By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation ….
Common causes for Details Grading are cleaning, artificial toning, scratches, environmental damage and repair (or damage) to the submitted coins.
For the first 20 years or so that NGC graded coins, any pieces submitted that were deemed unacceptable for certification were returned in a plastic sleeve. These became affectionately known as “body bags.” As the term would indicate, they were quite an unwelcome result after having paid a submission fee. Many submitters simply did not have a good understanding of what may cause a coin to not be graded. Sometimes even the savviest dealer would miss brush lines or some sort of environmental damage. Anyone who submits coins for grading understands they may or may not be happy with the grade, but everyone hated a coin coming back “no grade.” Not only was it a waste of time and money, the coin was basically unsellable without certification.
To help alleviate the problem, NGC began to holder “no grade” coins through Numismatic Conservation Services (NCS), an affiliate company of NGC. The coins were put in a specially-designed NCS holder, which are still seen quite often in the marketplace.
NCS no longer performs grading and encapsulation. Instead, NGC now places coins with problems in its regular holders with what are called “NGC Details Grading.” Coins given Details Grades are not graded on the numeric 1-70 Sheldon Scale. The piece is described by the details the coin would have for its grade were it not for the problems as diagnosed by the NGC graders. For example, a silver dollar may be certified as Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned. Other issues that are often called out include Environmental Damage, Repaired, Harshly Cleaned, Scratches, and Whizzed. A complete list of surface issues utilized for Details Grading can be found on the NGC website. NGC does not holder coins with altered surfaces. These include coins with foreign material that has been added to the surface. Of course, counterfeits and coins with added mint marks or altered dates are excluded as well.
As mentioned above, one of the primary reasons many submit coins knowing they’ll be certified with NGC Details Grading is to increase liquidity. Third party grading has become extremely entrenched in the minds of most collectors. Purchasing a coin for over $500 that has not been certified is out of the question for the majority of buyers. One of the main reasons this is crucial today is the proliferation of counterfeits that have entered the marketplace. Nearly every day we have someone call about a coin that is an obvious Chinese counterfeit. A coin with an NGC Details Grade will certainly sell for less than a coin with a numeric grade, but at least it becomes salable.
Coins with NGC Details Grades can be an attractive alternative for completionists that also need to consider affordable alternatives for expensive issues. Large cent collectors can complete a set for a relatively modest amount with the exception of a few dates. The 1793 Chain Cent alone starts at five figures for a nice example that NGC has assigned a numeric grade to. High grade coins can run into six figures. Low grade examples of the date can be well worn with little eye appeal. Buyers for the series may wish to consider a coin that NGC has assigned a Details Grade. The coin may have surface issues, but the design elements can be well-defined. This can be more appealing than a coin with barely discernible design details.
The same can be said for the key date issues of about every series.
Establishing values for coins with NGC Details Grading is probably the most difficult aspect. Current price guides do not give information about coins with Details Grading. There’s also the complication that there are dozens of reasons and varying degrees of NGC Details Grading. A coin that’s been graded Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned may be only slightly below the standards acceptable for NGC numeric grading. Another coin with the same grading description may display much more surface cleaning. Buyers of NGC details-graded coins need to determine value based on the coin’s eye appeal.
In general, coins with NGC Details Grades sell for substantial discounts to those with NGC numeric grading. Anyone interested in purchasing an NGC details-graded coin should practice due diligence. Most auction company databases have images and prices realized of nearly every expensive issue. For example, there are literally dozens of NGC details-graded 1793 Chain Cents on the Heritage Auctions web site that sold in the last 10-20 years. Buyers can do comparison shopping to get an understanding of how to establish values for this scarce issue.
The 1793 Chain Cent above was graded by NGC as Fine Details Environmental Damage. The coin sold for $5,405 at this year’s 2015 FUN show. A coin that’s been graded by NGC as Fine-10 or Fine-15 would sell for $20,000 plus. This is about a 75% discount to the average selling price for numeric graded examples. The value for some collectors is clear.
In a world where quality is of paramount importance, NGC Details-graded coins are not for everyone. They are, however, an affordable alternative that many collectors find appealing. Coins that may have been out of reach might be found for a price that makes sense. The biggest drawback is that NGC Details-graded coins lack the liquidity of coins with numeric grading. NGC coins with numeric grading can be sold over the phone with a quick description of its appearance; the same can’t be said for NGC details-graded coins.
Most coins are different, and value will be a matter of opinion. Regardless of the drawbacks, an NGC details-graded coin may be the best chance to snag that key date coin you always wanted but couldn’t afford since an overwhelming number of collectors focus on quality–and many coins with NGC Details Grading can be had for bargain prices.
Being a contrarian buyer is sometimes a great strategy!
About Jeff Garrett
Jeff Garrett, founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, is considered one of the nation’s top experts in U.S. coinage — and knowledge lies at the foundation of Jeff’s numismatic career. With more than 35 years of experience, he is one of the top experts in numismatics. The “experts’ expert,” Jeff has personally bought and sold nearly every U.S. coin ever issued. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t call on Jeff Garrett for numismatic advice. This includes many of the nation’s largest coin dealers, publishers, museums and institutions.
In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Jeff Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries. His combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals — between Mid-American in Kentucky and Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida — total more than $25 million.
Jeff Garrett has authored many of today’s most popular numismatic books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues; 100 Greatest U.S. Coins; and United States Coinage: A Study By Type. He is also the price editor for The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins.
Jeff was also one of the original coin graders for the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He is today considered one of the country’s best coin graders and was the winner of the 2005 PCGS World Series of Grading. Today, he serves as a consultant to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest coin grading company.
Jeff plays an important role at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Department and serves as consultant to the museum on funding, exhibits, conservation and research. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff and many others, rare U.S. coins are once again on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. We urge everyone who visits Washington, D.C., to view this fabulous display.
Jeff has been a member of the prestigious Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. In 2009 and 2011, Jeff ran successfully for a seat on the Board of Governors for the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the leading numismatic club in the world. He plans to run for ANA vice president in 2013.