By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

CoinFest Show The first CoinFest was held on Oct. 27 & 28 at the Eastern Greenwich (CT) Civic Center. The unique 1870-S half dime was prominently exhibited near the entrance, and is the topic of a separate article that will appear on CoinLink. The show was organized and promoted by Jon Lerner, proprietor of Scarsdale Coin. Laura Sperber is co-owner of CoinFest.

A large number of serious collectors came to the CoinFest, along with hundreds of casual browsers. Lerner declared that “more than 1800 people attended.” Also, there were free numismatic magazines, educational speakers, and a young numismatist program. On the whole, the atmosphere at CoinFest was lively.

The bourse was sold out, and dealers came from far away to offer coins. Don Willis’s Premium Quality Numismatics, for example, is based in Southern California.

Although dealer Robert Riemer is a specialist in Morgan dollars and commemoratives, he found that “early 20th century U.S. gold coins were” his “best sellers at CoinFest.” Indeed, he “sold 90% of the gold coins” that he brought with him. “The Connecticut coast has waited a long time to have a coin show of its own,” Riemer adds, “and it was very well done.”

John Kraljevich reports that “a few dozen knowledgeable collectors came by” his table to view items and “ask good questions.” Kraljevich sells numismatic items that are heavily geared towards collectors who are interested in history and are a little more esoteric than the items sought after by most coin collectors. At the show, he was offering colonial paper money and historical medals, along with early U.S. coins, and many other items. Kraljevich was “impressed” by the numismatic frame of reference of many of the people who attended CoinFest.

For most dealers, demand was greatest for U.S. coins, especially those dating from the 1840s to the 1950s. A very wide variety of numismatic items were offered. There was some trading in modern issues and in world coins. Veteran dealer Andy Lustig remarks that “one of the neatest and freshest deals at the show was a significant collection of ancient coins” that was “offered by Will Robins of Goldeneye Numismatics.” Furthermore, a substantial selection of paper money was available at several bourse tables, as was an impressive array of mint errors. Lustig offered an intriguing ‘die cap’ 1895-O dime, PCGS graded MS-64, an error of the key business strike in the Barber Dime series.

Dave Wnuck (pronounced Wah-nukk), of Coin Rarities Online, deals a lot in items dating before 1840. He reports that many dedicated collectors came to his table, “more than at many other shows.” Furthermore, “several dealers representing collectors came by” to seek rare items. “The show was very active.” His firm sold an ample number “of colonials and early U.S. gold coins.”

In Wnuck’s view, the presence of “CAC was a strong factor in attracting collectors to the show. Many collectors brought some of their best coins to be submitted to CAC.” Indeed, CoinFest made history by being the CAC’s first show. Although the CAC will soon be charging fees, at CoinFest, collectors could have their coins examined for free.

CACcoin The CAC is not a grading service, though the CAC is grading. The CAC examines coins that have already been graded and encapsulated by one of the two leading grading services, the PCGS and the NGC. Each submitted coin that meets the standards of the CAC receives a green sticker.

The CAC came about because many grading experts maintain that the PCGS and the NGC sometimes assign grades that are questionable, and sometimes mistakenly grade coins that have serious problems. In other words, a sticker from the CAC represents an additional opinion regarding a coin that has already been graded and encapsulated by the PCGS or the NGC.

When the CAC puts a green sticker on the holder of a PCGS or NGC certified coin, a finalizer at CAC has determined that the coin’s already certified grade is deserved and that its grade is at least in the middle of the respective grade range. In the informational card that the CAC distributed at CoinFest, and at, the CAC employs the over-used term ‘Premium Quality.’ The CAC’s explanation of its own service is not clear to me. I hope that my discussion here is more accurate and more informative.

My impression is that, for a coin that is already graded MS-65 by PCGS or NGC, the receipt of a CAC green sticker would indicate that the CAC has concluded that its grade is at least in the middle of the MS-65 range, and that the coin has no serious problems. Here, I mention an MS-65 grade coin as a general example. Put differently, a green CAC sticker indicates that the CAC has determined that: the submitted coin is not overgraded; its grade is not in the low end of the respective grade range; and the submitted coin does not have serious technical problems.

The primary founder of the CAC, John Albanese, is the lead finalizer. He was a founder of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) in 1986. After leaving PCGS, Albanese and Mark Salzberg founded the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) in 1987. In the late 1990s, Albanese sold his NGC stock.

David McCarthy, senior numismatist at Kagin’s, remarks that “John Albanese has the reputation of being one of the smartest and more ethical people in the coin business.” McCarthy, though, says, that “it is much too soon” for him to form an opinion regarding the CAC. In his view, “it will take some time for anyone to determine and judge the impact that the CAC has upon collectors and the coin marketplace.” McCarthy maintains that the PCGS and the NGC “generally do a good job,” and that “grading will always be partly subjective.”

Laura Sperber is a partner in the CAC. Albanese and Sperber are widely recognized as strong opponents of the practice of tampering with coins, including artificial toning, surgical altering, waxing, and puttying. There are varying opinions among experts regarding the extent of such practices and the frequency that the PCGS and NGC mistakenly encapsulate coins with serious problems.

Dave Wnuck remarks that there are “many doctored coins that PCGS and NGC have accidentally put into holders. In fairness to the two services,” Wnuck says, “coins are often doctored [or otherwise tampered with] in very deceptive ways and evidence of doctoring may not be readily seen on a particular coin until days or months after it has been doctored and sent to PCGS or NGC.” Added fluid, wax, or putty, in combination with other substances, may undergo a chemical transformation over a relatively short period of time. So, weeks after such a problematic coin is “accidentally graded” and encapsulated, serious problems may become very noticeable, including “haze,” strange clouds, and “powder.”

Wnuck believes that the CAC has the potential to enable collectors to identify more desirable coins. Like McCarthy, Wnuck is not forming an opinion until he sees more coins in CAC green stickered holders and gets an impression of CAC’s role overall.

Sperber has publicly argued that there are a very large number of rare coins, with serious problems, that have been inappropriately graded and encapsulated by PCGS or NGC. My impression is that Albanese and Sperber maintain that properly graded coins, which have never been subject to ‘tampering,’ should often be worth a large premium not only over doctored coins but also over coins that are just questionably graded. Wnuck and McCarthy strongly agree that “problem-free, original coins” often already are and “should be worth more” than coins of the same date and type that have significant problems or have surfaces that are subject to question.

Douglas Winter is an industry veteran who tends to very critical of the PCGS and the NGC and of grading trends over the past ten years. He has publicly declared that, in his view, many unfortunately “processed” coins have been wrongly graded and encapsulated by PCGS or NGC, and Winter frequently discusses his preference for coins with original surfaces.

Andy Lustig is another strong opponent of ‘coin doctoring.’ He is very optimistic about the CAC. Lustig declares that there is “no doubt that they,” the principals of CAC, “intend to provide a valuable service. Of course, there are many people that don’t need the service” because they are expert graders or are receiving excellent advice, “and many more that don’t know they need it. Regardless, the niche CAC serves is very substantial, and I expect the CAC to do quite well.”

It will be interesting to find out how the CAC and CAC stickered coins fare in the marketplace. I think that such a service has tremendous potential for scarce and rare coins. According to CAC’s fee schedule, which may be subject to change, almost all submitted coins valued at more than $2000 would be subject to a submission fee of less than 1% of the respective coin’s declared value. In many cases, the fee will be less than ½%, which is a small price to pay for an expert opinion regarding the quality of a coin that is expensive or very important to the owner.

People who spend a lot of money on coins should seek as much pertinent, worthwhile information as they can regarding their purchases. Could each serious collector optimize by acquiring coins that come with three opinions, a grade from PCGS or NGC, a green sticker from CAC, and a detailed discussion from a knowledgeable dealer who is willing to answer specific questions?

©2007 Greg Reynolds


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