Coin Doctoring Presents A Moral Imperative to the Coin Industry
Richard Schwary – California Numismatic Investments
It would be a great deal more fun to consider what R.W. Julian has to say about Gobrecht dollars but at this point in time the consideration in front of us is the rather murky numismatic subject called coin doctoring. I have talked with both David Hall of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Mark Salzburg of Numismatic Grading Corporation (NGC) about this problem and believe these folks along with other industry leaders understand that not taking unilateral action against the growing danger of radical coin doctoring will at some point come back to haunt us all. And in the bargain we will be criticized historically for a simple lack of leadership within the rare coin industry.
Fortunately for all of us there is still time for aggressive action but let’s not put this issue on the back burner because the window of opportunity we now enjoy will shrink as fast as this extreme danger expands. I applaud both PCGS and NGC as well as the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) for working toward an understanding as to what criteria should be used when considering coin doctoring. And it is not my intention to solve this Gordian knot in a few paragraphs but I do see a problem if we do not insure progress from this point forward. There must be a tipping point for this industry when we all come together on this definition or forever be condemned as showing great promise but failing to deliver on difficult issues.
A review of Vic Botharth’s well developed statement Coin Doctoring and the PNG Decision (Coinweek.com) will help greatly because it clearly states what I believe is the professionally safe position many dealers have adopted now that the initial smoke has cleared. And at the same time it raises questions which will move the discussion forward, like the notion that the grading services did not equivocate on their expertise and in fact guaranteed the product. So as the stated experts they led the way into this mess and so the problem is theirs to fix and the trade should not be concerned. Fair enough but certainly not comprehensive especially when dealer and consumer organizations like the PNG and ANA place themselves in positions of authority.
Let me also add a general feeling I think every dealer has to some degree but was raised nicely by a friend of mine and old time PNG member at the last Long Beach Show. He admitted the obvious in that we all face this coin doctoring problem but said he did not want to get involved as he did not trade in the stealth damaged goods and his hands were full with regular day to day business. I was not at the PNG General Meeting when the modified definition of coin doctoring was not accepted but I talked with members who were and appreciate the difficulty of trying to parse words when it comes to doctoring. What is and what is not has been a part of the industry dialogue for as long as I can remember and the PNG already includes in its ethics rules an admonition concerning doctored coins.
I have also talked with Laura Sperber on the subject and believe she deserves not only trade recognition but an award from the American Numismatic Association (ANA). ANA President Cliff Mishler and ANA Executive Director Larry Sheperd are great leaders and will not cut and run on this subject so public recognition from the ANA can only serve to move this discussion forward.
In some ways Sperber reminds me of the heroine Calamity Jane played by the beautiful Robin Weigert in the famous HBO Series “Deadwood”. Laura’s fire breathing oratory in the middle of a mostly male audience should be admired. If we were honest with ourselves her “over the top” approach to this danger should be seen as the most important tactic ever used in moving this nightmare out of the closet. Some might believe she is grand standing but when we talked Laura came across as sincere and hardly out of gas on this controversial subject. She also has a wonderful regard for rare coins and continues to warn readers about treasures at risk in the name of raw profit and greed.
Ultimately I choose to believe the PNG will once again address this growing problem and take a stand which better defines coin doctoring if only to state the most obvious cases. I do not want to speak for PNG President Paul Montgomery even though he is a great friend of mine. But as a Past PNG President I can say with certainty that leadership always comes at a premium especially when “no one is happy”. And it seems to me that true leadership, especially in the face of hostile fire is never easily accepted. But great leaders tough it out and understand the mission and are willing historically to be applauded after the fact.
In the meantime let’s appreciate one of the most important gains this industry has made regarding coin doctoring: We all can now talk openly about this problem and so it is forever outside the numismatic shadows. Most of us know that progress is often tedious but because of this discussion we will eventually get a sense of where improvement makes sense.
No coin professional needs to be told that radical doctoring of coins is a pathetic reality so I hope we all applaud PCGS and NGC for constant vigilance. And the PCGS attempt at scientifically killing this monster with new technology like the Shield or the Sniffer is certainly a numismatic milestone. But we should understand the trade is now facing a new and much more virulent twist to an old numismatic problem so creative work and probably a great deal more money will be needed to tame this creature.
Perhaps policing it is not the job of the PNG but taking no action must prove ultimately dangerous. For you academic or religious readers doing nothing would be a violation of what German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) called the Categorical Imperative. And so my contention is simply that taking no action is not rational for any group which makes a rightful claim to be good for the rare coin industry.
Let’s make sure the coin industry does not stand in the way or worse tacitly contribute to this abuse while claiming the problem either cannot be defined or is not our business. No industry action or worse vague definitions fail to protect the good people who turn to rare coin professionals for proper advice and an honest deal. Inaction will also cost the industry its moral high ground and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. So in the end let us solve this problem while there was still time to set the record straight.