To ‘slab’ or not to slab: that is the question !

Coin Slabbing: A Definition:

Slabbing, or to give it its full grandiose definition…

Slabbed coins, in coin-collecting terminology, refers to coins sealed in clear plastic containers bearing the opinions of professionals working at a coin-grading service relating to authenticity and condition.

Please note, this does not include:

  • Any professional opinion re how ‘rare’ the coin is.
  • Nor does it include a ‘market value’ or any opinion re what the coin is worth.

The correct definition is:

  • Coins are examined by the grading services experts
  • They are then assigned a grade.
    • The coin is then sealed into a hard plastic ‘slab’ with a label indicating the coin type, date, mint mark (if any), variety (if any) and grade.
    • This coin holder affords protection from subsequent wear or damage but is not airtight and therefore will not prevent toning.
    • Sometimes, a certified coin is accompanied by a photograph certificate.
    • Because any tampering with the holder will be obvious, it also prevents replacing the certified coin with something else.
    • The grades assigned to the coins are accepted as accurate by most collectors and dealers. Because of this, slabbed coins are often traded sight unseen.

Problems with Slabbing:

  • This grade is a personal opinion of an individual.
  • One only has to look at the comments on some numismatic forums to realize that, despite the many published guidelines by numismatic societies and other learned sources, grading is inconsistent because personal opinions differ.
  • As such, no valuable coin should be traded ‘sight unseen’ – it is a recipe for disaster!

Is ‘slabbing’ for lazy people?

One of the most important skills for both collectors and dealers is the ability to grade coins. This skill is usually learned over a period of years and is usually applied to a certain group of coins, i.e. if you handle enough coins, you develop a ‘gut instinct’ for how many are out there in each grade. This has less to do with mintage figures and more to do with the number of surviving examples.

As mentioned above:

  • Slabbing is primarily for grading purposes
  • Secondly, it is an authentication service
  • And to a lesser extent, it can be used to identify minor varieties

It does not:

  • Give any indication of rarity
  • Nor, does it give any indication of market value

Is ‘slabbing’ an Opportunity for Chancers?

Below is a very good example of an eBay seller (I won’t call him a dealer) setting a ridiculously high price for a ‘scarce’ coin and hoping to make a killing on it. In my opinion, this seller is one of two things:

  • A confidence trickster who knows the coin is worth well under 5% of the asking price and is, as such, trying to defraud the buyer.
  • Or, someone who knows absolutely nothing about Irish coin values and is a danger both to himself and to the eBay buying community.

Is this a scam? Or is it merely another way to ‘monetize’ stupidity?

Before anyone complains, I would like to point out that NGC did nothing wrong here. It is a genuine 1961 Halfcrown ‘mule’ but nowhere on their labeling does it suggest this coin is rare, or what its true market value is.

  • NGC is not at fault here
  • The seller is 100% at fault here
    • False advertising (this coin is not rare)
    • Price gouging (this coin is worth a small fraction of the stated price)

To slab, or not to slab?

Apart from commonsense, there is nothing to stop someone sending a coin worth fifty cent to one of these graders and paying $16 to $125 to have it graded and sealed in one of their coin capsules.

  • The cost of grading a modern coin begins at $16 at PCGS and $17 at NGC.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, are the costs associated with grading very rare and valuable coins.
    • If you have a coin worth $10,000 – $100,000, it will cost $125 plus other small fees for grading at NGC.
    • Jun 14, 2017
In my considered opinion, based upon decades of trading, it is a waste of time and money to ‘slab’ any coin worth less than $500 ! Coin collecting, like any other collecting hobby is one that requires experience, i.e. you first collect inexpensive coins and make inexpensive mistakes, before graduating to the higher budget items.
Of course, this ‘opinion’ falls flat on its face when:
  • Some idiot thinks their coin is more valuable than it really is
  • And, when some con artist knows what it is
    • but wants to present it as something better than it is
    • and wants to extort some crazy, inflated price for it
    • from some unsuspecting idiot online
For some people, slabbing is a way to avoid learning and buying ‘high ticket’ items safely.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, actually, quite a lot can go wrong.
  1. A grader can make a mistake.
  2. Grading seems to be inconsistent – even within some grading companies!
  3. The system is rife for exploitation by ‘less than honest’ re-sellers.
  4. There are no guarantees that the grades are 100% accurate, although the more reputable graders do provide a warranty to cover any ‘mistakes’ they might make

What can buyers do to protect themselves?

Potential buyers do have a responsibility to do some background checking.

For example:

  1. Demand high resolution photo’s if buying online.
  2. Examine each individual coin closely – front and back !
  3. Assess and grade the coin yourself.
  4. If you disagree with the published grade, don’t buy the coin
  5. For more expensive coins, do some research
    1. How scarce/rare is it really?
    2. What price(s) has the coin sold for at auction?
      1. Don’t forget to add Buyer’s Premium + taxes to the hammer price
      2. Decide for yourself whether you are paying too much, too little, or a fair price?
    3. Does the seller guarantee the coin’s authenticity?
    4. Does the seller back this up with a ‘no quibble, full refund’ warranty?
    5. Does the seller have previous experience of handing/selling coins in this price range?
    6. Does the seller have a good reputation?
      1. This is tricky because some feedback forums only contain positive comments and moderate the negative comments.
      2. Do any of your friends know them, or have they bought from them in the past?

Sadly, it all boils down to TRUST.

  • Who can you trust?
  • Who should you trust?
  • Do you trust your own judgement?

Thing is, most advanced collectors and experienced dealers will tell you about all the mistakes they have made on their journey from novice to expert. Some will even tell you

“We learn by our mistakes and, if we are not making new mistakes, we don’t learn new things.”

Let’s hope no one makes a GB£10,549 mistake (as advertised on eBay)

Let’s also hope they don’t make the mistake of thinking GB£75.57 is an “Economy Delivery” from the UK (see the small print above).

Happy New Year


The Old Currency Exchange

Dublin, Ireland





2 thoughts on “To ‘slab’ or not to slab: that is the question !

  1. I have noticed recently here in the USA that several new vanity slabbing outfits have showed up on eBay largely just some fellow with a printer formed his own authentication/slabbing company and as you point out asking ridiculous prices for fairly common coins.


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