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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The PCGS SecurePlus Program, Part 2: Reform

News and Analysis on scarce coins, coin markets, and the collecting community #29

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I explain the PCGS SecurePlus program in part 1. Here in part 2, Don Willis, the president of the PCGS, responds to the explanation that I put forth in part 1, and I argue, with assistance from expert dealers, that the PCGS SecurePlus™ program should be reformed, not by reformulating the program, but by preventing dealers from submitting rare coins through the old “standard” process. The positions of John Albanese, Ira Goldberg and Mark Feld are featured.

I devoted last Wednesday’s column to an explanation because I have found that many collectors and dealers do not really understand the PCGS SecurePlus™ program. For details of the PCGS SecurePlus™ program, and a discussion of its importance, please read part 1.

IV. Don Willis Responds

Don Willis has been the president of the PCGS since Oct. 2008. I knew him before then, when he was a coin dealer. Earlier, he had a very successful career in the field of information technology, including the founding of a large software company. I have found Don to be honest, willing to address controversial issues, and very concerned about the well being of collectors.

Willis graciously responds to the points put forth in last week’s column and to questions I asked. Fortunately, Don found my explanation last week as to how grading procedures under the SecurePlus program differ from standard PCGS procedures to be “correct.”

“Today, in its early stages,” Willis says, “SecurePlus is being driven by the collector community.” My (this writer’s) impression is that many collectors do not know or do not understand the benefits of the SecurePlus program. Moreover, not all collectors are familiar with the problems of grade-inflation and coin doctoring. Besides, the dealers who submit many coins to the PCGS are typically wholesalers, not dealers who sell directly to collectors. It would be illogical for the SecurePlus program to be steered by collector demands and collector feedback.

Willis continues, “We have seen many finest known and top quality sets submitted for SecurePlus grading.” I (this writer) find that this is certainly true. Several sets in the Simpson collection come to mind. “Most of these sets remain with their original owners and off the market,” Willis states. “One exception would be Dr. Steven Duckor’s set of Barber Half Dollars which were submitted through SecurePlus and later sold at auction for record breaking prices.”

Dr. Duckor is a strong supporter of the SecurePlus program. Please see his remarks in my June 2nd column. (As always, clickable links are in blue.) Further, I wrote two articles on Dr. Duckor’s halves (part 1, part 2). Also, I mention more of his halves in my column of Aug. 4th.

As Willis says, Duckor’s halves sold for extremely strong prices at auction and many auction records were then set. It is not clear, though, to what extent PCGS Secure holders (as opposed to regular PCGS holders) played a role in the prices realized. Dr. Duckor is one of the leading living collectors, and he is certainly one of the most sophisticated collectors of all time. For a Barber Half Dollar, or an early 20th century gold coin, a Duckor pedigree often adds considerable value.

The SecurePlus program should not only be for the benefit of those advanced, knowledgeable collectors who understand the program. “SecurePlus is only six months old,” Willis replies. “Currently all coins valued over $100,000 must go through SecurePlus. This will change in the future as the market dictates.” Willis figures that “the pace of SecurePlus submissions and the expansion of SecurePlus services will be determined by collector demand just as original PCGS submissions were back in 1986.” (more…)

PCGS Announces Coin Sniffer™ Process Enhancement to Secure Plus Coin Grading

The Next Step To Improve And Protect the Coin Collecting Hobby

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) today revealed additional steps it is taking to improve its ability to detect altered coins. PCGS announced that it has a process in development which will detect any foreign substance on a coin’s surface.

According to PCGS officials, in conjunction with the development of coin recognition technology launched in March of this year, PCGS has been developing a process to detect foreign materials and other enhancements to a coin’s surfaces.

Using energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDX), Fournier Transform Infra-Red Spectral analysis (FT-IR), Raman Spectroscopy and other similar analytical techniques, this detection process (code-named by PCGS, the PCGS Coin Sniffer™) will analyze the surfaces of a coin in a matter of seconds to detect foreign substances and provide quantitative information about the coin.

“Coin doctors” often apply numerous materials to the surfaces of coins to conceal problems with the coin, and/or alter the surfaces to improve its appearance in an attempt to artificially increase its value. The simultaneous alloy determination will further aid in the detection of counterfeits as an additional benefit.

David Hall, cofounder of PCGS and President of its parent company Collectors Universe, Inc. said, “[w]hen we launched PCGS Secure Plus featuring coin recognition technology we stated that it was just a first step in improving grading and battling coin doctoring. The PCGS Coin Sniffer™ is the next significant development in our ongoing efforts. When combined with our existing PCGS Secure Plus service, this new process will make it extremely difficult for altered coins to go undetected.”

“This new process is somewhat similar to what we often see as we are going through security at an airport,” said Don Willis, PCGS President. “We have already filed a patent which covers the methodology and unique techniques we are using for processing coins. The new PCGS Coin Sniffer™ process will be integrated with the help of our partner CoinSecure, Inc into the PCGS Secure Plus service and will be available at no additional cost. Our targeted production implementation is this year, although we will be conducting live testing much before then.”

PCGS Announces PCGS Secure Plus™, The Most Important Innovation in the Coin Industry Since the Advent of Third Party Grading.

The Professional Coin Grading Service (www.PCGS.com) has launched PCGS Secure Plus™, a revolutionary new process with high-tech security and scrutiny to increase the confidence of collectors and dealers, and a new certification designation that potentially can increase the value of coins.

The PCGS Secure Plus process uses laser scanning to help detect coins that have been artificially enhanced since their last certification, combat “gradeflation” and excessive resubmissions of the same coins, and can also be used to help identify recovered stolen coins. Additionally, PCGS expert graders can now designate deserving, superior-quality coins as “Plus” within their respective grades, an important distinction when there are big differences in value between one grade point and the next.

Announcement of the unprecedented breakthrough was made by PCGS executives on the opening day at the American Numismatic Association National Money Show™ in Fort Worth, Texas. They explained how the new process of digitally scanning each coin to capture its distinctive characteristics is being integrated into the PCGS grading system and how it helps resolve important issues in the rare coin marketplace by offering:

  • Increased precision and consistency in grading
  • Improved detection of altered coins
  • Less chance of “gradeflation”
  • More likely recovery if a PCGS Secure Plus coin is stolen
  • Increased value of high-end coins within each grade

Developed after years of extensive software and hardware development and testing in partnership with Coinsecure, Inc. of Palo Alto, California, the PCGS Secure Plus service digitally captures a unique “fingerprint” of each coin that is then entered into a permanent data base.

PCGS Secure Plus will introduce a new level of confidence and security in the coin collecting market” said PCGS President Don Willis. “We believe that PCGS Secure Plus addresses several of the leading issues affecting the industry today. PCGS Secure Plus is a patent-pending process wherein a coin is laser scanned, imaged and registered in a permanent data base. Every coin has its own identifying characteristics. Coins are like snowflakes at the micron level; they are very different from each other. If a coin has been previously registered in our system it will be identified whenever it’s again scanned by us, so duplication of coin information will be eliminated. As a result, population reports, condition census and other potentially distorted information will be much more accurate for PCGS Secure Plus coins.”

“The process also can help detect if a previously registered coin has been artificially toned, dipped or processed in some other way in an effort to get a higher grade. Not since PCGS introduced encapsulated third-party grading in 1986 has such an important step been taken to protect the consumer. We believe PCGS Secure Plus will totally revolutionize the coin grading business,” said Willis. (more…)