An Open Letter to CAC: Now is the Time to Accept Moderns
By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Note: A copy of this letter has been forwarded by the authors to CAC’s President John Albanese.
Over the past few years, CAC has distinguished itself by its ability to consistently recognize quality coins. The green and gold CAC stickers have become synonymous with quality, and as a recent article by CoinWeek’s Mark Ferguson demonstrates, CAC stickers carry a premium in the marketplace as collectors and institutional buyers trust CAC to identify quality in an oversaturated grading market.
The service that CAC provides is peace of mind. It’s an assurance that not only did the grading company get it right in terms of their evaluation of a coin, but that the coin is actually a desirable example for the grade. In a grade-driven, eye-appeal-driven and price-driven coin market, this service is a significant factor for collectors who do a large percentage of their buying electronically.
The CAC sticker is also a “do-over” of sorts. Grading standards have shifted over the years as the market has developed. Simply put, we understand series better now than we did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Coins also have a tendency to physically degrade over time. Many collectors assume that a holdered coin is safe and somehow guarantees the current grade, but in reality it‘s most definitely not safe and doesn‘t guarantee anything. The CAC sticker reassures a buyer that new eyes have taken a fresh look at the coin, and that it’s still a quality investment.
This reassurance is sorely needed when it comes to moderns, which belong to a historic moment that’s as much a part of the past as any classic coin. And while CAC has built its business certifying the classics, now is the time for CAC to take a bold step and provide their much-needed service to collectors of modern coinage.
Recently, we worked together to establish the Eisenhower dollar as a CAC-accepted coin. In the three months since, CAC has reviewed hundreds of Ikes and only stickered 287 of them. What’s clear is that CAC doesn’t believe that many top population coins meet its demanding standards.
Consider: one of four MS-66 1972 Type Ones stickered; one of five MS-66 1972 Type Twos stickered; three of seventeen MS-66 1972-Ps stickered; and only two top-pop MS-66 1973-Ps got stickered.
How much more value will the “green bean” add to these coins? The Ike collectors I talk to tell me that if a top-pop coin doesn’t have a CAC sticker or look exceptionally nice in hand then they won’t even consider it anymore.
These are savvy buyers whose own coins predominately stickered when they sent them to you to help establish grading guidelines, and they’ve seen more than their fair share of over-graded coins in expensive plastic.
For these collectors, a CAC sticker is not only a value proposition for when it’s time to sell, but it also serves as insurance for the prospective buyer that the coin is indeed accurately graded. Sellers want to get full value for their coins, and buyers don’t mind paying more for premium product. When the difference between grades at the top is often thousands of dollars, it goes without saying that CAC-stickered Ikes are the alpha coins of the marketplace.
A MODERN APPROACH
The hobby badly needs to change its attitude towards moderns. CAC is in the best position to make that happen. By opening up to modern submissions, CAC would be putting coins in front of politics. This approach won’t lead to a glut of worthless CAC stickers because there’s no real incentive for a company or individual to keep investing in the appraisal of low-value coins.
What we think would happen, should CAC accept modern business strikes, is an elevated appreciation for coins at the top end, leading to a more concerted effort to preserve quality pieces for future generations. And naturally, it would be good for those already ahead of the curve and assembling superior quality modern sets.
This will also provide immeasurable comfort to the buyer considering a high-end 1972 Doubled Die Lincoln cent, an MS-66 1983-P quarter, or the only MS-67 graded 1981-S Susan B. Anthony dollar.
Clearly, a CAC sticker alone won’t change everyone’s mind. Some in the hobby still nurture a bias against moderns on a number of grounds. This sentiment has more to do with the anxiety and fear created by changes in our economy and money’s place in it than any serious argument.
One unfortunate side-effect of such a prejudice is the assumption that, due to the high mintages of modern coins, quality pieces are available in abundance. As modern specialists can tell you, this is not the case. Yes, over 176 million 1969 Philly quarters were struck, but in order to find one in MS-65 or higher, you’ll have to dig through mint sets, which exponentially reduces the pool of possible quality pieces to 1.8 million.
And the problem with finding quality coins in mint sets is that every experienced modern collector knows about it, which means you’ve got a lot of competition – and some of them have been at it for over 30 years.
Fresh mint sets are still out there, but the herd is thin. If demand for those high-end 1969 quarters took off, then collectors are going to find themselves with just a few highly expensive options. Will they be worth buying? A CAC sticker would make all the difference.
The following table illustrates what we think is a reasonable way for CAC to enter the modern marketplace:
We feel CAC’s approach to Ikes should serve as a template for the rest. Post-SMS proof coinage is a different animal altogether than silver-era proofs. As such, we’d lay off of those, at least for now. The argument can certainly be made that both PCGS and NGC could tighten up their standards for what constitutes Deep or Ultra Cameo and which coins truly are one step below “perfect”. We completely understand CAC’s reluctance to split hairs over proofs and personally, we wouldn’t bother.
Business strikes are another matter. Again, the typical coin CAC would see from the modern period would be high-end or top-pop. Accepting moderns wouldn’t let loose a river of dreck, but it would help separate the wheat from the chaff. For Lincoln cents, 1982 is a logical cut-off date as the end of the copper cent. For the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar, it makes sense to use 1983 – the second year of the two year mint-set sabbatical – as the cut-off point. Of course, you can make arguments for any number of dates. But by moving the marker from 1964 to 1983, CAC would send a valuable and much-needed message to the hobby. The time for ignoring clad coinage has ended.
Mr. Albanese, you have a long and distinguished career as a numismatist and shaper of the market. Collectors have put their trust in you over the years because of the quality of your work and your character. The time has come for the modern market to mature and we are asking you to stand with us. Will you?
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
FLIP OF A COIN:
The only Treasury Secretary immortalized on a United States coin is also one of a select few individuals to appear on one while still alive. Carter Glass, who served during the Wilson administration (1913-21), is best remembered today for being one of the co-sponsors of the Glass-Steagall Act, the law that, among other things, regulated the banking industry and created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the FDIC). Look for him on the 1936 Lynchburg Sesquicentennial half dollar.
2012 marks the thirtieth year of the copper-plated zinc cent, referred to irreverently as the “zincoln”. The series has a number of exciting varieties, the most notable of which may be the 1992-D Close AM (a cent with closer than normal spacing between the AM in AMERICA). One known example is in a PCGS holder, and five have been attributed by NGC.
Question: Where was the first Bicentennial half dollar released into circulation? Philadelphia? Denver? Boston? Yorktown? If you guessed Minneapolis, Minnesota, then you know your numismatic history. At a presentation held on July 7, 1975, Mint Director Mary Brooks honored contest winner and Minneapolis native Seth G. Huntington, whose Independence Hall design was selected for the reverse of the Bicentennial Kennedy half dollar, by releasing the first ones into circulation. The Bicentennial Washington quarter and Eisenhower dollar were released later.