In the spring of 1973, the American Numismatic Association invited a group of over 50 professionals, including myself to their Colorado Springs Headquarters to address the variance that existed among collectors and dealers when grading coins, and to try to unify the system so that all coins could be graded using the same methodology.
In the hobby there were many debates about correct grading, what defined Mint State, were coins Proofs or merely prooflike. The standards were different for each denomination and mint; technology differed as did planchet preparation, planchet stock quality, and striking. Addressing the need for a more unified system was the intent of the ANA conference.
While there were many different people with many different ideas, members of the conference agreed that it might be worthwhile to consider adopting the Sheldon System. It was almost a quarter of a century old and had been used for coppers (large cents) as discussed and explained in William Sheldon’s book. It was thought that combining adjectival letter grading with numerical grading could make the system clearer.
Dick Yeoman, the original editor of the Guide Book of United States Coins and Ken Bressett, who assisted him, re-did the grades as would be listed in the forthcoming issue of the Guide Book, and showed us a copy. It had one flaw which I noticed. Adopting the new names for grades that included letters and numbers worked fine for grades where the letters were the same as the previously used adjectival grading. For example, AU-50 was easily understood, as “About Uncirculated” had been used as a grade in the past. The new system used MS or Mint State for Uncirculated coins. But many coins had previously been called Brilliant Uncirculated (BU). I was concerned that Mint State grades might be questioned by those who were used to the old adjectives. So I suggested to Ken, why not for the first few years list values using both sets of adjectival lettering, and also the numerical grades. It would surely get readers familiar, more quickly than just having just a MS abbreviation with the new numerical grade in the Guide Book. It took me about two weeks of talking with Ken on the phone to convince him that this was important and would be helpful.
It took quite a few years, but eventually the numerical part of the grade came to be used more often, as collectors became accustomed to seeing both in print and more commonly used. Within a short time after this conference was held, the ANA established an Authentication and Grading Service that, for a fee, would examine and photograph each coin, attach the photo to a certificate and return it to the sender. However, as the coin was not in any way physically attached to the certificate, there was no way to definitively guarantee that the certificate was for a specific coin.
It was nearly a decade after the ANA grading conference, in the early 1980s, that PCGS and NGC came into existence. They provided a service that graded coins and also put them in a sealed plastic holder so that switching was nearly impossible.
While there are still problems with grading, the past quarter of a century has seen incredible strides forward in this area.