was recently asked a few interesting questions by a reader and thought it might be interesting to answer them. In no order, here they are: Q: In auction catalog descriptions, are there certain giveaways that lead you to think the cataloger doesn’t like the coin?
A: A good auction cataloger is like a good journalist: impartial and able to state facts without imposing personal prejudices. That said, catalogers are only human and it is possible to “read between the lines” and figure out subtle hints that catalogers don’t like the coins they are describing. I’ve always thought a good clue was when the cataloger talks about every possible thing except the coin itself. In other words, he mentions the coin’s rarity, its history and its contextual significance but “forgets” to mention what the coin itself looks like. There are other little clues like describing a circulated coin as “bright” or referring to coloration as “unusual” or “smoky” or “hazy.” I’d also beware of instances when a readily visible mark isn’t mentioned. If a mark is mentioned, it generally isn’t that bad. If it is “overlooked” than it is often so bad that the cataloger can’t find a way to nicely mention it.
Q: Why are different gold coins different colors?
A: There are actually two different answers to this question: the classic, “old school” answer and the “today’s market” answer. In the classic sense, a gold coin is a certain color because of the alloy used in its production. As an example, early Charlotte and Dahlonega gold often used Appalachian gold which had a considerable amount of silver included in the alloy. As a result, these coins often display a green-gold color. San Francisco coins used gold from California which had a high copper content which gave the gold a reddish or rose-gold tint. Unfortunately, few circulated gold coins remain that have not been dipped or which have not been recolored. Today’s color gradations are often more a result of the chemical that was used in recoloring the surfaces. As an example, many gold coins are seen with an unnatural tangerine-orange hue which is the result of a certain type of chemical used to recolor the surfaces.
Q: Why are NGC gold coin populations so much higher than PCGS populations?
A: I think there are two answers. The first and more politically correct is that NGC simply grades more rare date gold coins than PCGS does. Many of the major submitters of these coins send the majority of their coins to NGC and, thus, more have been graded. This is especially true with Liberty Head issues. For 20th century gold coinage, PCGS has actually graded a fairly comparable number of coins and, in the case of certain generic issues, they have actually graded more than NGC. I notice a huge difference between populations on rare dates in AU58. I think the reason for this is the combination of the fact that NGC is looser with this grade than PCGS and PCGS has done a better job, especially of late, in cleaning up their population report.
Do you have any interesting questions? Please send me an email and, if possible, I will answer them at some point in the future.