Numismatic publications are full of headlines about seemingly low-value coins bringing amazing sums in ultra-condition. I have personally observed lines of people at rare coin conventions submitting handfuls of coins that are not worth the cost of the submission. How are collectors to understand that their Franklin half dollar is not worth $100,000 if they have the coin certified?
For many, submitting rare coins for grading can be daunting, especially for the uninitiated. Understanding the process can save time, money, and frustration. Fortunately, there are dozens of options to choose from when submitting coins. This guide will help you understand the different options available to you (at least at NGC) and, hopefully, help you better understand the submission process.
Where to Start
Some collectors submit coins for certification for the peace of mind of having an entire series authenticated and graded, and for the attractive display that comes with encapsulation. But for many others, submitting coins for certification is basically a mathematical equation. You need to determine if the coin will be more valuable if submitted for grading and authentication, and if the grading fees justify the cost. For example, it may not be profitable to grade common-date Morgan silver dollars in grades below MS 63. For the average collector, the added cost of the grading outweighs what the coins could be sold for uncertified on the current market.
I have, many times, mentioned the need for collectors to find a trustworthy dealer for advice. Most rare coin dealers have decades of experience they are willing to share with collectors. This is especially useful when using a coin dealer who is a nationally known expert in their collecting specialty. Established coin companies’ operations have years of experience sending coins for grading and certification. Many are willing to help you with the process of certification. We often assist clients who want to have their coins certified before they are sold.
Experts can help you screen coins that are being submitted for the following reasons:
Authentication has become crucial in recent years with the proliferation of counterfeit coins being offered online and in other venues. Several clients have come into our offices with dozens of coins for certification, just to find that every coin was counterfeit. If all of the coins had been submitted, thousands of dollars in grading fees would have been wasted. This week, an experienced collector brought in four Carson City Morgan dollars he wanted me to send for grading. Sadly, they were recent Chinese fakes.
Coins must be screened to determine their value. Unless you have basic grading skills, this part of the process is nearly impossible without expert advice. Many collectors or individuals who have inherited coins look up the value on Google with extremely mixed results. Searching for a 1963-D Lincoln cent can bring up auction results for nearly $1,000, but most aren’t worth that much money. In general, a coin should be worth $50 or more to consider being worth the cost of submission.
As mentioned above, it can be very confusing to determine which coins should be submitted for grading when there are so many giant auction records for seemingly common coins. We get calls frequently from the public about coins they think are extremely valuable because of a price they found on Google. The rise of set-registry collecting is recent years causes ultra-high-grade coins to bring seemingly crazy prices at auction. For example, a common 1930s Mercury dime sold for over $300,000 a few years ago.
Prices like these make even a seasoned professional want to submit every coin that might be considered Gem to the services. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Making a superb “top pop” (finest graded) coin at NGC is very difficult regardless of the series or age of the coin. Many of the coins you see, such as the six-figure Franklin half dollars or Mercury dime were the result of careful cherry-picking, mass submissions, multi-submissions, or a combination of all of the above. There are a lot of rare coin dealers who submit thousands of coins trying to make just a few of these mega-grade coins.
Unless you are an expert in the series that you are submitting, the chances of making a “top pop” coin are remote and the math of the grading expenses makes the costs prohibitive. Understanding the basics of coin grading is essential to submitting coins successfully.
When trying to submit coins in the hopes of getting ultra-high grades, you should start small to verify the most likely outcome. Submit just a few to understand the grading standards. It’s nearly impossible to compare the photos of a high-grade coin to one you have raw. The 1963-D Lincoln cent illustration here is a good example. Coins from a roll of 1963-D cents would look identical to the untrained eye.
Once you’ve determined the value of your coin, you must consider grading fees. Grading fees per individual coin start at $19 for modern coins and $23 for vintage coins. These fees do not include shipping to and from the grading company, which can add another $20 to $50 per submission. Plus, NGC charges a $10 handling fee per invoice. In summary, fees can be substantial for even the smallest submission.
Some of the most common calls we receive from the public are about mint errors. People think that every minor error is worth a fortune. That is not the case. The United States Mint makes billions of coins, and errors are quite common. NGC certifies error coins, but you should be sure the coins are worth the grading fees. Usually, only dramatic errors on pre-1965 coinage are worth considering. Also, there has been a proliferation of counterfeit error coins entering the market in recent years. I wish I had a dollar for every 1943 copper cent call I have received over the years.
This is an area of rare coin submission that frustrates even seasoned experts. No one submits a coin hoping for a coin that comes back without a straight grade. Coins with surface problems are issued an NGC Details grade or are not encapsulated and returned in “body bags”. There are several reasons why coins are returned as no grades, including cleaning, environmental damage, scratches, residue, PVC (chemical residue), damage, holes, edge filing, and more. Many of these problems are easy to miss, and having expert advice can be very valuable.
NOTE: Nearly all circulated coins have some kind of problem and these need to be considered when submitting coins. When we send in large groups of circulated coins, nearly 20% come back with a Details grade. This is even after expert sorting for the best results.
Choosing Grading Tiers
There are 10 to 20 different grading tiers at NGC to choose from. Fees range from $19 to $300 plus 1% of the fair market value. These fees are based on coin value in most cases. To learn more about NGC’s current grading tiers, fees, and turnaround times, click here.
Numismatic Conservation Services (NCS), NGC’s affiliate for coin conservation, charges 4% of the fair market value based on the NGC Price Guide with a $25 minimum charge.
For modern coins, lower-value gold coins, and some other submissions, the fee is less and can be negotiated based on the number of coins being conserved. Coins can be conserved before being graded, but this should only be done by experts.
Not all coins can be conserved. NGC evaluates each coin to determine if the coin would benefit from conservation. This usually means that coins with light, unattractive toning will be conserved to enhance eye appeal. Conservators cannot change the color of a coin, such as red-brown to red on copper.
Coins with PVC
One of the issues mentioned above that often causes a coin to be ungradable is the presence of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) residue on the surface of the coin. This is very common; over many years, soft flips can leech out this chemical onto coins. I have seen thousands of coins ruined over the years. It can be difficult to remove and often the surfaces have been damaged. Expert coin conservators are excellent at removing PVC with the least amount of damage to the surfaces.
PVC damage is one reason that collectors like to protect their coins in hard cases.
Upon request, NGC examines coins in recognized varieties and assigns an appropriate attribution. Remember to choose a grading tier according to coin value and desired turnaround. If you would like a coin already graded by NGC to be reviewed for a variety, do not select a grading tier. See NGC’s VarietyPlus guide for a complete list of varieties they recognize.
Variety attribution can be very important for a coin to be worth its maximum value, especially for rare issues. NGC has information on its website about which issues are eligible for attribution. Generally, it’s for coins with well-established specialized reference works for the series. It is important to weigh the added fees against the premium that a variety brings over a common issue. Again, it’s a mathematical equation.
NGC also offers a CrossOver service for those wanting their coins to be in an NGC holder rather than one from another major grading service. Some people collect coins only from one grading service and it’s not uncommon for coins to be sent for CrossOver service. Basically, the coins are examined, and if the grade is the same as on the existing holder, NGC will re-holder the coin. It is also possible to get upgrades using this service, but that is rare.
NGC offers special labels that can be purchased for an additional fee. To learn more about the special labels currently offered by NGC, click here.
At major rare coin conventions where the grading companies set up to certify coins, there can be lines of people waiting to submit their collections. Many of these people are sending in coins that have been “cracked out” of (removed from) third-party certification holders and they are hoping for upgrades. Some large coin dealerships send in thousands of coins at these shows. Submitting a coin this way is much more expensive.
Cracking out coins and getting upgrades seems like an easy way to make money, but we can assure you it is not. Besides the fees, coins can downgrade. We have seen very expensive coins cracked out and never again re-holdered because of issues. When coins are cracked out, all grading guarantees are voided and you have no recourse.
Another factor that should be considered is that in today’s market, collectors value eye appeal. Some coins are not worth more, even if they upgrade, because the coin looks low-end for the grade. Our company cracks out far fewer coins compared to recent years because of this reason. The way a coin looks is extremely important in today’s market.
How to Start Submitting Coins
We highly recommend using the services of a professional numismatist, especially for individuals who lack basic grading skills or numismatic knowledge. NGC lists registered dealers around the country who are willing to help you with the process. When contacting dealers, be upfront about your intentions. Are you wanting to have coins certified so you can sell them, or are you a collector? Dealers will be particularly eager and helpful if they have a chance to buy your coins. Remember to be respectful of a dealer’s time.
But NGC does accept coin submissions directly from individuals if you become a member. To learn more about NGC memberships, click here.
This can be one of the most difficult aspects for collectors and non-professionals.
To send your coins to NGC, simply ship them via US Postal Service or FedEx. Both methods are easy and safe.
U.S. Postal Service
Priority Mail through USPS allows packages to be tracked throughout the shipping process. Priority Mail packages shipped by the Postal Service are insured for $100; additional insurance can be purchased. Be sure to tightly pack your coins to prevent rattling. Carefully wrap your package, covering all corners of the box with paper tape. You can find shipping supplies at the post office and other shipping stores.
FedEx offers the easiest way to send your coins. You can even overnight your package for immediate service. FedEx supplies boxes and shipping labels at no charge. You will need to consider insurance for high-value packages. Check with FedEx for insurance rates or try companies such as Ship and Insure for the best rate.
Take pictures of your coins with your smartphone or camera before sending coins for grading. This will be very helpful in the unlikely event that the coins are lost, stolen, or damaged.
When submitting coins, use clean flips to avoid scratching during transit.
Although submitting coins can seem like a very daunting process, experts can help you navigate the process. Hopefully, the above information is helpful.