In this day and age of coin collecting, more and more people are buying certified coins. There are a lot of positives when buying coins that are certified by a third party grading services (TPG). One of which is the the coin is guaranteed genuine. This is especially important when buying rare or expensive coins. Another pro is the coin is professionally graded, so you know exactly what grade the coin is, though opinions still can vary. Lastly, the coin is protected in an air-tight holder, so it is not prone as much to tarnishing, hazing and corrosion.
There have been many, many grading services over the years, but in today’s collecting age, there are four main grading services: PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG. The others out there are not worthy of review, as they are too inconsistent, or even worse, some of them are just plain corrupt. Below is our current ranking and brief review of the four relevant grading services of today.
1. PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service):
PCGS, or Professional Coin Grading Service, was founded in 1985 and started grading coins in 1986. It was started by seven coin dealers, in attempts to establish a standard for grading. PCGS started out using a smaller holder than they use today, often called a rattler holder. This is because the coin was held in place by little plastic pieces, but they didn’t do the best job of keeping it there. Many coins would rotate in the holder, and many of them would move ever so slightly, causing a rattling sound. The design was eventually changed to a similar design used today, though went through many minor facelifts in-between. PCGS was very strict in it’s grading during the early years for the most part. As they were trying to establish a reputation, often the rattler slabs are undergraded. Because of this, they sometimes will draw a premium being in this holder. PCGS has kept up their grading standards very well over the years. To date, they have graded over 33 million coins! With that large number, mistakes and opinion variations are bound to happen, but overall PCGS is the most accurate, consistent grading service in our opinion.
2. NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation):
NGC, or Numismatic Guaranty Corporation was founded in 1987, just a couple years after PCGS. As PCGS was gaining momentum, the new kid on the block came on the scene. In 1995, NGC was named the official grading service of the ANA (American Numismatic Association). NGC’s holder has always looked pretty similar to the holder of today. In terms of quality, NGC has graded the most coins of any certification service, with a whopping 35+ million coins graded! There have been many small design changes, though and it is, in our opinion, the nicest looking certified holder. NGC is right up there with PCGS in terms of grading and consistency. Overall, PCGS seems to be just slightly more strict and consistent than NGC, though one could make a case to say the opposite. It is almost a flip of the coin as to which is better, though PCGS coins generally sell for slightly more and we had to pick one for the winner!
3. ANACS (American Numismatic Association Certification Service)
ANACS which stands for American Numismatic Association Certification Service (try saying that 10 times fast), is one of the pioneers in coin grading and started in 1972. Originally, they started certifying their coins with photo certificates. Certification meant a photo card with the obverse, reverse and grade of the coin, though the coin was not encased in a holder. There were obvious problems with this, as the coins could get cleaned, scratched, dinged, and even worn and still have the same grading certificate. Later, they started encapsulating their coins with a small holder, which changed designs many times. Though they are a good, reputable coin grading service, they are less consistent than PCGS and NGC. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy their coins, but you just have to be a bit more careful. The higher grade/price coins, such as MS65 and above, will often bring less money in an ANACS holder. The nice thing about ANACS coins, is that if you play your cards right, you can sometimes get a coin just as nice as any PCGS or NGC graded coin at a lower price
4. ICG (Independent Coin Graders)
ICG, the newest of the bunch, was started in 1998 and stands for Independent Coin Graders. They have niche since they have fast turnaround times and cheaper pricing than the top grading services. They also have no minimum submissions, meaning that you can just submit one coin to get graded. They also have changed holder designs a few times. There holders used to easily get nicks in the plastic, leaving little white marks on the holder. Often this would be on the face of the coin, which would somewhat ruin the eye appeal of the coin. Grading is pretty similar to ANACS overall. They are not nearly as popular as PCGS or NGC or even ANACS, so you don’t see too many of these holders out there. As with ANACS, you have to be more careful buying ICG graded coins, but if you do your homework, it is possible to get a coin on par with PCGS or NGC at a lower price.
Overall, PCGS and NGC stand alone in terms of accurate grading, consistency and popularity. ANACS and ICG are distant 3rd and 4th places in terms of popularity, but are still reputable grading services. The golden rule of certified coins is to buy the coin, not the holder. However, If you are looking specifically for investment coins, your best bet is to stick with PCGS and NGC.
What are your thoughts on the top grading services and which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!