PCGS On Coin Doctoring

June 6, 2010

In late May this year PCGS filed a US Federal civil suit against a group of 6 individuals they call 'coin doctors'. I'll write about the suit in a subsequent entry because it should be of interest to any serious coin collector. However, in this entry I thought it would be worth having a look at what coin doctoring actually is, mainly because it's not a term you encounter very often in Australia. In US coin collecting circles it is sadly well known and is beginning to be a real threat to the industry. One very well known US coin expert and dealer has estimated that up to 15% of the PCGS and NGC slabbed pre 1938 coins that pass through his hands have been 'doctored'. Yes, you read that right, these doctored coins have been slabbed by PCGS and NGC. Not deliberately, but because the 'coin doctors' are so skilled at their art that they manage to slip the coins past the graders at these TPG's and get them encapsulated.

So, what is coin doctoring? Well the first thing that springs to my mind is cleaning a coin in a manner to escape detection and thus achieve a higher grade. Another method might be to artificially tone a coin to either give it very attractive colours or to perhaps hide surface defects from the graders eyes. Other methods might be whizzing (tooling down the fields of a coin to remove bag marks and restore lustre), filling holes and bag marks with metal or putty, filing and down and filling edge bumps, or perhaps even chemically treating parts of the coin to frost it and pass the coin off as a proof. However, a quick read of the Civil Suit PCGS filed against the coin doctors shows that coin doctoring has been taken to a much more sophisticated and undetectable level. PCGS defines coin doctoring in a comprehensive manner in the brief, in terms far better than I could ever hope to. Here's what they define it as:

Coin "doctoring" involces the alteration of the appearance of a coin to attempt to increase its value, and may involve, among other things, adding substances to coins (such as, among other things, putty, wax, facial oils, petroleum jelly or varnish); treating coins with chemicals (such as, among other things, potash, sulfur, cyanide, iodine, and bleach); heat treating coins in any way to alter their appearance; re-matting ("skinning") proof gold; "tapping" and "spooning" (ie, physically moving surface metal to hide marks); filing rim nicks; or repairing coins (re-tooling metal)

PCGS go on to describe specific coin doctoring methods used on several coins they've seized that include lasering of coin surfaces and rebuilding of design features using putty or jewelers metal. To give you an idea of how sophisticated these methods are, a big dealer in the USA who knows the six named 'coin doctors' estimates that there are 20 or fewer people in the entire USA who could use the coin doctoring methods PCGS describes in their civil suit.

So, that's coin doctoring. These 'doctors' do it to get a coin into a PCGS or NGC slab, make a quick and obscene profit and move onto the next project. Of course the collector who buys such a coin is left with a dud as the doctoring methods become apparent years down the track as the coin deteriorates and then PCGS or NGC are left to pay for the coin under their guarantee programs. These programs offered by PCGS and NGC will actually buy back a coin at full market value if it is found to be slabbed as a counterfeit or doctored. So you can certainly see the reasons why PCGS is out to get these coin doctors! In the next week or so I'll post a follow up to this article taking a look at the suit that PCGS has filed against the coin doctors.

Posted by mnemtsas at June 6, 2010 11:12 AM
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