Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Douglas Bird Collection - A few personal highlights

Selections from the Doug Bird collection of Large Cents will be sold at auction by Ira & Larry Goldberg in Los Angeles, CA Feb. 16, 2020. This sale promises to join other legendary name sales by the Goldbergs - names like Ted Naftzger, Dan Holmes, March Wells, Paul Gerrie, Tom Reynolds, and more. The Goldbergs have an affiliation with copper like Midas had one for gold.

I have known Doug Bird personally for more than 3 decades. My first encounter with Doug was at a coin show in Portland, OR in the mid 1980's, where I was a novice collector and he was already an experienced dealer in early American copper. The two impressions that Doug made upon me that day were 1. how many wonderful coins he had for sale, and 2. how friendly and approachable the man himself was. Doug was ever-patient with my many uninformed questions, and he exhibited a wicked sense of humor about coins & about life! Doug sold me my first 1804 cent, and through the years the friendship has continued to enriched us both! Doug was a long-time denizen of Hermosa Beach, CA. When I became advanced enough to attend auctions in L.A. and shows in Long Beach, I often found that we were competing to own the same coins in auctions, and I never failed to stop at Doug's table, to see what was "new", or what I had missed on my last visit. Through the years I have had the benefit of Doug's enormous expertise and also enjoyed his camaraderie within the EAC (Early American Coppers club).

Doug's Feb. 2020 auction represents the creme-de-la-copper of his holdings. 179 little copper jewels will find new homes. I am making plans to be in attendance, and hope to make at least one of these little gems mine by the end of the sale. Below are a few of the highlight coins that will be offered from the Douglas Bird collection:

  • LOT 6 is a wonderful 1793 S-14 Liberty Cap cent. This is the variety with a spectacular bi-secting obverse die-crack. The Bird coin is the 2nd finest available.

  • LOT 22 is a choice 1794 S-64 Liberty Cap cent. This famous variety has a missing fraction bar on the rev. The Bird coin is problem-free, with just a touch of wear visible.

  • LOT 37 is another famous variety - the 1796 S-103 LIHERTY Draped Bust cent. The "B" in LIBERTY was first punched in backward, and then corrected, making the letter appear to be an "H". the Bird coin is easily the finest known of this famous variety.

  • LOT 67 is the finest known example of the 1800/798 Draped Bust cent with style-1 hair, S-190. Golden brown luster practically drips from this coin. Simply a superb example of early copper!

  • LOT 84 is another famous variety - the 1801 S-219 "3-Errors Reverse" cent. The Bird coin is once again the finest known for the variety.

  • LOT 140 is a beautiful 1811 S-287. This is not a rare variety. However, the Bird coin is so lovely that it merits mention for its outstanding eye appeal. The color appears wholly original and contains iridescent overtones of blue & olive on surfaces that still exhibit traces of mint-red.

  • LOT 141 is another fairly common variety in exceptional condition. This 1812 S-288 cent has radiant luster and choice red-brown color. Truly a coin for the aficionado to appreciate.

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2019

    A Tribute to the EAC grading system

    EAC grading is not perfect; it is just the best system we have today.

    Attempts to systematize coin grading for U.S. coins began in the early 20th century. The American Numismatic Association (ANA) was a leading proponent of this effort. Coin grading was deemed important because of the correlation between the amount of wear on the coin and its market value. Dozens of books have been published to describe various grading systems. Adjectives were assigned to describe progressive levels of wear (eg. ABOUT UNCIRCULATED, EXTREMELY FINE, VERY FINE, FINE, VERY GOOD, GOOD). Following the publication of a book called Early American Cents by William Sheldon in 1949, the adjectives used for grading coins were supplemented with numerical grades ranging from 1-70. The ANA published the first edition of ANA Grading Standards for U.S. Coins in 1977. Shortly thereafter (1979) ANACS (the ANA Certification Service) issued its first coin grading certificates. These certificates were intended to facilitate coin trading, and featured photos of both sides of the coin and a grade estimate, based on ANA grading standards. A useful history of the ANACS grading service has been published, and can be read here:

    Problems associated with grading continued to plague the coin market. In 1986, The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) introduced the concept of grading & encapsulation, wherein the coin was graded, and encapsulated in a hard plastic holder, along with an insert upon which a certified grade was printed. The origin story for PCGS makes interesting reading, and can be found here:

    Other companies followed the PCGS example, and today the coin market is heavily reliant on coins graded & encapsulated in holders from 3rd party grading services. If 3rd party grading had “solved” the problem with grading, no other system would be necessary. However, as we will discuss, that is not what happened.

    Adjectival definitions for grades (eg. GOOD, FINE, VERY FINE, ABOUT UNCIRCULATED) have remained relatively constant over time. Likewise, the numerical grading scale (ranging from 1, for a coin just recognizable as to date & type, to 70 for a flawless coin) remains in place. However, the standards by which various grades are defined have not remained constant. This lack of permanence was the original justification for the 3rd party grading services. Unfortunately, these services have not been able to maintain adequate consistency of their standards. This has resulted in much confusion in the market for 3rd party graded coins. In addition, the increasing price spread between coins near the upper end of the grading spectrum gave rise to demand for increased precision in commercial grades. In response to this market phenomenon, PCGS introduced 11 discrete mint-state grades (MS60-MS70), and later added intermediate “+” grades, in an attempt to refine the definition of grade. In many cases, the difference between these 1-point grade spreads is too small to maintain with consistency (at least with human graders).

    Coin grading has been described as part art & part science. For circulated coins, it is straightforward to define points along the continuum of wear – this is the “science” part of grading for circulated” coins. The “art” part involves accounting for differing striking pressure, which will also affect the amount of detail in the resulting coin. Another important aspect of the “art” of coin grading is deciding how particular defects (eg. rim bumps, scratches, abrasive cleaning, etc.) will impact the value (or grade) of a coin. The location and the severity of the problem will impact the coin’s value, and is unique to each and every coin graded. For coins that are strictly uncirculated (ie. No wear visible) it is theoretically possible to define points on the scale of beauty that involve the quality of the luster and the number of marks acquired by the coin during handling at the mint (or elsewhere) – this is the “science” part for uncirculated coins. The “art” part involves assessing the “eye appeal” that each uncirculated coin possesses within the context of its particular coin series.

    The EAC grading system evolved within the Early American Copper community as a unique answer to the grading conundrum for problems experienced with circulated coins. The vast majority of early copper coins are circulated. The EAC system uses two numbers to define the grade of any coin. For a circulated coin, the first number defines the “sharpness” of the coin (on a 1-60 scale). For EAC grading the second number is called the “net” grade of the coin, after accounting for the impact of any problems. The net grade is either equal to, or lower than the sharpness grade. For uncirculated coins, the same two-number system is used. The 1st number (from 60-70) is related to the color, luster, and eye appeal of the coin. The second number is the “net” grade, which will be equal to or lower than the first number, and accounts for any problems the coin has.

    The EAC system grading scale looks the same (on the surface) as the other grading systems. The same grading adjectives are also utilized. The most important differences are as follows:
  • The EAC standards for sharpness on circulated coins are a little stricter than commercial grading standards. A coin that grades “40” at a commercial grading service is likely to have too much wear to qualify for the sharpness grade of “40” by EAC standards. It will more likely have an EAC sharpness grade of “30”.
  • Problems are handled completely differently within the EAC system than by the commercial grading systems. For a coin graded using EAC standards, there is a 2nd number, derived from the sharpness grade, which accounts for any issues on the coin (eg. cleaning, scratches, damage, rim bumps, etc.). For a coin graded commercially, there will be no 2nd number. If a coin has issues, but they are deemed to be “minor” by the grading service (ie. Below the threshold that will prevent assignment of a numerical grade), the “net” grade (sharpness minus some allowance for the issue(s)) will be put on the holder. If the issues are above the “threshold” level, then the grading service will encapsulate the coin in a holder marked “Genuine”, usually with an adjectival description of sharpness, and an indication of the problem(s). For example “AU Details / CLEANED”.

  • The EAC grading system is not simple. There are just too many variables involved in grading for a simple system to work. However, the EAC system is consistent and capable of delivering trustworthy guidance about the market value of copper coins. Coin market participants who utilize EAC grading have made a concerted effort to sustain the grading standards that have been in use since the 1960’s. The consistency and time invariance of the EAC grading system renders it more useful today than any other grading system. The book devoted to describing (and illustrating) the EAC grading system is called “Grading Guide for Early American Copper Coins”. The first edition of this book has sold out, and must now be purchased on the secondary market.