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How Does the PCGS Price Guide Determine a Value? Part One: The Mechanics

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The PCGS numbering system, reflected on the labels of encapsulated PCGS coins, is a major component to determining the value of a coin. Courtesy of PCGS. Click images to enlarge.

Being able to easily quantify, record, and track information is essential to any modern business. Despite the fact that many still think numismatics is nothing more than a hobby, the number of million-dollar-plus coins that have sold in the last year alone makes one beg to differ! The rare coin business is no longer the quaint hobby it once was considered.

Information systems have had a lot to do with our evolution. Today dealers have the ability to offer an authenticated and professionally graded product via the internet. That being said, the information to learn about and quantify these products has never been more important. The responsibility of the PCGS Price Guide Team is to keep the values as current as possible. Fortunately, information about coins is constantly expanding. Their corresponding values change depending on many factors. Most of these factors we refer to as “the market.”

Having been an active dealer for decades, I find there is almost always a “play/pass” number in my head for a frequently traded item. For example, if you know you can readily sell an item for $500, even conservative dealers would pay $425. More aggressive market makers might make a $475 to $515 market. Sure, you as a collector would like to buy the item for $500, but if you want to handpick a pretty coin, you will probably have to pay $575 to $600 after the dealer has shipped the coin securely and taken a profit. Granted, this is for a readily traded item that has a pretty definitive market.

Rare coins are a different animal. When a coin trades only a couple times each decade, how can one determine the market on that item? Historical records offer some insight, but depending on the date of the sale, how relevant is the data? Price data is good if timely, but depending on the market conditions at the point of sale the pertinence of the data might be weighted differently.

Getting back to the nuts and bolts of coin pricing, let’s first take a look at the PCGS numbering system. Most PCGS-graded coins have a PCGS coin number followed by a decimal point followed by the numerical grade on the front of each holder. The PCGS coin number is most often a four-, five-, or six-digit number so that every possible date and denomination combination can be covered.

The PCGS coin numbering system is very straightforward. Starting with #0002, the original four-digit PCGS numbering system covered everything listed in the 1985 A Guide Book of United Coins, including colonials, territorials, and commemoratives. This simple numbering system progressively numbers U.S. coin issues by the smallest denomination (our early half cents) and first date of issue (1793 for half cents).

In a nutshell, the PCGS numbering system is pretty easy to figure out. It progresses through the copper denominations with a brief interruption for trimes into the nickel denominations. All of the nickel composition denominations are covered before the numbering system and start with the silver half dimes continuing through U.S. silver (or clad) dollars. Classic gold issues follow all the copper, nickel, and silver composition coins, but for the silver and gold commemorative issues near the end of the list.

A very basic order breakdown of the PCGS numbering system follows:

  • Colonials through Proof 2 Cents #0002 to #3656

  • Trimes #3664 to #3724

  • Three Cent Nickels to Jefferson Nickels #3730 to #4238

  • Silver issues
    • Half Dimes through Peace Dollars #4250 to #7379

  • Gold Commemoratives #7443 to #7487

  • Gold Issues
    • Gold Dollars through Proof Saint-Gaudens $20 #7501 to #9212

  • Silver Commemoratives #9220 to #9449

Some of the additions to the PCGS numbering system have included the addition of a “9” to the front of the four-digit Morgan Dollar prooflike number. For example, a frosty Mint State 1880-S Morgan is PCGS coin number 7118, an 1880-S Prooflike Morgan Dollar is coin number 7119, and the PCGS coin number for a 1880-S DMPL Morgan Dollar is 97119.

Many of the classic proof issues had both cameo and deep cameo designations added to the existing PCGS four-digit number once those categories of grading were offered. For example, an 1880 Liberty Seated Quarter in proof is PCGS number 5581. The proof cameo and proof deep cameo numbers for the date are 85581 and 95581, respectively. For the most part, classic cameo and deep cameo U.S. proof coins are designated with this additional “8” or “9” to the front of the existing PCGS proof coin number for the date.

The bottom line of the PCGS coin holder insert also contains a seven- or eight-digit serial number unique to that particular coin. The PCGS coin serial number is one of the most important security features for PCGS coins. The ability to track PCGS coins with their PCGS coin number is tantamount to both security as well as providing amazing price information available from any public sale.

The PCGS Certification Verification website is an amazing tool that allows anyone to verify the authenticity of their PCGS coin by entering the PCGS certification or serial number. PCGS Certification Verification also lists any public auction sales of that particular coin in the last couple of decades.

The simple digitized information on the bottom of a PCGS coin holder allows the dealer and collector to access tremendous amounts of free information and PCGS updates on a continual basis. Not only does PCGS Certification Verification allow you to verify your particular coin, but the PCGS Price Guide, PCGS Population Report, and PCGS Coinfacts are all driven by the PCGS coin number.

With a simple four- to six-digit number, you can access all the up-to-date information available on your coins. The information is there, you just have to find it!