The Coin Analyst: Are MS-70 Coins “Value Traps”?

By Louis Golino for CoinWeek

A quarter century after the establishment of the first professional coin grading companies, many coin collectors remain skeptical of the benefits of third party grading. For many of them buying raw, ungraded coins is a kind of badge of honor that shows they have not succumbed to the mania for plastic holders. They rely on their own ability to grade coins and believe third party grading is a waste of money.

There is no question that the grading companies are not perfect. Sometimes they make mistakes, giving a grade that is clearly too high or too low for a coin. But overall, they perform useful functions by authenticating coins, protecting consumers from subjectively graded coins, adding market value in many cases, and generally facilitating the buying and selling of coins.

ms 70 eagle The Coin Analyst: Are MS 70 Coins Value Traps?The grading of modern U.S. Mint coins has become a huge cottage industry for the grading companies and a major source of revenue for them, especially with all the large bulk orders they receive from dealers. But the grading of these coins continues to be especially controversial for a number of reasons. Some collectors feel slabbing reduces the value of coins, no matter what grade they receive. They think slabs are like caskets and prefer to be able to view the coin more closely. Others are convinced their coins are mishandled during the grading process, or that Mint capsules offer better protection than slabs. I am doubtful of both propositions.

In addition, the labeling of coins delivered to third party grading companies within 30 days of their release as “first strikes” or “early releases” remains controversial. There is no way to prove those coins were actually struck first. But some coins were hard to obtain within 30 days of their release because of delays in processing Mint orders, such as the 2009 Ultra High Relief double eagle, and UHR’s with the first strike or early release labels do bring higher premiums than coins without the label.

Perhaps most importantly, there is a growing preference among collectors and dealers for modern coins in their original government packaging (OGP) over the same coin in a slab of any grade or grading service. Some people view modern coins which are graded MS69 or below as “damaged goods.”

Modern coins which receive the top grade of MS70 are viewed with skepticism by some collectors and dealers. That is because the Mint tends to produce collector coins to very high standards, for the most part, and virtually any coin submitted for grading will receive either MS or PF69 or 70, although once in a while one gets a coin back with a 68 grade or lower. There are some exceptions to this general rule. The bullion versions of the five ounce America the Beautiful coins, for example, have not received grades higher than MS69 from PCGS and NGC, but the collector versions have produced plenty of MS70 coins.

ms 70 ase The Coin Analyst: Are MS 70 Coins Value Traps?The main problem with modern MS70 coins is that their market value is largely a function of the population numbers for the coin in question in the top grade, and those numbers change all the time as more coins are submitted and come back as 70’s. A lot of collectors of modern U.S. coins make the mistake of paying a high premium for a 70-graded coin when it is relatively new to the marketplace, and over time the value of their coin declines substantially as the population numbers in that grade continue to increase because more people submit their coins.

So the first recommendation I would make is if you are not submitting coins yourself which come back as 70’s, and you are buying previously-graded coins which received the top grade, wait until the coin is no longer new to the market. Track how the premium for that coin in 70 evolves over time before purchasing one. There is no set amount of time, and clearly one can wait too long, but it is a good rule of thumb with modern coins not to get too caught up in the hype that tends to surround recent releases.

In addition, shop around. There are times when one can purchase 70’s for a very small premium over raw coins. For example, last year I was able to purchase a 70 of a certain precious metal coin for virtually the same price the Mint charged for a raw coin. In this case, I acted sooner rather than later because I knew the coin was a great deal. Today it carries a nice premium.

Third, if you collect top-graded modern coins, I would suggest avoiding those from companies other than NGC and PCGS. There are certainly other grading companies which are reputable such as ANACS and ICG, but they tend to use different standards when assigning grades to modern coins than do the two top companies.

Fourth, even experienced collectors and dealers have difficulty telling the difference between a 69 and a 70. Examine your coin from the Mint for possible flaws, and if possible obtain the opinion of a local dealer who has more than likely seen a lot more coins than you have. Grading fees, especially at NGC and PCGS, are costly, especially if you add fees for first strike coins, and in most cases, if you do not receive a 70, you will have overpaid. Dealers send in lots of coins at once and can be assured of getting some 70’s that will recoup a lot of their grading fees, but most collectors are not submitting large numbers of coins at once, so it is a gamble. In addition, the competition for registry sets sometimes drives the prices of very common coins in perfect grades to levels that do not make any sense such as MS70 Lincoln pennies that have sold for more than $10,000.

Finally, the market for MS70 coins as opposed to those in OGP is evolving. I recently attended the Baltimore Expo and had the opportunity to discuss this issue with John Robinson of Edgewood coin store in Florida. He told me that his company pays more for modern coins in their OGP than for slabbed versions, including MS-70’s, which surprised me. In his view thirty party grading is really only suitable for classic coins.

But remember that some coins graded MS70 are worth a lot more than raw or MS69 examples. A case in point is the rare, proof-only 1995-W silver eagle, which has a value in MS70 that is ten times its value in OGP or MS69. In addition, if you are trying to get a good price for an MS70 coin, sell it to a company that specializes in modern coins such as John Maben’s Modern Coin Mart.

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. He writes a bi-weekly column for Coin Week called “The Coin Analyst.” 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.

About the Author:

Louis Golino is a numismatic journalist and writer specializing in modern coin issues. He has been writing a weekly column for Coin Week since May 2011 called "The Coin Analyst," which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints, and is also a contributor to two magazines, American Hard Assets and the Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association's monthly publication. His work has also appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and various coin web sites. He collects classic and modern U.S. coins and modern world coins from a number of different countries. He first joined the ANA in the 1970's. He has also worked for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980's.

17 Comments on "The Coin Analyst: Are MS-70 Coins “Value Traps”?"

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  1. goldcoinsg says:

    Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects? Thank you!

  2. Louis Golino says:

    Thanks very much, goldcoinsg. You may want to check out http://www.coinupdate.com, http://www.mintnewsblog.com, and the ANA’s magazine called “The Numismatist,” which periodically highlights useful web sites.

  3. John Abbott says:

    I understand what you’re saying but those “caskets” keep the coins safe. Sure it’s nice to handle the coin, but if you’re looking at it as more investment than hobby, I don’t see what the problem is.

  4. Louis Golino says:

    I agree. It is not at all my view that they are caskets. I was referring to the views of other collectors. If you collect something like Morgan dollars, it makes no sense to buy raw esp. for better dates. I also agree the slabs offer better protection long-term, but some people disagree.

  5. SunTzu says:

    Thanks for the article. Recent BIN prices on eBay for MS69 and PF69 2011 Mint products are LESS than what you can purchase them raw for. I agree wholeheartedly with John Robinson that TPG’s are really only suitable for classic coins. In fact I made that point in my post on the Mint News Blog site. I think I will keep my ATB numismatics in the OGP. The over-sized slabs are ridiculous, heavy and will take up a bunch of room. I’m a young guy and have a good 30 years until I retire. I hope the John Robinson’s of the industry are still around when I go to sell. I will hold on to my original invoice as proof of authenticity. There’s something about originality of collectibles and the TPG tomb stones kill that with the ATB’s.

    I have 7 sets of the 2010 ATB bullion. I will cherry pick those to be graded for the sole purpose of resale value years from now. I have high hopes for them and there will always be people to overpay for rounds of bullion!

  6. Louis Golino says:

    Thanks for your comment and your feedback, Sun Tzu.

  7. Simon says:

    This article is hardly an objective analysis of the merits and demerits of grading and TPGs. Furthermore it is stated (or pormoted) here that one should keep to PCGS and NGC as if they are the final word on the “grade” of a coin. Clearly it is geared more to the industry of flippers rather than to purchase and hold collectors like myself who care not for the number on the plastic but far more for the coin and what it represents. This is always deeper than the “grade,” and every coin has a message – take the common humble small cent and its evolution, and even the fact that a handful want to haughtily rid them selves of its production and circulation. We forget to remember when tossing our cents that Abraham Lincoln was chosen on the cent to remind us often of the highly significant reasons, actions, and gifts to our nation attributed to him, and also his great humanity. A TPG grade from PCGS and NGC is not worthless but is utterly meaningless in this frame of reference.

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  9. Charles ODonnell says:

    Hello Louis, it’s as if you’ve been reading the posts’ from the e-bay coin forum. I agree whole heartedly with your article, I collect both a raw set and a slabbed set of every coin i can get! My biggest question to all the Hard core ms-70 , pr -70 collectors has been , would you break that coin out of the slab and resubmit it? Do you honestly feel it would grade a 70 again?
    The reason I only buy grade 69. I will purchase 70 grades if they can be obtained for a SMALL fee above 69. Don’t get me started on the First strike designation!
    Great article.

  10. Louis Golino says:

    Simon,
    You have totally mischaracterized and misunderstood what I wrote. I did not say one has to “stick to” PCGS and NGC, nor did I state that they are the “final word.” I only recommended that if one is buying “top-graded” (meaning MS70) coins, one should realize that a 70 from other companies does not have the same value in the marketplace as a 70 from other companies. Furthermore, I am a collector, not a flipper. The whole issue of TPG’s is complex, and I mainly focused on the 70 issue in this article. I will be discussing other aspects in the future.

    Charles, Thanks a lot for your comments.

    • Louis Golino says:

      In the third sentence, I meant to write that “a 70 from other companies does not have the same value in the marketplace as a 70 from PCGS or NGC.” Note I am not saying that I think it should be that way, only that that is how modern coins graded 70 are currently valued. I wrote this so that someone newer to the field does not buy, for example, an ICG 70 and think they got a great deal because the price is cheaper than the same coin in a PCGS or NGC holder. I buy some coins raw and some slabbed. I have some of my Mint coins graded, others I leave in OGP. One size does not fit all.

  11. John Abbott says:

    Ah, I see Louis. Great minds think alike!

  12. CoinWeek says:

    For those who are interested, we have published another viewpoint on this subject we received from John Maben at ModernCoinMart. The article can be found here:
    http://www.coinweek.com/news/coin-grading/are-ms-70-coins-value-traps-another-view/

  13. Secret NGC Dealer says:

    For many years it has been a rumor that Dealers get better deals on MS70 rather than individuals.

    Well it’s true and I can prove it. I have a dealers account but send in small amounts from myself or my customers, I have never EVER had an MS70 for a silver eagle. Yet one the largest dealers in Florida only sells MS70 Silver eagles, I dropped into there store and asked if I could buy some graded silver eagles, they showed them to me, I asked if they had any cheaper such a MS69, they told, me “All our coins are MS70, we have them graded straight out of the US mint tubes 100’s at a time.
    So I left, I sent a whole tube in and they all come back MS69, it was a sealed tube, I have sent others in as well, I have even gone through them trying to get the absolute best, yet none of mine have ever made MS70. How strange yet this BIG dealer only gets MS70’s back. I was still not convinced, so I purchased one on eBay from his dealer, an MS70. I very carefully cut it out, Nothing was touched, I was even using gloves, I sent it off, And yes you are right it came back MS69. This is without a doubt proof that BIG dealers get better grades, I console myself knowing this for a fact. Do I go public and reveal this shameless scam?

  14. John Durso says:

    Secret NGC Dealer: You have done everything correct to expose this situation. I am posting 9 months since you posted. Has there been an update on this?
    Thanks!

  15. Jeffrey O. Grayson says:

    I am a beginner collector of coins. I have one question that I cannot seem to answer by searching the internet. This may be a stupid question, but…Which is worth more, a MS-69 or a PR-69? Are Proofs more or less valuable that Mint States? For example, I have 2 US quarters graded by PCGS. One is graded PR69 DCAM and one is graded MS69. Which is more valuable? Is there a big difference in value?
    Thank You!

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