The Coin Analyst: Grading Service Guidelines and Clarification on Bullion Coin in 25th Anniversary Silver Eagle Sets
by Louis Golino for Coin Week
Since my last column on the 25th anniversary silver eagle sets was published, there have been a couple more significant developments that merit discussion.
Collectors who ordered their sets during the first couple hours of sales on October 27 have either already received their sets, or their sets have shipped. The other orders should be shipping soon. My own orders were received about 3:30pm and are listed as “in stock and reserved,” and my credit card has been charged. But the sets have not yet shipped.
With Friday being a federal holiday (Veterans Day), I do not expect my sets to ship before Monday at the earliest.
I hope they ship by the middle of the week since I plan to bring them with me to the Whitman Baltimore Expo coin show at the end of next week, where I will be dropping off two sets for grading by PCGS. Although NGC is not accepting in-person submission of the anniversary sets at coin shows, PCGS is, as I learned when I called on November 10.
Neither service will grade the sets at the show, but it is really helpful that PCGS will accept on-site submission for grading at PCGS headquarters, which allows collectors to save a lot on shipping fees. The anniversary sets must be submitted in their unopened boxes as received from the Mint, and with all the packaging and the fancy display boxes, these sets are heavy. From what I have read from collectors who already have their sets, each one weighs 3-4 pounds. By the time one pays shipping and insurance, plus all the fees associated with grading, the overall expense will be considerable. At least return shipping from the grading services is based on the coins’ value, not weight.
I will not re-hash all the pros and cons of third party grading here, but the bottom line is that unless one receives 70’s on the majority of the coins, it may not be worth the expense of having them graded. Because it is hard to get the perfect grade on all five coins, sets in which every coin grades MS/PF-70 should command a nice premium, though perhaps not as much as some early prices.
The proof and burnished West Point coins are made to very high standards, and I expect that a large number of them will grade MS or PF-70, probably something in the neighborhood of 50% of the total coins submitted, especially if sent to NGC.
The same is likely to be true of the reverse proof coin and probably also the burnished San Francisco coin.
As Clair Hardesty has noted in online coin forums, the wild card is the bullion coin, which will probably have a lower number of 70’s than the other four coins.
If past history is any guide, I suspect that more sets will be graded MS/PF-70 by NGC than PCGS, and as a result, the PCGS 70 sets are likely to command higher secondary market values.
I think both companies provide useful services, and I am not suggesting that one service is better or worse than the other. It is just a fact that when it comes to modern coins, PCGS assigns the top grade to fewer coins than NGC does.
Another difference to bear in mind regarding the grading of the anniversary sets is that each service has a different policy on first strike/early release.
First, PCGS will charge you $18 per coin for first strike designation, but NGC provides coins that meet its early release criteria with this designation free of cost.
Second, PCGS stated on November 10 that to be eligible for first strike designation sets need to be postmarked no later than December 7.
At NGC one must opt-out if one does not wish to have coins designated as early releases if they meet the criteria, and coins must be received by NGC by December 8 to be considered early releases. Again, without debating the pros and cons of these designations, and putting aside the well-known fact that there is no way to prove that these coins were actually made first, or are superior in any way, the fact is that PCGS first strike coins do command higher values in the marketplace.
Finally, after releasing initial submission guidelines on November 8, PCGS issued a follow-up on December 10 regarding the bullion coin included in the sets.
There has been some confusion regarding this coin from the beginning. I inadvertently contributed to this confusion by incorrectly stating in my October 28 column that the bullion coin was made in Denver. As some astute readers explained, Denver has never produced silver eagles.
When these sets were first announced on August 19 at the Chicago ANA, Deputy Mint Director Richard Peterson stated that the bullion coin is from the San Francisco Mint or the West Point Mint.
But PCGS indicated in its November 10 statement that the Mint has explained that there is no way to know for sure if all coins were made in San Francisco.
Consequently, the Mint explained that some coins were made in West Point, but most were made in San Francisco.
So, for those collectors who are concerned that the information on the certificates of authenticity, which says the coins could be from either Mint, are incorrect, the certificates are accurate. Coin World may have contributed to the confusion by reporting on October 31 that the Mint decided to produce all the bullion coins for the sets at San Francisco.
The only way to know for sure if a bullion eagle came from San Francisco or West Point is from the label on the 500-coin “monster boxes.” Since the Mint did not track this when assembling the sets, collectors will have to live with not knowing which Mint actually produced the coin.
The launch of the anniversary sets is clearly the event of the year for collectors of modern U.S. coins.
Most people feel the Mint did an outstanding job by creating these attractive, low-mintage sets, although some collectors who have received theirs state that the coins were not packed very securely and that coins either came out of the display case, or even came out of their capsules.
And those who will be forced to buy a set on the secondary market continue to be upset that they could not place an order with the Mint before the sell out. Others have had their orders cancelled for seemingly arbitrary reasons like a small mistake on their mailing addresses.
And lots of people seem to be either jealous, or resentful, about the buyers who purchased a couple sets for resale value, a view I find odd since there is nothing wrong with making a profit, especially if one did not violate the Mint’s policies.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.