Last week NGC announced a special blue label, “First Releases,” for US and World coins received by the company or by an approved depository within the first 30 days of issue.
The First Releases label was dubbed an alternative to the Early Releases label, which will remain the default designation on all submissions … unless the new blue label is specifically requested.
Even though Early Releases will be the default designation, both will be grouped together under the First Releases category in as much as both designations indicate that a coin was received by the company within 30 days or release by the U.S. Mint.
If you’re wondering about the difference between Early and the new First Release, NGC states there is no difference.
If you’re wondering, then, why the new label was launched, a company representative explains that it “was created in response to collector and dealer feedback.”
I don’t doubt the company’s word. NGC does listen to feedback—sometimes to its detriment, as happened when it eliminated crossovers for coins holdered by all firms except PCGS. (I still think ANACS, ICG and even PCI should have been included.)
The history of NGC’s Early Release label bears repeating. The label was created because of a class-action lawsuit in 2006. At the time, NGC and PCGS were using the controversial designation “First Strike.” In mediation, NGC abandoned First Strike and established an educational settlement fund. PCGS continues to use the “First Strike®” designation as a proprietary symbol and registered trademark.
Recently Steve Roach, associate editor of Coin World, published an article about premiums associated with Early Release and First Strike®.
He wrote that in 2006 the US Mint issued a consumer advisory clarifying initial beliefs about First Strikes. That advisory noted that “manufacturing facilities use a die set as long as the quality of resulting coins meets United States Mint standards.” Then the dies are replaced, “continually changing sets throughout the production process.”
In other words, the last batch of coins from the very first die pairs may be as good as—or perhaps imperceptibly less than—the first coins from second die pairs, and so forth.
If you’re confused by that paragraph, you may be more baffled about why NGC announced yet another premium label hearkening all that legal history in the first place (pun intended). Could it be that NGC customers providing feedback wanted to be “first” instead of “early,” perhaps to compete with PCGS’s First Strike® label?
NGC states that the decision to do First Releases has no connection whatsoever to the PCGS First Strike® designation.
We appreciate that NGC listens to feedback, but think it may have gone too far on this one. It’s still a sensitive topic as many hobbyists believe these labels are meaningless. The company would have undergone less scrutiny if it simply eliminated the Early Release label entirely, combining those data with First Release figures in the future.
As long as collectors are willing to pay premiums for labels, slabbing companies will produce them. We realize that. However, transitions from one label to another—designating the same thing—need not be as confusing as this one has become.