Chapter 4 There are always unintended consequences
For those of us into ancient coins (as I currently am) NGC is doing something long overdue in this field of numismatics, based on the coins they have certified, they are developing a condition census of sorts (i.e., not a true condition census) that will still provide very useful information to the ancient coin collecting community. I have no idea when the results of this project will be made available (if at all) to NGC members or the collecting community in general. However NGC has made its data available to Heritage Auctions who in turn provides this data as part of their online auction listings.
When I found this data I was overjoyed. But I was also surprised at the large number of MS, Ch AU, AU and Ch XF coins some ancient issues had. I mean really surprised. I expected the data for this census to be skewed to the upper end grades because let’s face it unless you have a really rare coin who is going to pay round trip registered mail postage and grading fees for a common fine ancient and depending on the issue this question could include VF’s.
It appears (I cannot document this) that ancient coin prices have started to drop in general because the upper end coin prices have dropped due to a perceived larger than expected availability of inventory in higher grades. This most likely is not true for the truly key/rare issues but rather those specimens typically found in ancient collections.
Simply people see the data and apparently don’t try to understand it and may just assume this is representative of what is out there. Again just because of the cost to certify coins this data will always be skewed to the upper end.
As an example I looked up my AU Strike 5/5 Surface 4/5, Gordian III, AR Drachm, Caesarea, Cappadocia and found 268 had been graded, with just 16 graded below XF. Now David Sear’s work on Greek Imperial Coins and their values released in 1982 with reprints (not new editions) up to 2006. So we are basically working with 36 year old valuations. And the value given for a VF specimen is 100£ or about $140 in 1982. On October 26, 2017 a high end VF (listed uncertified grade was "about XF") sold for $61!!! Between October 13, 2016 and November 2, 2017 Heritage had 11 sales of NGC certified MS specimens of this coin involving 7 different specimens ranging in price from $141 to $282 with an average selling price of $195.
So what do we have here when in 1982 the book value for this coin in VF was $140 with the following guidance provided re. valuation: "Collectors must bear in mind that exceptionally well preserved examples are worth substantially more than the prices quoted, whilst very worn or damaged specimens can be almost valueless", in the case of common bronze coins. (The bold type is as give in the book.) So to go from VF to MS there are step increases in the coin's value as it goes to Ch VF, XF, Ch XF, AU, Ch AU and then Mint State in total six step increases. I am sorry but I do not believe a MS valuation of $195 meets Sear’s guidance on higher valuations for MS specimens unless the value for VF specimens is well below $140 as apparently it actually is.
Until NGC came along grading of ancient coins was a total joke. Recently I was trying to research the value of some ancient coins in my collection and I was using auction results information from numerous dealers through NGC’s site. The auction result infomation lists 25 coins per page. One page had 20 coins graded some type of VF (yes 20) the remaining 5 were some type of Fine. Checking the photos the actual grade (based on my grading) was all over the place one VF looked like a well-worn slug as was no where near a VF specimen. Anyway these 20 coins had the following grades in their auction listings, Ch VF, Good VF, Nice VF, VF+, VF, About VF (this is really a high end Fine, I hate it when dealers use a higher grade designator to define a lower grade), Near VF (see previous grade).
All I can say is thank you NGC for your efforts in developing this condition census. And I hope when you release this data to the general public you make it clear that the data is skew and why.