Why Coin Collectors Should Be Cautious Of The New 10-Point Grading Scale

January 20, 2023

Anyone who knows the history of the antiques and collectibles trade is well aware of the devastating effects unchecked financial investment (i.e. speculation) can bring to trade. There are countless examples to cite, and if you want a current check on just how much damage can be done by this practice, then just look at the current values of certain vintage factory-sealed, graded video games and what their prices were just 12 to 24 months ago (spoiler alert, some are down well over 50 to 70 percent on average). The average collector, unless well versed in their chosen collecting market as well as finance, is at a disadvantage in most markets. Unfortunately, that is not without purpose. How is the average speculator supposed to compete against high-profile collectors, auction houses, grading companies, and the like when these groups have access to real time data and, potentially, inside information? And make no mistake, this inside information I am referring to is not illegal. We are discussing unregulated markets here, after all, not Wall Street.
I have personally made it my mission to educate as many collectors and speculators as possible to these dangers. And while I have a lot of respect for the third-party grading companies, the auction companies, and the high-profile investors who are readily able to pay any sum for a collectible at whim, I do not deny that they understand their chosen markets more than anyone else. I also understand that the goal of any business or financial pursuit is to make a financial return on any capital invested. We have been seeing this firsthand, and it has gotten much worse over the past few years. Trying to keep up with who grading companies and auction houses are owned by is a lesson in forensic accounting. A lot of grading companies are now under the ownership of private equity companies, and some of these grading companies even own their own auction houses. In the quest to pursue profit, a lot of decisions are being made by some of these companies that I do not personally agree with. At the end of the day, my opinion means very little. I cannot, however, stay silent on one decision made by a current top-tier grading company that boggles my mind, and I do hope I am overacting. The market in question is modern era coins, and that company is no other than NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Company).
To the initiated, coin grading can be a complex market. Unlike other collectibles, coins and paper money are graded on a 1 to 70 grading scale. This grading scale has been in use before the rise of third-party grading companies. For years, there has been talk about changing this grading scale to that of a 1 to 100 grading scale or even a concise 1 to 10 grading scale. However, every time this discussion has come up, it has fallen on mostly deaf ears. I am considered old-fashioned in this respect, as I am one of the individuals who think the 1 through 70 Sheldon grading scale should stay and should not be replaced by a simpler scale. Up until this past year, no company dared to attempt to change the scale. In the words of one of my mentors in the rare coin collecting market, “The rare coin collecting market is supposed to be complex and sophisticated. It isn’t for the newbies.” (In full disclosure, he didn’t exactly use the word newbies, but for my editor’s sake and my own, we are going to go with that here). Then on Nov. 16, 2022, I was in complete dismay after checking an online posting from the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. The post stated that, “NGC has decided to introduce NGCX, a brand new 10-point grading system for coins!” Luckily, I took the time to read the full post before going into a meltdown. To be fair to NGC and readers, this new grading scale only applies to modern 1982 and later coins. Therefore, all U.S. classic coinage and the mainstays of the rare coin marketplace will be spared. However, I do see this as a great Trojan Horse that will potentially one day become the norm in the overall coin grading marketplace, especially with increased competition now that CAC has decided to open up their own third-party grading company as opposed to just certifying the work of the other two grading conglomerates.
I wish I was naïve enough to believe that this new grading scale won’t bring in starry-eyed speculators and newbies into the coin collecting marketplace, but it will. And this is the part where critics will disagree with me and state this is a good thing long term. My question to them would be, is it? How would this even benefit the rare coin collecting market as a whole because if one of these speculators now decides to invest in a rare gold coin minted in 1908, he or she still has to still learn a whole new grading scale? I am sorry, but this development benefits only the grading companies and the auction houses that will no doubt advertise and cater to this segment of the market. And before my critics have a chance to tell me that NGC could have just decided to have the new 10-point grading scale apply to all coins, which is probably their end goal, my question to my critics would be how much are you going to pay to get all of your current coins regraded under the new scale? Make no mistake, this is nothing but a new way to make money off of a collectible market that is slowly running out of vintage and antique material to grade. The multibillion dollar companies have won again at the speculator’s expense. To all my coin collectors, investors, and dealers out there: I implore you not to allow this to occur at our expense either. It is bad enough we have to deal with a respected top-tier independent certified company (CAC) going third party. Why should we have to deal with this too? Am I overacting? Time will tell, it always does.

Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace.


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