As a dealer, I hear a lot of comments about how PCGS and NGC grade rare gold coins. I thought it would be interesting to compare the population statistics for two commonly traded series, Charlotte half eagles and Dahlonega half eagles, using recent published population figures from the PCGS and NGC databases.

Before I get into the numbers themselves, I think a few background tidbits are necessary. I chose Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles because these are two branch mint series that do not have a lot of problematical issues that are extremely hard to grade (unlike, say, Dahlonega quarter eagles which are especially hard to grade). Also, the market accords relatively similar value levels to Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles in either services’ holder (unlike, say, high quality Mercury Dimes which are clearly more valuable in PCGS holders). Finally, I chose these two series because they have comparatively high numbers of coins that have been graded, which makes the population sample we are looking at more relevant than more esoteric series that have had few coins graded.

A few more quick points. The Charlotte half eagle series consists of twenty-four coins, including the 1842-C Small Date and Large Date. For both services, I included only these twenty-four issues. For NGC coins only, I also included 1850-C and 1854-C which were designated by that service as “Weak C.” PCGS does not make this differentiation. The Dahlonega half eagle series consists of twenty-six coins, including both varieties of 1842-D, the 1846-D/D and the 1848-D/D. I also included coins designated by NGC as “Weak D.”

I. Charlotte Half Eagles

As of June 2007 PCGS had graded a grand total of 2,626 Charlotte half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 636 (24.21% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 889 (33.85% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 930 (35.41% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 165 (6.28% of the total graded)

As of June 2007 NGC had graded a grand total of 2,877 Charlotte half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 288 (10.21% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 750 (26.06% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 1506 (52.34% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 321 (11.15% of the total graded)

Before I analyze these numbers, I think there are a few very important points to make. Both PCGS and NGC have an inherent flaw with their population figures: these numbers are inflated (often severely) by resubmissions. PCGS does a recently good job of clearing the deadwood off their report and they offer submitters a “bounty” for each used coin insert that ensures that a decent number of labels will be returned. NGC, unfortunately, does not offer a bounty and this discourages certain large submitters from returning their old inserts. When I look at the NGC population figures for Charlotte half eagles, what strikes me is the large number of coins graded AU55 and higher. I think these numbers are greatly inflated due to resubmissions.

So, what do I deduct from these numbers? First of all, I am struck by the nearly equal number of total coins graded by PCGS and NGC; 2,626 for the former and 2,877 for the latter. I would have predicted that the total number would have been much higher for NGC and much lower for PCGS. Secondly, I find it very interesting that PCGS has graded around 42% of all the Charlotte half eagles submitted to them in AU and higher grades while NGC has graded slightly over 63% in AU and higher. I find it very hard to believe that over six in ten of all Charlotte half eagles grade AU50 and better, even factoring in gradeflation. One final statistic that I think is very interesting is that NGC has graded nearly twice as many Charlotte half eagles in Uncirculated than PCGS. Even factoring in the inflated population figures at NGC due to submitters not returning duplicate tags, I am still intrigued by this disparity.

II. Dahlonega Half Eagles

As of June 2007 PCGS had graded a grand total of 3,355 Dahlonega half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 749 (22.32% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 990 (29.50% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 1329 (39.61% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 261 (7.77% of the total graded)

As of June 2007 NGC had graded a grand total of 3,266 Dahlonega half eagles in all grades. A breakdown of these is as follows:

    Very Fine and lower, 313 (9.58% of the total graded)

    Extremely Fine, 781 (23.91% of the total graded)

    About Uncirculated, 1824 (55.84% of the total graded)

    Uncirculated, 338 (10.34% of the total graded)

In looking at these two sets of numbers, there are two areas where great disparity can be quickly noted: with coins graded VF and lower and with coins graded AU. What accounts for this?

In regards to the lower graded coins, my guess is that there are two major reasons. The first is that PCGS tends to be a bit more generous than NGC in terms of what they will or will not encapsulate in this grade range. PCGS will often net grade a lower quality Dahlonega half eagle while NGC will tend to either not grade such a coin or place it in an NCS holder. The second reason is that these lower grade coins tend to appeal more towards pure collectors than investors or speculators and these individuals often prefer to have their coins in PCGS holders.

How can the great disparity between NGC and PCGS for AU grade Dahlonega half eagles be explained? I think there are two important things to consider. The first is that the NGC populations for Dahlonega half eagles graded AU55 and (especially) AU58 are hugely inflated by resubmissions. If NGC were to clean-up their populations figures, I think the number of AU coins would be reduced by at least 200-300+. The second reason is probably due to the fact that the NGC grading line for AU Dahlonega half eagles is a bit looser than PCGS’. In my opinion, a number of AU50 Dahlonega half eagles graded by NGC would not qualify as such at PCGS.

The most important thing to remember about these numbers is that they are subject to any number of interpretations. If you are pro-NGC, you will form your own conclusions while if you are pro-PCGS you will, no doubt, reach another conclusion.

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