Volume 60, Number 8, August 2023
All in the details A VERY interesting article by Neil Paisley, Managing Director of Baldwin’s, dropped into our inbox recently (if you don’t subscribe to the Baldwin’s newsletters you really should—visit www. baldwin.co.uk). The article concerned third-party grading (slabbing in other parlance), the practice of a third-party company taking a coin, grading it (using a numerical system that, oddly, goes to 70) and then encapsulating it in a hard plastic “slab” so that the grade remains constant and collectors can know with certainly that what they are getting is worth what they are paying. Now, I have covered slabbing on numerous occasions in this “Comment”; my take is, generally, that I personally don’t like slabbed coins for a couple of reasons— firstly, they are not as easy to store as unslabbed examples (I have a lovely traditional cabinet with shallow drawers, and slabs just wouldn’t work in there) and, secondly, and far more importantly, I like to hold my coins, I like to literally have the history in my hands; with a slab, you’re always slightly removed, you’re always looking at your coin as if through glass, it may as well be in a museum. Of course, that’s just my take, lots of people, particularly in the US, love their slabs, they are comfortable knowing that the coin has been checked over and graded by someone else and are happy knowing it’s protected for all time. I get that, it’s just not for me. Neil, however, was looking at things from a different angle and explaining ho w third party grading, whilst useful, can have a detrimental effect on price if any issues are found with the coin at all. Naturally, one would expect that, after all, the whole point in third-party grading is for them to find flaws and point them out, but Neil was referring to examples where even very rare coins such as Henry VII sovereigns would often be unlikely to receive numerical grades because they are frequently going to be poorly struck/have minor wear simply because of their age and the nature of the coin/metal. Such coins generally have no numerical grade (not even a low one) but instead the word “details” is added, throwing up all sorts of concerns for people who often wouldn’ t have noticed those “details” at all. He goes on to quote the case of a five-guinea piece and says: “ To put this into prospective [sic], 20 years ago a choice five guinea piece would be priced for example at £10,000. If there was another in similar condition (same date and type) but it had a light scratch on the reverse the price would be a little less, maybe £9,000. As long as the coin was well struck and still had good eye appeal, a small scratch that was barely noticeable would not matter and it would still be regarded as one of the finest known examples. In today’ s coin market, with third party grading, the same two coins today might be say ‘MS6 3’ and the one with the slight scratch ‘Unc Details’. The difference in price would now be astronomical. The ‘MS63’ £150,000–£200,000. The ‘Unc Details’ worth perhaps only £30,000–£40,000. The huge discrepancy in price is not justified for a coin that 20 years ago would have taken pride in a top collector ’s collection and despite the light scratch, was still one of the finest known”. He has a point, I think. Third-party grading can be an excellent tool and is absolutely right for certain collectors—it can also be very useful for beginners, particularly those not confident in grading themselves; but it can also be a blunt tool. It won’t always take in the rarity of the coin, that examples are only ever found in that condition, etc. It also, with the use of words like “details” can put people off as they immediately get jittery if things don’t fit neatly in the numerical grading system. Neil suggests that instead of using words like “details”, more specific descriptions and a numerical grade should be assigned—i n his example, a lightly scratched Henry VII sovereign would achieve AU58 and have “light scratches” added to the description, so everyone knew where they stood. There’s something to be said for that, but then as a collector I can also see an advantage to not following Neil’s advice—mainly because it means I get a chance to buy rarer coins at cheaper prices because I’m not too worried about those minor details, I just want to own an example of the coin, something I’m never going to be able to do if it’s MS (mint state) 63 or higher! What are your thoughts?
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