You've waited almost two months to get your coins back from the grading service. You open the package, hoping that your treasures have received the high numerical grades they (and you) so richly deserve. But alas, some of your coins aren't in slabs -they're not even graded at all. These coins have been returned to you in a flip similar to the one you used to submit the coin. Your check has been cashed and there is no refund enclosed. "They didn't grade my coins AND they kept my money." you think to yourself, "A grave injustice has been done!"
In reality, it's not an injustice. More work has probably gone into NOT grading your coins than would have gone into grading them. For a variety of good reasons, PCGS, NGC, ANACS and Hallmark will not encapsulate certain coins. (ANACS will, however issue certificates for these coins. NCI will certify AND encapsulate these coins with the appropriate adjectival modifiers).
This doesn't mean that these coins are worthless. Far from it. It just means that the grading service has decided in the interest of preservation of the coin, protection of value, or sight-unseen trading that the coin should not be slabbed.
There are currently ten different categories of "nograde" classifications currently in use by PCGS. If a coin falls into one or more categories, it will be returned unslabbed. These categories are:
1. Questionable Toning/Color - This was formerly referred to as ARTIFICIAL toning or color, but since there is so much controversy and subjectivity about this, the designation was changed. In fact, there are some toned coins that are virtually impossible to determine whether they are toned naturally or artificially.
Furthermore, there is considerable disagreement over what is natural and what is artificial. Everyone agrees that a coin that is intentionally dipped in Clorox until it turns purple is artificially toned. And nearly all experts agree that a coin that was dipped 10 years ago, and left to tone naturally in a coin album or envelope is a naturally toned coin. But what about a coin that has been left out in the sun in an envelope for a few weeks? How about in an oven for four minutes?! Now you see the problem.
The graders who work at the grading services see every type of chemically related numismatic horror. They constantly see coins that have been toned with cigar smoke, sulfur, shoe polish and just about everything else ever thought up by a coin dealer's devious mind. Dealers are constantly trying to tone coins in such a way as to cover up defects or otherwise cause their coins to receive higher grades. The attempts people use to trick the graders are diverse, numerous and relentless. Graders are only human, and humans make mistakes. All the major grading services have graded some artificially toned coins, and have had to repurchase those coins. Naturally the graders responsible have been called to the carpet for their mistakes so it is
Most of the time, the grading services can tell if the toning on a coin is natural or artificial. Still, it can be pretty maddening to buy a 1915 proof set from a family that has held the set since Great-Granddad purchased it in 1915, and have some of the coins come back "Questionable toning." But it happens. So you grit your teeth, spend another submission fee and send the coin back. Or send it to another grading service. It's just a cost of playing the game.
2. Cleaning - As recently as the early 1980's, a fully struck choice coin that had been lightly cleaned might sell for 20 to 30% less than the same coin if it were
completely original. Today, since that coin will most likely never make it into a slab, it probably trades for 20 to 30% OF (i.e. 70 to 80% off) the price of an original coin in the same grade.
Severity of cleaning is very important, as is eye-appeal. A coin that was lightly wiped and has since attractively and naturally toned back will almost always be graded. A coin that has been polished or harshly cleaned stands little or no chance of being slabbed.
3. Planchet Flaw - Raised metal, missing metal, peeling metal and annealed planchets are just a few of the mint made flaws which, if large enough, will disqualify a coin from encapsulation.
Grease in the dies, clashed dies, die cracks and die scratches are another story. The grading services will almost always grade coins with these problems, even if they are rather severe. However, if these problems detract from the coin's appearance, the services might lower the final grade by a point or two.
4. Altered Surfaces - The Coin Doctor strikes again! That mischevious devil tries to cover a coin's defect to trick the graders into a higher grade. A coin with altered surfaces has generally had a foreign matter applied to it. Currently
auto body putty seems to be the substance of choice. Some coin doctors will frost (almost literally paint) the cheek of a Morgan dollar in order to hide facial marks or make them appear less severe. It takes a lot of practice to tell when this has been done, but a good tip-off is when the bagmarks on the cheek appear to be nearly as frosty as the cheek itself.
5. Scratch - Location is extremely important here. A half inch scratch on the reverse of a Morgan dollar between the denticles and the lettering will usually cause the coin to be downgraded a point or two. That same scratch across the cheek of Ms. Liberty will probably render the coin ungradable. If you were bidding on MS-65 Morgan dollars sight unseen, would you want to receive one where the first thing you notice is a half inch scratch in the center of the obverse? I didn't think so.
6. Rim Nick - A minor rim nick might cause a coin to be downgraded a point or two. A severe rim nick will cause a coin not to be graded. Obviously, the smaller the coin is, the less severe a rim nick is allowed to be in order for the coin to remain gradable.
7. Environmental Damage - This is a catchall phrase for any defect which isn't mint caused, and isn't covered in the other categories. Some examples include corrosion, porosity, and PVC that has eaten into the coin's metal. Many gold coins have been recovered from shipwrecks, and some of these coins have been damaged by currents in the salt water which can create a sandblast effect.
8. Damage - Coins exhibiting unusual damage such as re-engraving of detail, initials scratched onto the coin, solder on the rim, or heavy and/or numerous cuts, digs or scratches.
9. Questionable Authority/Not Genuine - A coin deemed to be a counterfeit or reproduction. Most of these aren't even legal to own.
10. PVC - A coin designated as having PVC (polyvinylchloride) if caught early enough can be easily remedied. PVC leaves a slimy or oily greenish film which can usually be removed by dipping the coin either in acetone or Trichlorotriflouroethane Neutral Coin Solvent (available from E & T Kointainer Co., Box 103, Sidney, Ohio, 45365).
Many coins stored in soft vinyl flips, that are not inert, experience a chemical reaction and the ensuing PVC problem. If a coin you submit is returned due to PVC, you probably have nothing to worry about. It takes many years (often decades) for PVC to permanently damage most coins. The major grading services don't encapsulate coins with even minor traces of PVC. This is simply because they don't want this damage to occur after the coins are in their holders (for obvious reasons).
PCGS and most other services allow you to resubmit any coin rejected due to PVC, for only $10.00. just remove the PVC, and resubmit the coin along with the PVC flip.
11. Minimum Grade -This one is obvious. If you submit a coin and specify that it is not to be encapsulated unless it received your designated minimum grade, it won't be; but you still must pay the submission fee, since the coin went through the grading process.
NGC utilizes all of the above-mentioned "no grade" categories. In addition, NGC will not grade any coin dated 1965 and later or any Territorial coinage.
Hallmark utilizes all of the above-mentioned "no grade" categories.
ANACS utilizes all of the above-mentioned "no grade" categories on coins submitted for encapsulation. ANACS, like NCI, will grade impaired coins when a photo certificate is requested and will note the appropriate problem on the certificate.
ANACS will not accept for encapsulation Modern Proof coinage dated 1956 and later with two exceptions: error coins, and those proofs from 1956 - 1965 which merit the CAMEO superlative. Presently, ANACS does not have apertures to fit the Panama-Pacific $50 commemorative. These may be submitted only for the photo certificate option.
NCI will grade many coins the other services will not, but will usually state on the grading certificate and/or slab the specific problem the coin exhibits. NCI believes that the coin still has a grade, but the fact that the coin has been highly cleaned,
restored, has a planchet flaw, bad scratch, rim nick, or solder, to name just a few, must also be noted next to the grade on the certificate. In some instances, the coin is downgraded because of the problem.
NCI, NGC, ANACS, Hallmark, and PCGS will not, under any circumstances, grade coins that are questionable as to authenticity.