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harvey stack remembers part 100

Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 100

By Harvey Stack, Co-Founder

Author: Harvey Stack / Thursday, July 15, 2021 / Categories: Harvey G. Stack Remembers

The year of 1986 brought two changes that would be very influential to the hobby’s future: advances in professionally-run grading services and the increased scale of the United States Mint’s involvement in numismatics.

In 1986 PCGS began providing grading and encapsulation services (followed the next year by NGC), forever changing coin collecting. Grading and authentication already existed in an attempt to weed out counterfeits, as well as altered, doctored, polished and mislabeled coins. The new companies greatly expanded the practice, sealing the coin in a plastic holder (slab) that protected the item from further damage and had a numerical grade permanently attached to the holder and, thereby, to the coin. This gave numismatists, especially those who were entering hobby with little experience, confidence in what they were buying.

The professional grading services used a system originated by Dr. William Sheldon in 1949 for evaluating United States large cents, which combined adjectival grading (in shorthand form) with numbers on a scale that ran from 1 to 70. This system came to be used for other denominations, but early on there was little consistency to how it was applied. As noted earlier in this story, in the 1970s the American Numismatic Association brought together a large group of professional numismatists to try to create a more standardized and useful grading system. While there were, of course, differences in opinion and constant discussions it was announced that the Sheldon system would be adopted with some modifications and its use would be expanded to all series. With support from the Guide Book of United States Coins which would use the new grades, they also asked professionals within the hobby to add this system to their grading expressions.

Here is a sample of the upper grades:

VF-30 for VERY FINE

VF-35 for CHOICE VERY FINE

EF-40 for EXTREMELY FINE

EF-45 for CHOICE EXTREMELY FINE

AU-50 for ABOUT UNCIRCULATED

AU-55 for CHOICE ABOUT UNCIRCULATED

MS-60 for MINT STATE or UNCIRCULATED

MS-63 for CHOICE MINT STATE or CHOICE UNCIRCULATED

MS-65 for GEM MINT STATE or GEM UNCIRCULATED

MS-70 for a PERFECT New Condition MINT STATE

Of course, no numerical system, even with adjectival grades included, could take everything into account, including strike, luster, eye appeal, toning and other particular aspects of a coin. Often further words were needed to actually describe what a coin looked like and what special qualities it had beyond the level of wear. Over time the “numerical” ratings would be expanded, especially at the upper end of the scale so that every number from 60 to 70 would be used in conjunction with MS (or Proof) and, eventually, even those numbers would be subdivided using a star or plus sign. But in 1986, those developments were long in the future.

The ANA founded ANACS (American Numismatic Association Certification Service) where coins could be sent for grading and authentication. ANACS would photograph the coins and return them, graded to the sender. As discussed earlier, problems quickly arose with this system, including switching documentation to inferior coins and a great deal of resubmissions, some that were reflected in the census of graded coins and some that were not. With the advent of sealed plastic slabs, the market changed again although, of course, it could not solve all grading issues. As always, even improvements to the system could not stop individuals who were committed to finding a way to work around the system for their own benefit.

As newer systems were put into place, the debate over grading continued (and does to this day). Experienced collectors and dealers trusted their own opinions and often opted to continue the original methods of grading that had developed over the past century. Resubmission continued to be an issue, as individuals attempted to get “upgrades,” a situation that affected census listings in all areas. And as grading itself is subjective, not scientific, there was always the judgement of the graders to keep in mind.

But, while it may not have been clear in 1986, change was coming and professional grading and encapsulated coins were the future of American numismatics. Auction companies and retail dealers who had adjusted to using the ANA grading system earlier now adjusted to professional third-party grading, although it did not happen overnight. Everyone from beginning collectors to experienced dealers needed to learn more about the situation and the ANA, PNG and other organizations tried to provide education, through seminars and at coin shows or club meetings. Change can be difficult and it seemed that a slow down developed and the overall economic growth of the hobby seemed to falter. It took some time for numismatics to adjust and for activity to expand again.​