I had if not an epiphany, at least an educational experience at a coin show yesterday.
A vendor had two stacks of certified Morgans. There were about a dozen 1886's graded by PCGS
, and about half that many 1881-S's pegged at MS63
by NGC. The certification numbers showed that both sets had been submitted as a group, and the holder style indicated that this had been done within the last few years.
What got my attention was how variable the coins themselves were. The PCGS
1886's were all very nice to be sure, and I don't think that you could make a cogent argument that any of them were grossly overgraded. The vendor's price was the same for any of them you wanted to pick, but there were some that presented noticeably better than others. It wasn't so much that one coin would have more marks than the next, so technically I could see why they were more or less grade equivalent, but the location of the marks and how that affected my perception of how far from "perfect" the coin was certainly made a difference. To my eye, there were both subtle and more obvious reasons to prefer one over another (I guess I'm actually making the case here for CAC stickers).
The NGC 1881-S's, which were priced at about 35% of what the PCGS1886's were tagged at, were even more problematic. My impression was that for such a common issue, very little true individual grading was done - kind of, like, "if brilliant and uncirculated, print up an MS63 label and slab it." There was one that for which Liberty's face was really pristine, and overall the coin was at least as good as or maybe even a little bit better than some of the MS65's over in the PCGS
pile, yet it received the same MS63 grade as the others. Of course, that was the specimen I selected.
Within both groups, I wondered why some of the rather clearly better examples didn't earn a
I think that pert of the lesson here is that there may be an idealized and fallacious expectation that when common coins are submitted to these big services (especially in large lots), that they are scrutinized to the degree that we ourselves subject them to. It absolutely reinforces the maxim, "Buy the coin and not the slab."