By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
One of the aspects of numismatics that I find particularly enjoyable is reading vintage books and periodicals and, through the information contained in them, trying to formulate an understanding of the hobby’s landscape at different points in time. This research does not always yield major breakthroughs in the way I look at the hobby, but from time to time I learn about something that still impacts the hobby that I didn’t know anything about.
A recent discovery (for me, anyway) was the existence of a service at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation called NGC Photo Proof. The product debuted in 1995. The ad I saw appeared in the August 1995 Numismatist. Here is the ad; I blurred out NGC’s old Parsipanny, New Jersey mailing address to protect unsuspecting submitters from sending their coins to the wrong place:
If you’ve never heard of NGC Photo Proof, you aren’t alone. I had never heard of the service before seeing the full-page ad, and an eBay search for “NGC Photo Proof” turned up nothing for sale and nothing completed within the last 90 days. Apparently, collectors who pay for the service do not see them as objects with secondary market potential. Even a Google search turned up only a few matches, most tied directly to the current version of NGC’s website, which means that NGC Photo Proofs are a thing someone can still order through the service.
I reached out to my friend, the always helpful David W. Lange (who appears a few years younger in the 1995 ad), and asked him about the service. David told me that he joined NGC in 1994 to write NGC Photo Proof narratives. Then, only the most popular USA coin series had background texts prepared, and several of those histories were written by dealer Robert Koppelman of Ft. Lauderdale. Others were written by the late Coinage Magazine editor, Ed Reiter.
Reiter’s writing, David said, was idiosyncratic.
“I could always spot Ed’s work because he frequently used long dashes to separate phrases where anyone else would have used commas.”
David got to work filling in the gaps, writing narratives for all of the other coin types. These included up to two-thirds of all regular USA types and all of the commemorative issues – as well as private gold issues, pattern coins, and other esoteric material. Later, David said, he was tasked to create text templates for coins of several popular countries, such as Canada, Britain, South Africa, and the Philippines when it was under U.S. control.
The three Photo Proofs that David sent me to review were produced in 2007. One describes a High Relief 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle (NGC PF69), the second an 1866 five-cent piece (NGC PF-67), and the third an 1884 “With Motto” half dollar (NGC MS67). A small image of each coin appears amidst an art collage of high-eye appeal classic U.S. coins.
On the front inside flap against a black background appears an enlarged digital image of the coin’s obverse and reverse, paired with an actual size version of the same. At the top and bottom right are two cropped enlargements taken from the obverse and reverse shots. Granted, these images were taken 14 years ago, but the closeups suffer as the image loses its sharpness at this scale. Text information provided on this page includes the coin’s date, the grade, the Breen number, and the NGC certification number. The 1907 double eagle, cert #1963253-016 (pop 2, 0 finer), and the 1884 half dollar, cert. #3018697-005 (pop 6, 2 finer) remain in the NGC census. The five-cent piece has since been deleted.
As for the coin narratives, they fill the back inner cover and outer flap and contain a fairly detailed abstract about the series. Inset is a small caption box for details about the individual issue. One can imagine the scope of the task of having to write thousands of captions.
Sadly, the only information that I could gather that was specific to the coin itself in each of the three Photo Proofs was the images and cert information. This product does not read like a personalized auction catalog listing, in other words.
Still, this was probably an innovative product for its time, especially given that a large online reservoir of coin images was not available in the mid-1990s.
I wondered how this product might have scaled up for larger collections. David told me that NGC did prepare presentation albums of Photo Proofs for several notable customers, employing expensive leather binders to mount them in.
“We also had illustrated, rigid boxes made that could hold a couple of dozen Photo Proofs, but none of these products caught on with the most regular customers,” he said.
It’s an interesting story about an interesting product from a major company in the industry that I had never heard of. And, it’s a product that is still offered by the company starting at $65 per Photo Proof.
As a collector and researcher, I’ve always been interested in how the magic of coins is conveyed within our hobby and industry. Visionary ideas do not always become ubiquitous, and sometimes, even when you think you know everything you realize that you have a lot to learn.
And today maybe you learned about something you had no idea about before. Join the club!