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Certified Coins vs Raw

There is often a difference of opinion between a buyer and a seller about a grade of a coin. Sometimes, the difference of a single grade point can mean a difference of value of thousands of dollars or more (sometimes much more). For that reason, “Third Party Grading” (TPG) Services have come to the hobby, first primarily to verify the authenticity of the coins, but second, to act as coin grading experts without bias in a grading decision.

The most prominent are PCGS, ANACS and NGC. ICG and SEGS are also getting respect from serious collectors. (Please do not confuse SEGS with SGS. SGS is a whole other ball of wax I’d prefer to simply avoid discussing here.)

Always remember that an assigned grade is simply an opinion. It’s usually an important opinion, but as you’re the buyer, your opinion is most important! Learn to grade and valuate coins yourself.

Pay close attention to grading services and all holders. Just because a coin is in a holder does NOT mean the coin is real, nor does it mean the grade is correct. Nor does it mean the holder is real! As they say, “buy the coin, not the holder.”

Here are some other holders and TPG’s, courtesy of CoinAuctionsHelp.com.

In the past few years, CAC (the Certified Acceptance Corporation) has become very important to some collectors as well. CAC will put their sticker on any holder they think has the right grade. In other words, it’s a fourth party verifying that the grade on the holder is correct. CAC coins generally sell higher than non-CAC coins.

The Main TPGs

PCGS is the Professional Coin Grading Service. It is the “toughest” grading service of all of them. PCGS will not assign coins a grade if it perceives any problems at all – from artificial toning, improper cleaning, to damage or environmental damage. In these cases, PCGS assigns a grade of “Genuine” for authentic coins. Often, a PCGS-graded coin is 1 to 2 points lower than other TPG’s. This is not incorrect! It just relates a different opinion and different (not incorrect) standards. That said, I’ve seen significantly over-graded PCGS coins.

ANACS was the grading service created the ANA, the American Numismatic Association. The American Numismatic Association Certification Service is another significant TPG, but no longer related to the ANA. ANACS not only grade coins, but they will attribute varieties of types of coins. They will also assign a details grade to problem coins.

NGC is the Numismatic Guarantee Service. Like ANACS, they will assign details grade. On top of that, NGC assigns every coin it encapsulates a bar code and unique identification number. That allows people to double-check a certification on-line with that number.

There are other TPG’s that are respectable, but these are “the Big Three”. As the saying goes, “buy the coin, not the holder.” Do not always trust the grade on the holder. Instead, get smart about grading coins according to your own standard. Do your homework – and I mean a lot of homework – when buying and know your price range very well.

Buying graded coins doesn’t necessarily keep you from making mistakes. Knowing your stuff helps more.

This is an example of a counterfeit PCGS holder - very misleading even to an experienced collector.

Of course, just as there are counterfeit coins, there are unfortunately counterfeit TPG holders (and counterfeit CAC stickers). Do your homework and work only with dealers you trust.

I collect both raw and certified coins. Most of my collection is raw, but some of my nicer pieces – the stuff I wouldn’t want to accidentally touch with my hands – is certified.

Some people insist on buying certified coins, other people insist on buying raw. There are benefits to both. The advocates for raw coins enjoy holding the history directly, unencumbered, in their hand. I get that. I like that too! Also, it’s often easier to “cherry pick” a great piece raw. Of course, it’s also easier to get duped if you’re inexperienced.

For beginning numismatists interested in spending anything over, say, $100 on a coin, seriously consider only buying it certified. Also, of course, ONLY buy from a trusted dealer. Be careful of eBay sellers – and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is! Certified coins carry a premium over raw – and there is a very good reason for that! Somebody else has authenticated the coin and professionally given it a grade. That’s ease of mind while you learn.

In the end, the debate of Raw v. Certified Coins is up to the individual collector. There is no right answer – just learn do your best to collect what you want!