TO CAC OR NOT TO CAC - PCGS / NGC "Plus grading" - A FEW THOUGHTS
In a joint announcement a couple years ago, both PCGS and NGC unveiled their new "Plus" grading, the service's answer to CAC.
The news release, issued at the Ft. Worth ANA, states:
"The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the rare coin market's two leading grading services, have announced the additon of "plus" grades to their grading services. The plus grades will be designated on the insert of the firm's holders with a "+" and will apply to high end examples of the grades 40 thru 68 (excluding grades 60 and 61). PCGS will start designating plus grades immediately and NGC will start designating plus grades within 60 days."
In an interesting development, CAC founder John Albanese issued an official preemptive response to the report that PCGS will soon begin designating "PQ", now officially announced as "+" on their holder. John's response was emailed to CAC dealers about three weeks prior to PCGS's March 25th announcement. John's statement about PCGS "plus" grading is reflective of how I feel about CAC.
Here is what he had to say in an email sent to CAC dealers:
"CAC KEEPING STRICT STANDARDS
Change may be in the air at one or more coin grading services, but dealers, collectors and investors will find business as usual at Certified Acceptance Corp. (CAC).
That’s the company’s message to the hobby in the wake of reports that at least one of the two largest grading services is considering the establishment of “premium-quality” grade designations.
CAC examines and evaluates coins that have been certified by either the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) or the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America (NGC). It then affixes a distinctive green sticker to the holder of each coin which, in its judgment, fully merits the grade that was assigned. Each sticker incorporates a tamper-evident hologram.
According to Albanese, CAC will continue to evaluate submissions, and determine whether to award stickers to those coins, strictly in the context of the basic numerical grades assigned by either PCGS or NGC. He said it will disregard any additional descriptive words or symbols.
“We don’t want buyers and sellers to get the impression that by stickering a coin, CAC is confirming someone else’s ‘PQ’ designation,” Albanese said. CAC makes a market in coins that it has stickered, and its disregard of PQ-type designations will be reflected in its buying and selling prices. "
END OF CAC EMAIL
Well, I guess John's last sentence sums up my feelings about CAC stickers -
"APRC makes a market in coins we approve and its disregard of CAC stickers will be reflected in its buying and selling prices"
Update as of Oct. 2013. I have decided to designate CAC in my listings. I DO NOT send coins to CAC and WILL NOT send coins to CAC. As more and more coins get stickered, I have been and will be buying CAC'd coins and I realize that a certain percentage of coin buyers may be interested in buying CAC coins. As a coin dealer and reasonable businessman, I do not want to lose those potential customers. Suffice it to say that the presence of a CAC sticker does not influence my decision to buy a coin one way or the other.
So, welcome to the world of rare coin grading, folks. Everyone has their opinion - READ "O-P-I-N-I-O-N". At the root of the problem is this. Quantifying quality is a contradiction in terms...it can't be done precisely. So applying one numerical grade to a coin does not sum up every attribute of that coin. Every coin is different and every grade can be subdivided ad nauseum to account for every coin in existence. As the grading companies began to realize this, they started adding "designations" such as "Cameo", "Deep Cameo", "Toned", "Star", etc, in an attempt to further describe the coin being graded.
Now, PCGS and NGC have made their announcement about "Plus" grading. In the March 25 news release, David Hall goes on to say "The reality of the market place is that coins considered high end for the grade are recognized by sophisticated dealers and collectors and such coins are worth a premium in the marketplace. The term "plus" has been part of the everyday trading and grading lingo for years. The high end for any particular grade represents the top 30 percent of the scale within a grade and I estimate that the plus designation would apply to approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of the coins within any individual grade."
I do appreciate Mr. Hall's statement defining what percentage of currently graded coins will be considered "Plus". This is something that has always been unclear with CAC. John's first statements to me were that CAC was going to sticker the "A" and "B" quality coins and not sticker the "C" quality. He never stated what percentages qualified for "A" and "B". In the recent email, John now states that CAC "affixes a distinctive green sticker to the holder of each coin which, in its judgment, fully merits the grade that was assigned." What does that mean?? Isn't that what NGC and PCGS do. Once again, I feel this statement is too ambiguous and leaves room for pretty much any interpretation. To make things worse, proponents of CAC often describe the coins as "Premium Quality", when this phrase has never been used by John.
Will this be the end of the grading problem...of course not. As I said, grading is an OPINION and every coin is DIFFERENT. So we can soon take all of the MS65 "+" 1881-S Morgan Dollars and line them up from best to worst and we will see that they are all different and all deserve slightly different grades...so in the year 2525, if man is still alive, we will grade a coin MS65.739265. So now we will have low end CAC's and high end CAC's. We will have low end "+" coins and high end "+" coins. We will have stunning high end coins with CAC stickers and over graded and unattractive coins with CAC stickers. We will see amazing top end coins with "+" designations and average, unapealing coins with "+" designations. Why? Because my opinion is different than your opinion and our opinions are different than CAC's opinions and CAC's opinions are going to be different than PCGS and NGC's opinion.
Just as CAC has not solved any problems inherent in the grading of coins, neither will the addition of a "+" designation. It WILL give all the dealers and collectors something else to bitch about..."Why did THAT coin receive a "+" designation and THIS one didn't??!!??" It will also give those so inclined a reason to resubmit coins to PCGS one more time and allow PCGS to receive grading fees for those resubmissions one more time...
And after every coin has been sliced and diced and "Plus'd" and "CAC'd" and "Star'd" and "CAM'd", we will still have no idea what the coin actually looks like. How well is it struck, is it original or dipped, does it have significant contact marks or hairlines. Is it original and beautifully toned or original and butt ugly? How is the luster...non-existant, weak, good, strong, intense, amazing...etc. So it gets right back to the coin...every one is different and every coin must be evaluated on its own merits. That's what I do at every coin show. I skim the cream. I have been cherry picking what I consider to be the best for the past 30 years...it is just my opinion.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that third party grading has been invaluable to collectors. It has largely done away with the practice of unscrupulous dealers selling drastically over-graded coins for way too much money. Now, with a little bit of due diligence, the collector can buy and sell coins at a confidence level that is light-years ahead of the days of raw coins. PCGS and NGC do a great job weeding out counterfeits, artificially toned coins and problem coins. I believe they do their best to assign an "accurate" grade. But what they can't do is perfectly grade and describe every coin by way of "+", RB, DCAM, etc. How many times can we split the grade? How many designations or attributions do we need on a holder? How many times and to how many companies must I send a coin before it has enough designations and stickers to make it acceptable to the buying public?
So what will my response be to the "Plus" designation? It is the same as my response to CAC. Just as John Albanese has decided to "disregard any additional descriptive words or symbols", I will disregard any CAC stickers or descriptive words or symbols in my decision to buy or not buy a coin. There are millions of coins graded by PCGS and NGC under the current grading system. I choose not to jump through the CAC hoop and I will choose not to jump thru the "Plus" hoop. What I mean by that is I will not send my coins to CAC to get a green sticker on them and I will not send my coins to PCGS to get their "Plus" designation.
I will continue to buy and sell coins that I feel represent the finest available in terms of quality and eye-appeal. As time goes by, no doubt many of those coins will reside in CAC stickered holders and PCGS / NGC holders with "+" designations. I will continue to buy and sell coins that I believe represent the best value in relation to the rest of the market. And I will continue to describe coins in my listings according to what is written on the insert by the grading company, so any new coins that come with a "+" on the insert will be so described.
What I told John when he first contacted me about becoming a CAC dealer is this: I had no intention of sending my coins to CAC so that they could determine which of my coins are "good" and which are "bad". Why would I want a third party to divide my inventory into two camps, leaving customers to believe that any coin without a CAC sticker is inferior in quality.
Here's what I do know after 30 years of buying and selling the finest coins I can find. The coin is the coin is the coin. The name on the plastic surrounding the coin does not change the coin. The number following MS or PR on the plastic surrounding the coin does not change the coin. The designation CAMEO or DEEP CAMEO on the plastic surrounding the coin does not change the coin. The addition of a Star (*) or lack thereof does not change the coin. The addition of a sticker on the plastic that surrounds the coin does not change coin. Ultimately the value of any coin will be determined by KNOWLEDGEABLE buyers who view and evaluate the coin for themselves. How important will the name on the plastic be 20 or 30 or 40 years from now? How important will the CAC sticker be to future coin buyers? I have no idea. I do know that the quality of the coin itself will ultimately determine its value.