Volume 49, Number 7, July 2012
Getting it right IN this month’s “Letters” page we have two readers who have written in, ostensibly on different themes, but ones that can actually be connected quite neatly if you think about it. Jeff Posner talks about the thorny issue of grading—something collectors and dealers have disagreed about for years (is there such a thing as “almost” uncirculated? When does VF+ become almost EF, etc.) and Andrew McNamara raises the subject of counterfeiting and the worrying appearance of the new breed of forgeries that are becoming a depressing part of our hobby. Both writers suggest that we, COIN NEWS, should take a lead in helping people recognise different grades and the new forgeries, especially as these days so much trade is done on-line and a definitive guide to what to look out for would be helpful. We don’t disagree in principle, unfortunately we aren’t sure quite how to do it... In our COIN YEARBOOK we publish the standard grading scale from Unc to Poor although we have always been careful to use descriptions rather than photographs. The reason for this is simple: grading is a subjective area and if we were to publish photographs of coins and state that these are the definitive grades, we leave ourselves open to all sorts of criticisms. With descriptions there is enough leeway for vendor and buyer to be able to argue between themselves should a dispute arise. Grading causes more arguments in the numismatic world than anything else—and you can understand why: when you’re not dealing with exceptionally rare dates grading is everything, with the slightest mark or flaw knocking huge percentages off the price, and even with the rarest coins the collector always seeks the best grades, only accepting a lesser specimen until such a time as he can trade up. This being the case we are loathe to state categorically what is or isn’t a particular grade—we aren’t dealers, our profit isn’t on the line should we make a mistake and so we have steered clear of any definitive guide, our feelings being that those whose livelihoods depend on getting it right are better judges than we. With counterfeiting the issue isn’t quite as straightforward. We could produce a guide about what to look out for, and indeed when we have come across a run of a particular “dodgy” coin we have flagged it up for our readers’ attention. However, producing anything definitive either on paper or indeed on a website is perhaps not the best way forward. The reasoning behind this? Quite simply, that I could show you endless photographs of some of the forged coins and you would be none the wiser. Most of these coins look perfect, they look just like they should. A photograph in COIN NEWS or on any website will tell you nothing at all; even telling you that the weight or feel of the coin is wrong won’t really help . . . until you handle one of the coins for yourself. Most of the time I couldn’t tell you why I know a particular coin is a forgery and I certainly couldn’t tell you how to spot a forgery in this Editorial. I could tell you about tell-tale signs such as incorrect mintmarks for dates, the wrong hairline on a bust, or a variety of other signs to look out for, and indeed should readers have counterfeits with such obvious giveaways to tell us about, then please do get in touch, we would be delighted to share your findings with fellow collectors. But ultimately these things will not help combat the forgers—for no sooner are such flaws pointed out than they are rectified by the criminals responsible and suddenly that tell-tale sign isn’t there any more, so if all you have been looking for is that, then you may be in trouble. No, the reason I can’t tell you definitively how to spot a forgery is the same reason why I can’t show you, through photographs, a definitive guide to grading and that is because for both you really do need to handle real coins, lots of them, time and again. And again. Photographs are great, they will give you an overview of things but we could never suggest they were definitive. The only way, and I really do mean the only way of getting to know your grades, and getting to know whether something is likely to be a forgery or not is to get to know your coins. Of course there are the encapsulation companies that will put their reputation on the line (as well as their money where their mouth is) in guaranteeing both authenticity and grade, but if you don’t want to go down the “slab” route then I am afraid you have no choice—you really do have to get to know what you’re buying. Of course, if you’re only buying from shysters who grade poorly and sell fakes then you’ll end up knowing nothing and losing out big time, so only buy from reputable dealers and never from people offering things too good to be true—they usually are. After a while of handling good coins from good dealers you will realise no “definitive guide” will really help. Until then we are happy to do what we can. Just let us know how.
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