“Every day, we receive phone calls or e-mails that begin, ‘I just inherited (or acquired) a coin collection. What do I do?’ Unfortunately, all of us in the rare coin business have heard horror stories over the years about widows who sold their late husband’s collections at a fraction of the true value because they didn't have enough information. We've set up this new service so heirs can quickly get accurate information and find reputable dealers,” says Ron Guth, President of Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), one of the world’s largest, third-party rare coin authentication companies.

Guth adds that heirs easily can be confused and, unfortunately, taken advantage of when a coin collector passes away and leaves behind a collection but no information or directions about what to do with it. “Just because a coin is ‘old’ doesn't mean it’s rare or valuable. There are many 2,000-year-old ancient coins that can be readily purchased for $100 each, while some coins less than 100 years old are valued at tens of thousands of dollars or more. If you don't know rare coins, you'd better know your rare coin dealer,”     Accordingly, he has set up a new consumer education Website, www.PCGS.com/StartHere. Information at the site includes: how to determine what coins you have and what they are worth; how to get the best price for the coins if you decide to sell them; and advice about long-term storage if you decide not to immediately sell, or if you decide to become a collector.

“We also caution people not to clean their coins. Harsh, improper cleaning drastically lowers the value. Using a scouring pad to make a coin appear ‘bright and shiny’ can quickly turn a $1,000 rare coin into a $50 damaged coin,” says Guth.

Only PCGS-authorized rare coin dealers are listed on the Website. They are part of an internationally recognized dealer’s network established in 1986 to buy and sell rare coins. Actually, as Guth points out, if rare coin dealers only dealt with other rare coin dealers, there would be no need for coin grading. The two would simply decide on the value of the coin and conduct business accordingly. However, he notes that the coin market has expanded far beyond dealer to dealer transactions.   PCGS says that when the rare coin market was limited to a small number of numismatists trading with each other, three broad definitions were enough to determine grade: "Good" -- a coin with most of the detail intact; "Fine" -- a coin with clear detail and some luster on its surfaces; and "Uncirculated" -- a coin which had never been in general circulation and therefore retained its Mint State condition.   As the market grew, however, collectors realized that some "fine" coins were finer than others. Even some uncirculated coins rose above the rest in detail, luster, and general appearance. Soon terms such as "very fine" and "extra fine" began to emerge, as collectors sought to further define the condition of their coins--and increase their value.   In 1948, Dr. William Sheldon, a renowned numismatist, developed the Sheldon Scale, assigning grades from "one" through "70" to coins on the theory that a "70" would be worth seventy times as much as a "one". Although coin collectors agreed on the scale, they could not agree on the standard--and assigning a Sheldon Scale grade to any given coin was still a matter of subjective opinion.   In 1985, a small group of the nation's leading rare coin experts recognized that in order for the rare coin industry to realize its potential, several serious problems needed to be addressed. Market participants soon became aware that one of the fundamental factors in determining rare coin values is the physical condition, or grade, of the coin. They learned that a coin graded Mint State 65, for example, may have market value many times greater than the same coin graded Mint State 64 -- although the difference in an MS65 coin and an MS64 coin may be virtually undetectable to the untrained eye. A coin sold by one dealer as an MS65 may be sold by another dealer as an MS64 (or less). In some cases a coin buyer could be victimized by product misrepresentation. In other cases, he was caught in the middle of a dilemma of wide ranging definitions due to the absence of a true standard. In other situations, they were simply caught in the middle of divergent definitions, due to the absence of a universal standard.   For additional information, contact Professional Coin Grading Service at (800) 477-8848, or visit www.PCGS.com/StartHere. PCGS is a division of Collectors Universe, Inc. of Santa Ana, California.

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