Coin grading survey

Responding to hobby concerns about perceived wide variances in the grading standards between different rare coin certification services, the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) and the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) asked their members for their professional opinions. PNG is a group of dealers with a restricted membership based on time in the profession and the value of their inventory. ICTA is a trade organization that lobbies on behalf of the numismatic industry in legislative matters. Survey respondents were asked to rate seven different grading services on a ten-point scale to evaluate 11 different criteria, from grading accuracy to the quality of the holder in which certified coins were housed. The points were weighted differently among the categories, from as high as 20 percent for each of two categories of grading accuracy (Uncirculated and circulated) to 2 percent each for turn-around time and quality of certified holder. The voting scale ranged from "unacceptable" at the low end to "outstanding" at the high end.

  • Unacceptable: 0-1
  • Poor: 2-3
  • Average: 4-6
  • Superior: 7-8
  • Outstanding: 9-10

PNG and ICTA each sent the survey to its professional members during August 2002 and ICTA crosschecked mailings from PNG to avoid duplication. Although over 300 people received the survey, only 151 responses had been returned to Armen Vartian, PNG's legal counsel and designated recipient prior to the close of the survey on September 16. From those, eleven responses were disqualified as one was marked as from ICTA as a group, not from an individual; two respondents were unknown to PNG or ICTA; one was affiliated with a grading service; one was submitted with the numbers illegible; five were duplicates from owners of one or more firms; and one respondent was not a PNG member. Respondents had to print their names and provide signatures, meaning that all forms turned in anonymously were also rejected. PNG and ICTA members were asked to consider the following criteria for the seven grading services in the survey.

  • Grading accuracy (Mint State 60+ and Proof 60+)
  • Grading accuracy (AG-3 to AU-58)
  • Ability to detect altered, repaired damaged, cleaned and counterfeit coins
  • Accuracy of all (type and variety) attributions
  • Grading guarantees
  • General marketability
  • Availability of pricing information
  • Customer service by phone, print and Internet
  • Cost for service provided
  • Turn-around time

The final tally of the survey indicated that no grading service was ranked overall as "outstanding," but one company was listed as "unacceptable." Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) were both listed overall as "superior," the second highest ranking on the scale. Accu-Grade (ACG) was listed overall as "unacceptable," the lowest-ranking category on the scale. ANACS and Independent Coin Grading Company (ICG) were ranked overall as "average." PCI Coin Grading Service (PCI) and Sovereign Entities Grading Service (SEGS) were ranked overall as "poor."

Survey results disputed

The Survey results were tabulated by PNG with respect to each individual criterion, and also overall based upon weighting factors established by PNG/ICTA. The weighting factors were disclosed in advance to respondents." PNG has retained copies of all survey responses, and originals are being held by PNG's Legal Counsel. The release of the survey's results brought instant cries of foul from low-rated services and claims of superiority by those accorded the highest marks.

Criteria Unacceptable Poor Average Superior Outstanding
Criteria Unacceptable Poor Average Superior Outstanding
Grading Accuracy (MS&PR 60 +) ACG PCI, SEGS ANACS, ICG NGC, PCGS
Grading Accuracy (AG-3 to AU-58) ACG PCI, SEGS ANACS, ICG NGC, PCGS
Ability to detect Altered, Repaired, Damaged, Cleaned and Couterfeits ACG ICG, PCI, SEGS NGC, PCGS
Accuracy of Attributions ACG ANACS, ICG,
General Marketability ACG PCI, SEGS ANACS, ICG NGC, PCGS
Availability of Pricing Information ACG PCI, SEGS ANACS, ICG NGC, PCGS
Customer Service ACG ANACS, ICG,
Cost for Service ACG ANACS, ICG, NGC,
Turnaround Time ACG, ANACS, ICG,
Quality of Certified Holder ACG ANACS, ICG,


Larry Briggs, owner of SEGS, said, "It's political blackball to try to run the lower-echelon companies that haven't paid for games to go ahead and get out of the business." Diane Hager, owner of ASA Accugrade, said: "I don't take it seriously. I don't think they speak for the coin industry. I question their methods. There was no reason to have a survey. Everyone knew what the results would be, and I'm sure there was other motivation. The whole purpose was to discredit my product, my company. I think people with a brain are going to understand. Who really cares what PNG thinks? Who are they? Their pockets are big and deep and that's what this is about. PNG is a self-serving, elitist organization, and I question the accuracy of their results. I'd like to know who these 151 dealers are and if they've ever used a service other than PCGS or NGC. It's very disheartening when you've built a company for 18 years and have such a dedicated group of people."

Martin Pierce, attorney for SEGS, said in a written statement: "[W]e are absolutely convinced, even when stepping back and looking at it on a 'worst case scenario/most critical' basis, that the PNG/ICTA 'survey' does not accurately reflect SEGS's actual service and performance or its reputation in the marketplace." "Although SEGS, as well as others who entered the field after PCGS, NGC and ANACS, has had some problems with acceptance," he also said, "SEGS enjoys a steady stream of loyal and experienced numismatic clientele and a steady stream of coins coming through for grading and encapsulation. There have been few problems with general marketability, as evidenced by repeat customers who are happy with the service, product and prices realized for their coins." As areas in which SEGS excels, Pierce included "the best capsule in the business," inclusion of information and its accuracy, detection of fakes, detailed and accurate attributions and "fastest actual turnaround time."


Michael Heavener, PCI owner, said: "We believe the survey was statistically biased and not well-founded. There may be underlying reasons for the distortions, and we are examining those matters." Heavener had commented while the survey was being taken: "I object to any survey that is not fair in its representation of the collector and dealer alike. I also find it a huge conflict of interest that one of the major grading services pays PNG to be listed as its official grading service and their membership will make up almost 50 percent of the sample group." The official grading service Heavener was referring to is PCGS. "I suspect that a large percentage of the sample dealers accept coins from collectors, for a fee, to submit to dealer-only services," Heavener added. "This also creates the appearance of a conflict of interest."


By the skin of the teeth - being the only service rated "superior" on turn-around time - NGC could clamp onto title as top dog. "We are pleased with the results," NGC President Mark Salzberg said. "We fully expected the results. We're happy it came out this way. We felt all along that if this were done honestly and openly, we would come out on top. We've been working real hard here in all categories" - including, he especially noted, turn-around time.


PCGS President Rick Montgomery said: "PCGS is obviously pleased and honored to receive the highest rankings in the recently conducted PNG survey. This survey reflected the views of the coin industry's top professionals, and while the PNG is for some reason choosing not to report the actual scores, we understand that PCGS had the highest score of all the grading services in seven out of the 10 categories. "We feel this survey validates the ongoing effort by PCGS to provide the numismatic community with the absolute finest quality product. The fact that we've graded 7.5 million coins with declared values over $10 billion, coupled with the fact that PCGS coins consistently sell for more at auctions and on the dealer trading networks than coins graded by other services, suggests the dealer and collecting community have long regarded PCGS as the service of choice."


John McDonough, vice president and general manager of ANACS, said, "Considering that the survey was not scientifically valid, that the audience for the survey did not include our customer base, we are basically pleased with the results, especially in the area of counterfeit detection." ANACS was rated "superior" in that category, the only instance of a "superior" in any category for a company other than NGC or PCGS.


James Taylor, part owner and vice president of customer satisfaction of ICG, reserved public comment.