Saturday, November 24, 2012

Problem Coins - they always will be

For me anyway, when the weather starts to warm up in the spring and through the summer, my activities tend to push off the bourse floor and coin shops outside into the nature preserves, up to the cottage etc.  I still pay attention to coins but at a hugely reduced rate.  As I write this, the wind is howling outside and the temperature has dropped significantly.  It’s Coin Season!

So I was looking through my search results and main categories on eBay and I was shocked at the number of certified problem coins being offered at 70-80% of trends or more!  When did this happen?  Why are they not discounted to acknowledge the problems. Why would I want to buy a damaged coin when I can by an undamaged coin for the same or better price?  This I don’t understand.  This you need to be careful of when you purchase your coins!

There are very, very few reasons that I would shell out hard earned cash for a known problem coin.  By known problem I’m talking about TPG’s that tell you through their labeling that the coin has been damaged and is not a good an example.   While “buy the coin, not the holder” is really sound advice, pay attention to the holder if the coin is third party graded!  There is information there you can use.

PCGS labels coins as “Genuine” that it feels are problems.  They are not shy about telling you the problem either.  The coin receives a “Details” grade with the problem identified in words and by code.  Here is a link to the PCGS grades including problem identification. 

NGC labels coins as “Details” that it feels are problems.  They are also not shy about telling you the problem.  The coin gets a “Details” grade with the problem identified in words.  Here is a link to the NGC glossary of “Details” grading. 

ICG also labels coins as “Details” on their holders with the problem identified in words.  I could not find a published list of ICG grading standards or what would make a coin a candidate for this type of designation.   

ANACS grades the coin as normal but gives the grade a “Details” label.  In addition to the label, they also tell you in writing what they feel the problem with the coin is.  Here is a link to the ANACS FAQ page showing their “Details” grading standards. 

ICCS grades the coin as normal and uses the comment line to make any notes.  I could not find a published list of ICCS grading standards or what would make a coin a candidate for a problem comment.

CCCS grades the coin as normal and uses the comment line to make any notes.  Here is a link to grades including items that will make the comment line on a CCCS holder.

The other problem I see are coins that are obviously cleaned, altered, damaged etc. but are not indicated on the holder whatsoever.  It all makes one’s head spin.  Use your eyes for all aspects of the coin and the holder.  Even if the holder doesn't indicate a problem, if the coin doesn't look right, if your gut is telling you there is something wrong, the colour is off, there are wiz marks etc. don’t buy the coin. Leave problem coins where they are!  Once a problem - always a problem. They will not serve you well in your collection and will disappoint you when it becomes time to sell them.  You are certainly better served waiting for a good example to come your way.  At least that’s how I see it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Victoria Large Cent Census

I'm taking a census of all the varieties published in the Charlton large cent variety section of the 65th Edition.  If you would like to participate, and I hope you do, check out the information on the census on the end of this link

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Getting Your Grade On

Flip open any coin catalog, CCN Trends, on-line price guide or the like and you are faced with a table format showing different retail pricing for any given date based on grade. Other items factor into the equation to determine price, but it is listed by grade.  How good are you at grading coins?  This is one of the most important and least end user mastered aspects of our hobby.  If the price we are going to pay is determined by grade, why then are we all too willing to accept the grade offered on the holder or uttered by the vendor as being correct?   If you are a good grader and are confident in your skill, you can probably stop here.  If you generally buy the grade offered on TPG holders, you probably need to keep reading.  If you accept the scrawl on a 2x2 you definitely need to keep reading!

Complicating this pesky grading business are things like weak strikes, eye appeal, colour, toning, marks, rim nicks, planchet flaws and the fact that I change my mind.    What looked to be fine today might look very good next week when I look again.  Am I splitting hairs?  Could be, particularly if I’m vacillating between VG10 and F12 on a common date large cent, sometimes it just doesn’t matter.  Other times it does.  I was just looking at a particular discussion board and some of the opinions on grade offered against a key date variety coin were from VG to F15.  It looked more like G4 to me.

OK so on this grading thing, you know more than you think.  Here is an exercise for you.  This is best done on the same design so for Victoria, choose a particular portrait like obverse 4 as an example.  Select 10-15 coins.  If you are a date collector you will have this many without difficulty.  Flip them all over so that you are looking at the obverse side and not the date.  Now without prejudice, sort them from the most worn looking obverse to the least worn obverse.  At the most basic level you have graded the group in front of you.  You could do this day after day and probably put the coins in the exact order you have in front of you now. You could be consistent.   That is good because you can do exactly the same on the bourse.  I was off at a show a few weeks back and I was looking at obverse 1 coins.  This one particular vendor had a ton of 1876-82 coins marked VG-VF.  I thought his grading was subjective I flipped the group over and picked the best 10 from the bunch and put the rest back.  The grades on the holders and the associated prices were a split between VG and VF, but I purchased the best of the bunch.

That approach works fine for groups but what about single coins.  With your group still sorted from most to least worn, your next task is to identify a particular grade. What is the highest grade for the coins in the group?  What is the lowest grade? If you have VG to EF as your end points, which coin in the group represents F, VF20 and VF30 and how will you know if you are right?

You can assemble a grade set of coins to use as standards if you want.  You can then compare against your grade set.  How do you set up a grade set?  You have resources.  Use quality pictures on the internet auction sites, or grading sets already assembled like that from Mike Walsh link.  You can even assemble a set based on TPG if you want and purchase an example of each grade you are interested in for your set.  If you do this, stay with one TPG company and only use a respected one.  Grades can vary significantly between the TPG’s so stay top tier to minimize errors.  Staying with the same company for this exercise will drive consistency into your sample set based on the standards the TPG employs, grade creep notwithstanding.  Charlton has also published a Standard Grading Guide for Canadian & Colonial Decimal Coins.  This deals with circulated grades up to AU.   

The more coins you look at and mentally grade, the better you get.  Come back to exercise your skill at grading against known standards frequently to stay sharp.  Don’t let other factors influence your grade.  Since the cost of the coin will be determined by a variety of factors including grade, master the variables like grade to minimize mistakes on your part.  You can’t control mintage, survivability, demand, inventory etc. but you can control your ability to assess the offering independently of the dealer and then determine if your money stays in your pocket or if it gets replaced by a nice EF Vickey.

Now for your final task, flip the coins back over to the reverse.  Do your grades match those written on the holders?  What adjustments do you need to make?  Are the grades on the holder correct?  Were they influenced by something else?  The three biggest influence's are date, price and variety.  As we just found out, none of these plays a role in grade.  Protect yourself and your cash by learning how to grade.  The cost of a mistake is minimal on common coins but gets large on keys, varieties and better grade coins.  Cherry pick by grade next time you are at a show.  Your collection will thank you and so will your wallet.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I'm wishing you all a Happy New Year and good hunting for the coins you are after.  I've made some of the articles I have published in the past available in case you have missed them when they originally published.  Click on the Published Article link at the top of the right hand navigator under "Pages" to access them.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sharing Your Knowledge Nets You More

I was having a casual conversation with a friend of mine a while back, covering this and that, nothing in particular.  The conversation rolled around to coins.  Now my friend is not a collector and they know that this topic with me can suck up most of the oxygen in the room once I get started.  Sometimes I think people just ask to be polite. Kind of like saying “how are you today?”  You don’t really want to know all the ailments that are afflicting them, you are having polite conversation. 

This conversation starts with “How are your pennies doing?”  

How do I answer that?  I don’t call them pennies, I never have.   They say CENT right on them so I know they are cents.  Also, it’s large cents I collect, and specifically Victoria that I specialize in.

“They are great” I say, “I’m learning gobs from looking at them.”

My friend does market research for a living so she understands the concept of knowledge extraction from a data set.  In my case this means that I’m laying out a group of coins for study, cataloging them in a normal fashion for grade, and then looking closer at each coin to determine its particular characteristics.  These also get cataloged, the coin gets photographed if needed, markers noted and then the coin gets placed back in my ‘study’ binder in a fashion that I can find it again.  Every few new dies I identify, I need to print of the new photographs and place them in the appropriate place in the growing catalog.  This process of iteration takes quite some time to work through, but since there is no reference work for what I am doing this “catalog on the fly” approach does work.  The bigger my catalog gets, the easier it is to identify what I find.  The new die’s I discover get fewer and fewer the bigger my sample set grows.

“How will you share your results?” she asks.  “You can’t keep that stuff to yourself; you need to spread the knowledge around.”

This causes a tangent discussion on published articles, e-books, good old hard copy, costs, barriers, publishers, market size, demand, need, apps, Twitter, blog’s, social networks, copyright, copyright infringement, and a host of other things.  Eventually we roll back around to the coins.  Actually it’s the people around the coins we talk about.

I have a network of friends that specialize in Vickies as well.  We share thoughts and new finds back and forth.  We proof each other’s work when we are getting ready to publish books or articles.  We explore theories by exploring our coin sets against a hypothesis.  But it’s the larger population, beyond the specialists that’s important.  The bigger question for us is ‘what are we doing to share our knowledge’? 

The more I’ve found ways to share what I know, the more I have received in return.  I have met some wonderful collectors, specialists and friends.  I have all sorts of people I interact with in discussion boards with funny screen names. I receive emails for people I’ve never met asking questions on Vickies.  The more I share it seems, the more I get back in friendship, knowledge, perspective, opportunity and such.  Only in a very few cases with a couple of people was it to my detriment to share.  By and large the most rewarding aspect of what I do with my coins is sharing my knowledge.

My experience in this leads me to the following few points that I live by;
  1. Respect others intellectual and physical property
  2. Ask for help when you need it
  3. Share what you know in a manner you are comfortable with
  4. Write an article for a web site, RCNA Journal, local club newsletter etc.
  5. Introduce your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, the kid down the block etc. to your passion
  6. Share your finds, but never gloat
  7. Teach, you learn far more when you need to teach something to some one
  8. Never just take, always give back
So, how are your pennies doing?  Find a way to let us all know what you are working on and what you have found.
1876 Study group and developing catalog.  The binder holds north of 500 coins all individually documented to build the growing catalog on the left.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Do You Specialize?

I was at a coin store the other day that I had not been to before.  It looked like a nice place and the dealer was pleasant.   As I was looking around at the mostly US offerings, (I live in the states) the dealer approached and asked me if he could help.  Cutting right to the chase I said “sure, do you have any Canadian large cents?”  This question usually brings an answer of “no, sorry, what else do you collect?” Sometimes I get “yes I have a few here somewhere”.  That response is usually followed by some rummaging around to produce a handful of low grade common date stuff anywhere from 1859 to 1920, with the emphasis on George.

This particular day, I got asked some qualifying questions in return.  “What dates are you interested in?  Are you looking for grade or circs?  I think I have a few certified as well, are you interested in those?”  OK I seem to be interfacing with a dealer that has stock.  This is unusual for me.  His questions really forced me to get more specific in my wants. 

“I’m really just looking for Victoria” comes my response.

He counters “What dates do still need?” OK, I’m going to have to get more specific. 

“I don’t really need any dates, I just collect Victoria.” 

“Oh, I have a selection of better grades, would you be interested in those?”

“It depends on the date.” I say.  At this point he is continuing to be very nice as he attempts to pull out of me what I actually want.  I find myself almost frustrated. Not at the dealer, but at the fact that I apparently don’t seem to know what I want.  I’m going to have to step up my game here.  “I’m focused on earlier dates at the moment, anything from 1858 through about 84 or so”.

“Ah, I have a number of 1859’s and some of the earlier ones, all circs, is that OK?”

“Yes that would be great!”

As he heads to the back room to get the appropriate box, it occurs to me that there are easy groupings that large cents fall into.  It’s not just that I am a large cent collector; I have groupings that I seem to pay attention to.  For instance I will by George, but I tend to stay BU.  Almost the same for Edward, I work AU and up.  These are nice groupings and one could easily specialize by king.  For Victoria, well, she seems to fragment much the way Liberty does on early US copper.  For Victoria, the groupings that seem natural to me are;

1858 – This is an outstanding variety year to collect.  Rob Turner has opened the collecting world’s eyes to this group.  The drawback is the coins are not pocket change.  Most collectors have 1 or 2 of these, not gobs of them.  I’m working on a variety set so I have several at the moment.

1859/8 – This is the short series.  There are only a few varieties in this group.  I had a full set of all the Obv. and Rev. combinations until Rob Turner published 1 other.  I’m in the hunt for it now as well.

1859’s – I’m not sure what to say about this group.  There are so many different ways that one could collect this date it is almost a single collecting focus in itself.  Brad Gravestone did a ton of work on these and Dr. Jim Haxby is currently in the process of publishing the die varieties.  For me, I like the re-punched 9’s and 5’s

I want to break the Dominion group by Obverse but I find that too restrictive so here is how I see it.

Obv. 1x – All the Obv. 1, 1a, 1a/1 coins from 1876 to 1886. This is a nice 5 year group with some spectacular varieties to look for.  Since the 84 and 86 Obv. 1 and 1a coin are single dies for those years it is really a 3 year group.

Early Obv. 2 – I group the 1882-1887’s together as well as the Obv. 2/1 stuff.

1888 – I see this as a great opportunity for study.  We all know that there are tons of repunched 8’s and the mintage numbers mean that we won’t be finding them all for a while.

Obv. 3 - All 3 years

1891 – All combinations of Obverse and reverse. There are lots of varieties here if you wanted to go for the entire set.  You’ll need a guide for this.  Look to Rob Turner for this series.

All Others – This groups coins from 1892 forward to 1901.  I used to think that there was not much going on here but there are lots of double punched numbers in the dates and various date spacing’s.

Heaton – Collect just H coins including the 1907

Is it any wonder that I had a hard time articulating what I wanted to look at!  I ended up buying some nicer circ 1859’s and an 81.  I’ll need to be more prepared next time I visit this particular shop. It’s nice to have choice but sometimes you really need to have focus on what your targets are.  Specializing in certain areas of large cents can be an outstanding way to broaden your collection.  Pick an area and dive in!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ugly Coins and Technical Grading

OK I needed to take a bit of a break but I’m back.  Over the summer I’ve managed to make it to the RCNA show in Windsor and the ANA show in Chicago.  Both were great events, I met some good people and saw some great coins.  I even bought a few.  Oddly I bought more at the ANA show than the RCNA show.  To be fair, there was more choice for the items I was looking for at the ANA show so that is why I purchased more there. 

Both shows however got me thinking about grading.  The Canadian show featured coins using a technical grading standard (ICCS mostly) while the US show featured coins using market grading (all the major TPG’s).  The difference put simply is that in the US the TPG’s also take into consideration eye appeal and strike as well as the technical aspects.  So a coin with better strike and stunning eye appeal gets a bump in grade and should sell for more money, or so the story goes.  I’m not sure how I feel about that but I do think pretty coins look better than ugly coins.

That brings me to the topic of this post.  I think I tend to fall into the technical grading arena for the most part.  However I will always tend to select a better looking coin at the same grade over a shoddy looking example.  I’m not talking about grade within a grade, and by that what I mean is passing a low end MS63 to get a high end MS63.  I’m talking about what a coin looks like.  For example, on a MS coin classified as “Red”, I like it to actually be “Red” without carbon spots, finger prints etc.  Nothing turns me off a mint state coin quicker than a big old thumb print, a few carbon spots, and a coin that looks more Red Brown than Red.  I’ll pass every time on those.  I’ll also pass on a VF 30 coin with distracting marks in favour of one that has fewer marks.  Where the marks are does make a difference to me.  Vicky can hide a mark in her hair an awful lot better than a gash across her throat!

If the coin is raw, then my mental check list of things I’m looking at proceeds as normal and I can make a decision on the coin.  This tendency of mine to prefer better looking coins causes me problems if the coin has been slabbed.  You might think that odd but let me explain.  When I’m looking at a technical graded coin, I have to “factor in” the market grading steps of eye appeal and strike to get me to a decision point on the coin.  So far so good right?  Leave the ugly one and buy the pretty one.  This is harder to do on line.  The pics generally feature the holder not the coin, so it’s harder for me to make this assessment.   When I’m looking at a market graded coin, I’m “factoring out” eye appeal and strike to back down to a technical grade.  Why would I do that?  If the coin was grade bumped to take into account those items, I want to establish for myself what I think the technical grade of the coin is.  This is a lot of work to make a decision on a coin.

Ultimately I guess what I want is market grade appeal with technical grade price.  Is that asking too much?  I don’t think so.  It just means I need to be selective on what I choose.  I can’t take a TPG coin at face value; I need to actually look closer at them before I reach my decision!  When I look at Vicky I want the girl looking the best she can.