm Certified Collectibles Group, about the services provided by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and why condition can be so vital for coin collectors

Max Spiegel, NGCWhat do newcomers to coin collecting need to know about the condition of coins before they start out?

A coin’s condition is one of the key factors that determine its value. 

NGC was founded, in part, to address the inherent bias that dealers have when they assign their own grades to the coins that they are selling. A higher grade could mean a higher asking price. 

In addition, different dealers may grade coins according to different standards. For a collector, it would be difficult to compare one dealer’s grade to another.

NGC removes these uncertainties by providing a fully impartial opinion of a coin’s grade. NGC does not buy or sell coins, and our graders are prohibited from buying and selling coins commercially. Our graders never know the identity of a coin’s submitter, another measure to ensure that coins are graded without bias. We are focused solely on authentication, grading and encapsulation. 

To ensure consistency, all coins are graded according to the same scale and evaluated by multiple professional graders. Collectors and dealers all around the world trust the accuracy and consistency of NGC’s grades. 

How does the NGC decide on a coin’s condition?

NGC grades coins according to an internationally recognised grading scale of 1 to 70. A brief description of each grade is posted to our website, NGCcoin.com, but a comprehensive understanding of all of the nuances comes only after years of experience and training. 

Multiple professional graders evaluate every coin for both authenticity and grade. If there is disagreement among the graders, they will discuss their opinions and reach a consensus. A ‘Grading Finalizer’ serves to confirm a coin’s final grade. 

After coins are graded they are encapsulated in NGC’s secure, tamper-evident holder, which is designed for long-term protection. Once encapsulated, coins go back to the graders for a final Quality Control check before they are imaged and returned to the submitters. 

Is the NGC only for US coins and US collectors? How can a British collector use the service?

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NGC is a global company with offices and Official Submission Centers in ten countries. Heritage Auctions UK serves as an Official Submission Centre in London. Collectors can submit their coins to Heritage Auctions UK, which delivers them to our US office for authentication, grading and encapsulation. Once graded, coins are returned to Heritage Auctions UK, which then returns them to the submitter. To contact Heritage Auctions UK, visit at HA.com/UK

Alternatively, collectors can submit to one of several NGC Authorized Dealers in the UK or purchase an NGC membership if they would like to submit their coins directly to NGC. 

What tell-tale signs should collectors look out for when buying coins?

Authenticity is a major concern as counterfeiting becomes increasingly prevalent. NGC will only assign a grade to coins that it has determined to be authentic. If we make a mistake and accidentally grade a counterfeit coin, the owner of that NGC-certified coin may send it back to NGC and make a claim against the NGC Guarantee.

The NGC Guarantee provides recourse and remuneration in the event that we mistakenly grade a counterfeit coin or overgrade a coin. It is an important consumer protection measure. 

Can you provide a brief explanation of the different coin grades/terms used?

Most coins receive a numeric grade from 1 to 70, with 70 being defined as a coin that has no post-production imperfections at 5x magnification. 

Some coins have surface problems that preclude a numeric grade. For example, coins that are improperly cleaned, are damaged or have other problems cannot receive a numeric grade. These coins instead receive an NGC Details grade, which gives an adjectival description of a coin’s condition as well as a description of the surface problem.

Coins that are numerically graded may be further described with ‘Strike Characters,’ which provide additional insight into the coin’s appearance. For example, copper coins are described as BN (Brown), RB (Red Brown) or RD (Red) to indicate the amount of original mint luster the coin still has. Proof coins may be described as Cameo or Ultra Cameo (or without any Strike Character) to indicate the level of contrast between the coin’s design elements and the surrounding fields. 

What is the most unusual or memorable coin that has been graded by the NGC?

We have been very fortunate to have examined many memorable coins. One recent example is the renowned 1839 ‘Una and the Lion’ Gold Five Pounds. This coin features one of the most beautiful designs, and the specimen that we recently certified was in excellent condition. We graded it NGC PF 65 Ultra Cameo, and it later sold at auction for an astonishing price of £340,000. 

We also had the opportunity to grade a 1344 Edward III ‘Double Leopard’ last year. The Double Leopard is the first large-sized English gold coin and there is only one example known in private hands. We graded this remarkable specimen NGC MS 62.