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The Importance of the PCGS Population Report

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The PCGS Population Report is an invaluable resource that help illustrate how many coins of a certain issue and grade PCGS has graded.

Many numismatists fixate on mintage numbers to determine how rare a coin is – an understandable instinct given the relative convenience of accessing mintage figures in coin books and other common hobby references. But the reality is that mintage figures represent only the tip of the iceberg in ascertaining the rarity and overall relative availability of coins. Mintage figures simply express how many coins were reportedly produced by the United States Mint, and this provides a concrete figure on how many coins were originally minted for a given issue. Important information indeed, but mintages do not tell the whole story on how rare (or common) a coin really is.

The United States government has melted many of the coins included in mintage reports before these pieces were even distributed to the public. Consider, for example, the United States gold coins minted in 1933 right before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102 in April of that year effectively banned the production of gold coinage, prompting the gold coins still in mint holdings at the time to be melted. Another popular example is the 40% Silver Bicentennial coins dated 1776-1976 and offered for sale by the U.S. Mint until the mid-1980s; those left unsold after the last 1776-1976 40% Silver Bicentennial Proof and Uncirculated Sets were removed from the mint catalog in 1986 were melted.

And what about all the coins released to the public? They eventually face attrition. Some are obliterated beyond recognition through wear and damage. Others are buried, perhaps never to be found. Many succumb to destruction in fires, garbage disposals, and acid exposure. Coin thefts are another unfortunate reason why coins all but seemingly disappear from the face of the earth. Ultimately, much smaller numbers of any given coin exist than mintage figures might suggest. And, this is where the PCGS Population Report plays an important role in helping coin collectors, dealers, and numismatic scholars get a better idea as to how many specimens of a given coin exist.

PCGS has been publishing population reports essentially since day one. The PCGS Population Reports illustrate exactly how many specimens of a given coin and grade have been encapsulated by PCGS. These numbers date as far back as 1986, when PCGS was founded. These figures offer the numismatic community incredible insight on the overall rarity of various coins in given grades and with certain grade designations. Of course, as with any statistics, a grain of salt must be taken when reading population reports and translating them to a factor of overall rarity.

For one, the PCGS Population Report is not the same thing as a coin survival estimate. While the population reports provide detailed, precise figures of how many coins PCGS has encapsulated at each grade, coin survival estimates are approximations on how many coins of a given issue may survive across the board, whether graded or ungraded. Using population reports to determine a coin’s rarity must also be done in the numismatic context of the coin and grade under inquiry.

For example, at present PCGS has graded five examples of the 1965 Roosevelt Dime in the circulated grade of XF45 yet a total of 28 specimens in the much higher uncirculated grade of MS67. One who doesn’t understand the nuances of coin grading and the numismatic marketplace might therefore conclude that 1965 Roosevelt Dimes are several times rarer in XF45 than in MS67 when, of course, the opposite is true. The 1965 Roosevelt Dime is so common – and lacking in numismatic value – that very few people ever consider paying the encapsulation fees to get them graded.

However, with a little knowledge on how to use the PCGS Population Report, one can gain invaluable insight on the relative rarity, value, and significance of virtually any coin. The PCGS Population Reports have been a key asset for collectors, dealers, and scholars since PCGS began publishing bound physical copies of these data in the late 1980s. Today, the PCGS Population Reports are available with just a few taps on the keyboard or smartphone via the online PCGS Population Report and PCGS CoinFacts.

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