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Inconsistency. Coin grades are not facts, they are opinions. We expect the experts assigning grades to be perfectly consistent, but this is unreasonable—experts or not, they are human, and humans are subjective beings. We can’t help but be influenced by our thoughts, feelings, tastes, and moods. This comes through in everything we do.
Gradeflation. Grading standards have slowly fallen over the years. The MS-63 of yesteryear is the MS-64 of today. This slackening in standards is referred to by collectors as gradeflation. At its core, this is best described as institutional inconsistency.
Think of it this way: A coin’s condition does not change for the better over time. Yet, as in the example above, coins that graded MS-63 twenty or thirty years ago will often grade higher than that today. The coins didn’t improve; the standards fell, and no one bothered to correct them.
So what’s the answer? Take people out of the grading process? Let machines tell us whether our coins are genuine, and objectively state their level of preservation?
It has been tried.
In the early ’90s PCGS was awarded a patent for an automated coin-grading system. Had they been able to make the system function as described, computerized grading would be considered a legacy technology today. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it work well enough to replace the human experts.
Still, I refuse to let the failures of the past dictate the future. The fact that the computerized-grading puzzle couldn’t be figured out then doesn’t mean it can’t be figured out now. I mean, IBM taught Watson how to “think.” I believe the right group of people can teach a computer to accurately and consistently grade coins.
In the next installment, I will talk about how. Stay tuned! ❒
Kendall Bailey runs TheCoinBlog.net.