Alan V. Weinberg submitted the following thoughts and questions on the "Sniffer" system being rolled out by PCGS, the Professional Coin Grading Service. We don't typically cover grading or other commercial topics, but there's an interesting component of hobby history here. Coins have been cleaned/fixed/enhanced/"doctored"/"conserved" since the first collector set one aside from circulation. What are the implications of this history for today's coin owners?
On the PCGS Message Boards Coin Forum (www.pcgs.com) Saturday, I spotted a segment dated 2/9 7:07 pm (for those trying to locate it) concerning PCGS Coin Sniffer and watched the video on it. About eight minutes long, it is extremely well done and very educational and revealing. It concerns PCGS' new capacity to electronically discern any questionable foreign substance on a coin submitted for authentication or grading and thereby consider it "doctored".
Including - and shown in close-up on the video - are substances that would disqualify a coin as "doctored" such as Blue Ribbon (formerly known as Care), sulfur paste, beeswax and mineral oil - harmless substances that have been used for many decades, in some cases well over a century - on primarily early coppers: colonials, large and half cents. Used not to hide or doctor or conceal defects but to preserve surfaces from oxidation and contaminants like spittle or to darken rubbed-raw bright red high relief areas, or to smooth out pock -marked areas with beeswax (the latter a common practice back in the 19th century) .
Now, recently major collections of large cents like Walt Husak, Dan Holmes and Paul Gerrie have had many if not all their early dates at one time or another treated with a very light coating of either Blue Ribbon or the older Care. Indeed, not to do that would have been ill-advised. Most of these coins were slabbed by NGC or PCGS. It is simply almost universal practice to use Care or Blue Ribbon on an early copper, removing perhaps 99% of the substance with a soft blotting cloth...but certainly enough to be discerned by the new "sniffing" device explained and shown in operation in the PCGS "sniffer" video. The same can be said for the use of "Dellers Darkener" sulfur paste on selected coins with a slightly "rubbed raw" relief or a harshly cleaned early copper.
I had written "almost all" the early dates in the collections were Care'd or Blue Ribbon'd at one time. In fact, it would apply to every single early date...I used to watch Walt Husak, a good friend, do it to his early coppers and I do it to mine. It is not a common practice on later date blazing mint red dates and is in fact discouraged as Care/Blue Ribbon tones down blazing mint red.
Many early copper collectors use a "camel's hair" brush on their early coppers (Ted Naftzger did, Doug Bird does) and those often quite well-used brushes always have so-called "contaminants" soaked on / embedded in their bristles which could also trigger the PCGS "sniffer".
So does this mean that all currently slabbed early date coppers and those likely yet to be slabbed will not slab now other than as "doctored" or will slab again in the future as "doctored" if Care or Blue Ribbon or sulfur paste has been ever applied as a long-acceptable practice in numismatics?
The "doctored" appellation should apply exclusively to defects concealed by a process in an attempt to increase value and deceive a buyer, not to merely preserve condition.
To view the Coin Sniffer video, see:
Secure Plus Update II - Coin Sniffer
To read the PCGS Forum thread, see:
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