Last week I learned that several collectors reported discovering 2010-P Grand Canyon five-ounce silver America the Beautiful (ATB) coins with unusual finishes, and that NGC had decided to certify some coins as having a "light finish" variety. I became intrigued by this issue and decided it was something collectors would want to know more about. In the days since my initial story was published [http://news.coinupdate.com/atb-five-ounce-silver-coins-new-variety-discovered-and-other-recent-developments/], some more information has emerged, so I decided to find out as much as I could about this matter, and to do a follow-up.
Although last week virtually everyone assumed that there were just two varieties of the coin, the normal one and the light finish, I have since learned that a couple of collectors have what they believe is a "no finish" coin that also has unusual brush marks on the obverse.
On July 25, NGC announced that it had graded the first Yellowstone 2010-P error coin, which it calls "with unfinished reverse." It said that the coin grades SP69 and appears to be unique at the moment, but that others may exist. I contacted NGC on July 22 to ask if they had any plans to designate coins that totally lack the vapor-blasted finish, and I was told they did not.
From what I have been able to determine, PCGS has not yet decided how to handle these coins, but this is a rapidly evolving situation.
I also contacted the U.S. Mint for comment on the issue of different or no finish coins. Its spokesman, Michael White, told me he is checking into the issue. I will update this story if I receive any information.
My own research leads me to believe that at least two collectors have received coins with no finish on one or both sides, and I would not be surprised if more such coins exist.
Steve from Missouri, who is a collector who buys gold and silver mint products and also collects classic series like Buffalo nickels and silver dollars, purchased one such coin. He said in a comment to my previous article that "I have a 2010 P Grand Canyon purchased from the Mint with what looks to have no VB [vapor blasted] finish. It does appear to have light horizontal brush marks on the obverse side like it was processed without going though the final finish."
Photographs of his coin appear with this story. The coin on the left is the normal, vapor blasted coin, and the one on the right is the error coin with no finish. The coins are placed in the same order in the first photographs above that show the reverses of Steve's coin. He said that he is "very excited about the ATB series, and this Grand Canyon coin makes the sacrifices of purchasing seem to be worthwhile."
Another collector, Aaron J. Gelner, reported on July 12 on the PCGS Collectors Universe message board that his barber, Tom Schneider, received two coins from the Mint and that one of them totally lacked the post-strike, vapor-blasted finish that is normally applied to the collector versions of these coins.
That led to a discussion on the PCGS board about the different degrees of vapor blasted finish on the coins. Some collectors seem to be very excited about the different finish, while others think the whole issue is overblown. But Mr. Gelner stressed that his barber’s coin was different than coins that have a lighter finish than others because it has no special finish. Such coins would appear to be errors rather than varieties.
On July 19 John Maben, a longtime leading dealer and owner of Modern Coin Mart, said in the same online forum that he submitted over 100 Grand Canyon coins to NGC and 100 to PCGS and that NGC gave six of his coins a "light finish" attribution. Presumably this is what led to the July 20 NGC press release about the light finish variety.
Mr. Maben added that although PCGS did not give special attribution to any of his coins, they are aware of the partial finish and are trying to decide "what if anything to do about it."
Mr. Maben and another dealer who received coins that have been attributed by NGC with the "light finish" designation have listed their coins for sale on e-Bay for prices ranging from $800 to $5000 depending on the grade. So far the highest grade I know of for the light finish coins is SP68, which is the coin listed for $5000. Another seller has an ungraded coin, which they describe as having a light finish, listed for sale at $625. None of the e-bay coins has sold, as far as I know.
Some of the PCGS posters said they were concerned that John Maben was receiving preferential treatment by NGC and that he asked them to give special attribution to the coins with different finishes. But Mr. Maben strongly denied those accusations and said that he did not ask for the special attribution but that he did make NGC aware of the discussion in the PCGS thread. He also defended his decision to use a buy it now price of $999 for the highest graded coin of his that came back as light finish, an SP67. He noted that doing so would help to establish the coin’s value.
In the PCGS discussion thread, one poster noted that if you look at the Hot Springs ATB shown in the MintTV video which was on YouTube, and which Michael posted [http://mintnewsblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/2011-america-beautiful-silver-bullion.html], the coin has a P mintmark but has a shinny, not a matte finish, as the 2010 P’s normally have.
Mr. Gelner also said that the no finish coin he has seen has lots of hairlines on the obverse (which are probably not evident on most coins with the post-strike finish that covers up such imperfections) which he believes are due to wiping across the surface. Several people have noted that these marks seem as if they were made by a machine, not by someone wiping the surface by hand. Mr. Gelner said that Mr. Schneider was originally going to send his coin to PCGS but has decided to wait and see first how they decide to handle such coins.
At this point if you are looking to buy coins with the light finish attribution, I would avoid ungraded examples and would be cautious about paying high premiums for graded ones. On the other hand if you received such a coin from the Mint, and especially if you received an error coin with no finish, you would be well advised to submit it for grading, as your coin could be very valuable.
If any readers believe they have light finish or no finish coins, I encourage them to post comments to this article so that we can get a better idea of how many of these coins exist and whether there are other errors and varieties out there.
Update: The US Mint has released a statement regarding the inconsistent finishes that have been encountered.
Louis Golino is a long-time collector, numismatist, and numismatic writer. His articles have been published in Coin World, Numismatic News, and other publications. He also writes a regular column for www.CoinWeek.com and has written widely about international politics for newspapers and web sites.