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PCGS Abroad: An American Numismatist in Shanghai

Click to enlarge, photo by Chris Thomas
PCGS now operates out of two of the major Chinese provinces: Hong Kong, and the most recent, Shanghai. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that there have been a lot of issues over the years with Chinese counterfeiting. One of the many ways that PCGS works towards preventing these counterfeit coins from getting into our holders is to photograph just about every single Chinese coin that is received. These images are put into a database in which our graders can access immediately if something is either questionable or for simple reference. I was sent to establish a Numismatic Photography operation and to train a few of our Shanghai based employees. Although I no longer work in the Photo Department, I was trained by the best and still really enjoy it. Not to mention the trip was paid for way before my switch to the Marketing Department, so I lucked out!

I have always had an interest in other cultures. It was really something to experience the dramatic change that is felt immediately when getting off of the plane in China. Besides the fact that I was the only non-Chinese person in the airport, everyone seemed focused solely on what they were doing while not paying any mind to others around them. In the States you can't take five steps without some guy hopped up on an energy drink sparking up a conversation with you to complain about how far the restrooms are. I know this because I'm usually that guy.

Click to enlarge
Shanghai isn't exactly what I had expected. The PCGS office is located in the heart of the French Concession, which is the western part of the Huangpu District, occupying the center, south, and west of urban Shanghai. It didn't have the hustle & bustle feel of a big, busy city and was nothing at all like Hong Kong. Before 7am, the narrow city streets are quiet and almost totally empty with the exception of a few early risers on scooters and bicycles. Even Starbucks didn't open until after 7:00am.

I'm one of those people who doesn't like surprises and if I'm going somewhere new, I have to know everything about it and what to expect. So, naturally I read every horror story the internet had to offer and was completely freaked out by all the crazy tourist trap stuff you'd typically see in the movies. A co-worker had also told me that once I got out of the airport to only take a taxi that's in the taxi stand line and try to avoid the red cabs. I get outside of the airport and walk straight to the taxi stand line to wait my turn. There were 3 other people in line in front of me and four cabs pull up. There were three regular city cabs and one sketchy red one. Guess who gets the big guy in the purple velour track suit driving the sketchy red cab? Yep, me. The whole time I was taking mental photographs of different landmarks just in case I had to tuck & roll out of this thing and find my way back. After about 10 minutes the driver said "you going to be study soon?" I felt a lot better after I figured out that he was simply inquiring if I was in China for school and not telling me that I was "going to be bloody soon." Besides the slight overcharge and second hand smoke the guy was totally fine and the situation was the first of many misconceptions I had about China.

Click to enlarge, photo by Chris Thomas
The next day I woke up early to take some photographs of the sunrise. My original plan was to sneak onto the roof of the hotel, but that was put to an end real quick when I was stopped and yelled at by the security guard. After a brief walk up Mao Ming Road, I arrived at the office. It was really nice to see Andy Mejia and Stephanie Robinson. They had both been selected to move to Shanghai as permanent residence to assist in getting PCGS Shanghai operations off the ground. I have to say they've done an awesome job under some quite difficult circumstances. Besides being away from everything they know, love and are familiar with they've had to adjust to a completely different way of living while building a business. Knowing all of this and knowing Andy and Stephanie pretty well, I was expecting to walk in and see them both to be at each other's throats. But to my surprise, they were almost the complete opposite and everything was business as usual. The new space looked amazing and it was almost like being at the office in the states, but with a way nicer view.

With the big Beijing coin show not starting for another two weeks, I wanted to go through and photograph any of the inventory that was in-house. This way I'd have time at the end to train a few people so they'd be all set to go before I left. Back in the office I would always try to pass along the really large coins on to someone else, only because it was a pain to adjust everything, switch lenses, etc., especially for just one or two coins. Well, guess what filled the majority of that vault? Nothing but large coins!! After the first couple hundred it wasn't a big deal, but those kilo coins are quite heavy and I'm talking about orders of 20 - 30 of these things.

Click to enlarge, photo by Chris Thomas
After work we'd all either retire back to our hotels or apartments or we'd all meet up and have dinner somewhere. Most of the spots we went to eat were more westernized places simply because the area where we were consisted of very authentic Chinese seafood or animals that I didn't even know were cool to eat. Coming from a guy who's idea of seafood is a tuna sandwich or some frozen fish sticks, I was not feeling very adventurous and had quite a difficult time finding something to eat. Needless to say I ate a lot of McDonald's delivery (which I almost never eat at home), but it sounded incredible next to the Zebra Lip & Noodle soup (sorry for the exaggeration but I couldn't help myself).

After 10 days, I missed my wife, son, and unrestricted internet very dearly and was eager to get home. I've always tried to make everyday a learning experience and I can honestly say that this trip was an experience and that I learned a great deal. Even seeing all of those coins you really get a glimpse of China's history. With that and how much China appreciates its history, it also champions the proactivity of business growth, which is why I believe that a PCGS expansion in these ambitiously evolving parts of the world is a no-brainer. Coin grading and authentication in China is still quite new, which gives it the fresh and exciting feel that it gave us Americans in the late 1980s. Since PCGS' official launch in Asia, the numismatic community and coin market as a whole have welcomed coin grading with open arms and we're very much looking forward to a promising future ahead.

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