Numismatic and History Discussions > Ancient Coin Forum

Slabbing and Ancient Coins


Virgil H:
This evening I watched an ancient coin auction go through most of the lots. I do this occasionally and I find it entertaining. There was one coin far into the auction I was interested in and thought I might have a shot at it. So I watched until and a little past that one. This is an auction house I have never won a coin at and is one that consistently gets high prices. I didn't get this coin tonight, but I have some observations and a few questions from the experience.

First, they were getting some really high prices, including for coins I am familiar with that went for prices higher than I would have thought. Now, there were a lot of high quality coins, so higher prices were not unexpected. But the actual prices realized were often quite beyond this, but watching led to some thoughts.

First, probably 80-90% of the coins were NGC slabbed. Secondly, I think a lot of the slabbed coins were overgraded. Now, I see overgrading a lot, but one would think a respected grading service wouldn't overgrade coins. Obviously, it is in their best interests as far as customers are concerned to do so, but no service should do this, even if tempted or to get more business. But, that is just not necessarily how things work in reality. Interestingly, the coin I was going for wasn't slabbed, which is one reason I thought I had a shot. And honestly, that coin did not go for a ridiculous price, just more than I was willing to pay. No harm no foul on that.

So, some questions given that my experience is that most ancients collectors do not like slabbed coins and some hate them. Yet it appears that many auction houses like them, it seems like some only want slabbed coins. Seems like there is a dichotomy going on.

1. Am I right in thinking that slabbed coins, regardless of grade, go for higher prices?

2. Even though NGC specifically doesn't guarantee the authenticity of ancients, does a slab pretty much imply to buyers (and auction houses/dealers) that they are, in fact, authentic? If so, this seems like it could be problematic.

3. Do auction houses/dealers verify attribution of slabbed coins or do they accept what is stated by the grading service?

4. Given that many (most) ancient collectors do not approve of slabbed coins, who is buying these coins? Collectors? Investors? Hedge funds? I suppose in the world that NGC wants, all coins will be slabbed and we won't have a choice. As an aside, as a collector, I hate when investors get involved and drive up prices. Obviously, auction houses/dealers want to maximize price and don't care who their buyers are.

5. Again given that many (most) ancient collectors hate slabbed coins, how do we collectively defeat or get rid of that unnecessary and expensive process? How do we get auction houses/dealers to discourage the use of slabbing? Is it possible (I think not). It has already destroyed, for me, the US and modern world coin collecting world, as well as such things as baseball cards, Stamps, comics, and you name it. This is the eptimony of creating a service and making it seem necessary.

6. Finally, even the grading drives me crazy and this isn't limited to just slabbed coins. What the neck is a "Choice" Fine or a "Choice" VF? I mean, is it fine of VG or VF or XF? These additional qualifiers like "Choice" or "Near" or "About" drive me crazy. Don't even get me started on the numbering systems used for modern coins. There is no way anyone can actually ten the difference between a 63 and 64. I like grading, but let's get real here .

Late night musings and rants over for now. LOL.


Pawel K:
Great observations :)

In my opinion the whole process looks like that:

1. Client wants to sell ungraded coins ang goes to the auction house
2. Auction house is a grading company agent so they tell that grading will increase value of graded coins to the Mt. Everest level
3. Seller pays for grading (notice that auction fees for commissioners are getting lower and lower)
4. Auction - somebody's buying graded coins
5. Hammer and screwdriver. Nobody (mentally sound collector) wants graded ancient coins
6. If trying to sell this coins again, see no. 1.

As always auction house wins. I think that this is quite coordinated (between auction houses and grading companies) action and we need to stop it.

Hi VH,

I can answer 2 of your questions:

1) Based on my personal observations, I don't think slabbed coins sell for higher prices. Even unslabbed coins are selling for ridiculous prices. I participated in an auction that closed this past weekend. Prices were through the roof, especially in the first part of this auction, which closed on Saturday (the second part closed on Sunday). 80-90% of the coins in part 1 of this auction sold for many multiples of the dealer estimate. And I didn't see any coins in this auction that were slabbed. Close to 100% of them were unslabbed. I won one coin in part 1 of this auction (ancient), and I won 5 coins in part 2 of this auction (Medieval). I will probably be receiving them in a few weeks.

5) You want to know how we can discourage auction houses and dealers from selling slabbed coins. Just don't buy (or bid on) slabbed coins. I know it is difficult. In 25 years, I purchased only one slabbed coin. You can also stop doing business with dealers and auction houses who sell a high percentage of slabbed coins. Additionally, you can email them and express your displeasure with this practice. I have a small, core group of dealers and auction houses that I do business with regularly. I rarely stray out of that circle.


Joe Sermarini:
1. Generally, I will add about $80 to the price of any certified coin over uncertified.  This is essentially the cost of certification. That does not mean it will sell for more than it would without the slab. It may end up being reduced before it sells.

Coins that are MS strike 5/5 surface 5/5 often go for very high prices at auction, often much higher then they would without the slab. There are dealers that specialize in only very high grade 5/5 5/5 coins and charge very high prices. There are collectors who specialize in MS 5/5 5/5. They are likely very wealthy collectors who are more interested in owning beautiful coins than studying them and who likely consider them an investment too. One reason these coins would sometimes be much cheaper uncertified, is that NGC grades high. Sometimes, coins they grade MS, I would grade EF, and coins they grade XF, I would only grade gVF, for example. The difference between the price of an uncertified MS and EF coin of the same type can be huge. Add a MS 5/5 5/5 certification to an uncertified XF coin and the increase may be ridiculous at auction.

2/3. I will almost always assume an NGC certified coin is genuine. They are certified by David Vagi and Barry Murphy with the help of experts on various types and a sophisticated laboratory. I think I am very good at authentication, but I am only one person. They are a team of people, all very good at authentication. Do they make mistakes? Of course, they are human. Their mistakes are extremely rare.

If I am uncertain that a coin is genuine, I will send it to NGC. Usually, when I think it is probably genuine but I am not sure, they certify it. Usually, when I think it is fake, but the consignor wants it checked, they reject it. More often than you might expect, they return it unable to make a decision (I reject those coins).

4. The impact of certification on the market is both positive and negative. Certification allows new collectors to feel safe buying ancient coins. I think that is good. The negative is at the highest end of the market, where it makes collecting the nicest coins much more expensive and has attracted investor/buyers, which are not great for the hobby.

5. For many graders, choice simply means well centered. For me it means well centered and decently struck, without significant flaws.

Near and about, and good, indicate the coin is at the edge of the grade. An aVF coin, should be VF but very close to gF. For the most part, I think the differences are clear and useful. But they do differ between graders. And, occasionally, for example, I will later look at a coin I graded gF and think, why didn't I grade it aVF, and vice versa.

Virgil H:
Thanks to all of you who responded, I did not expect such detailed and thoughtful responses. Wow, this Forum impresses me so much every day. I can see both sides of the slabbing business from this. I have only bought two slabbed coins and the prices for those two were less than cost of the slabbing service, or very close to it. These were from the ANS Bartlett sale. That was ironic that ANS sent all those coins for slabbing, especially since I have heard numerous people from ANS, like Peter Van Aflen and Lucia Carbone, if I recall correctly. I am in the current ANS lyceum on Collection Management and Conservation. All the presenters so far have expressed dislike for slabbing. Anyway, I rarely bid on slabbed coins, but I will if it is a coin I want and the price is within my budget constraints. Maybe I shouldn't be doing that, but it has been pretty rare. Again, thanks for the great responses from all of you, it is great food for thought and looking at this from both a dealer and collector perspective. But, like Meepzorp said, prices are getting so high for all coins. I have only been collecting seriously for ten or so years and even in that relatively short span, I have watched prices go up so much. Such is life, I guess, I am not going to stop collecting even if I do slow down on purchases. One thing that is interesting to me is David Vagi and Pawn Stars, which made me think less of him. Of course I don't know him, but Pawn Stars was (not sure if still on) is just so tacky. I guess it did get a lot of publicity for him and NGC's services.



[0] Message Index

Go to full version