Innovation or irritation?
Volume 44, Number 1, January 2007
One of the big stories in numismatics recently is the introduction into the British hobby of the traditionally American “slabbing” process. For those unfamiliar with the term, slabbing is essentially the encapsulation of a coin in a plastic container to preserve it – and most importantly keep in the grade it is when it’s “slabbed”. Usually slabbing companies offer an authentication and grading service which guarantees the coin in the capsule is what they say it is, if at a later date this grade is found to be inaccurate the original slabbers will usually offer a buy back service ensuring that anyone who buys that coin can do so in confidence, knowing that the grade is as described. This practise has been prevalent in the US for some years but it hasn’t really ever taken off over here, but now London Coins have taken the bold step of setting up a new company – Coin Grading Service Limited or CGS UK - in an attempt to introduce the idea to an apparently reluctant British market. The reason behind the introduction of slabbing is a simple one – to enable collectors to buy in confidence. Any collector who buys a CGS encapsulated coin will know he has exactly what is described, no ifs, no buts, the coin will be what CGS says it is – if it isn’t he will get full market value for it from them. Now many will say that dealers offer that service anyway, that if you buy a coin from a reputable dealer and it isn’t what they say it is then they will give you your money back. Well yes, up to a point, but one of the biggest issues in recent years has been that of grading – what one dealer says is EF another might only grade as VF+ or even VF and that can mean a vast difference in the price and no real come back as it’s a very subjective issue with the original dealer arguing vehemently that the coin he sold was exactly what he said it was whilst the other argues just as hard that it isn’t – such arguments are not uncommon and the issue of grading is often one that sees heated exchanges in the trade!. CGS are endeavouring to make it less subjective and are prepared to put their money where their magnifying glass is by guaranteeing their grading, backed up with cold hard cash should they prove to be wrong. This practise will obviously have huge implications for many new collectors who now don’t have to “learn the hard way” and risk their hard earned money buying coins that may or may not be a particular grade depending on who you ask. It also has huge implications for internet trading – after all it’s relatively easy for an experienced collector to grade a coin when he’s at a dealer’s table at a fair, actually holding it in his hands, but far more difficult when all he has to go on is a rather poor scan on an auction site. True many on-line dealers also guarantee their stock and will offer a refund if the buyer isn’t satisfied but the hassle of having to send coins back, claim money back from escrow services et al is often far too much to bother with – not to mention the many unscrupulous sellers that seem to pop up on Ebay and the like who offer no such guarantee and who seem to go strangely silent when you seek a refund for a VF coin that you paid an UNC price for. An encapsulation service will remove the risk element to on-line trading as each slabbed coin comes with the guarantee that you are getting exactly what you think you are, and will help new collectors into our hobby by ensuring that the risk they inevitably run until they get a bit more experienced is lessened. Why therefore does there seem to be opposition to the idea? After all no-one is suggesting that all coins have to be thus encapsulated, if you don’t like the slabbed look you can either choose not to buy the coin or to remove it from the slab (there are even dealers who offer a “de-slabbing” service) so what’s the problem? That there is opposition cannot be doubted, and the opponents do have some valid points – some say that the true joy of the hobby is “learning the hard way” handling coins as often as you can to ensure that you know your stuff and that slabbing will lead to laziness and to a whole generation of collectors who will never know how to accurately grade as it’s all done for them. Others point to the fact that the American market, where slabbing has been so successful is very different from the British one. Us Brits don’t just collect the “best grade we can”, we like to collect rarities, types, date runs, die-varieties etc. And whilst many US collectors collect that way too there can be no denying that the American market is more investor driven than the British one and therefore guarantees have to be given for valuation purposes. Over here, where the market is collector driven, the value of a coin is important but there is more emphasis on other things than just price. There is also the fact that when a coin is encapsulated it is somehow “at a distance” from the collector and nothing beats the feeling of actually holding your coins in your hand. These are valid points and there is no doubt that the slabbing of a coin does in some way change peoples attitudes towards it but the pros are just as weighty as the cons and in this new age of the internet, when we are all trying to bring new people into our hobby maybe this is the way forward. Sadly there are those unscrupulous enough to try to con new collectors and many new, very good, forgeries appearing all the time and as the presence of both increases, so measures must be taken to try and stop them – a guarantee service like this does just that. Ultimately of course it will be market forces that dictate whether slabbing will take off over here but whether it does or not we wholeheartedly applaud CGS for having the courage to have a go at something new to help this wonderful hobby of ours along and wish them all the best.
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