My issue with TPGs red-brown (RB) designation on copper coins

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by wxcoin, Aug 3, 2021.

  1. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 66+ Supporter

    I'm sure this has been brought up before but since I'm old and lazy I'll start a new thread.

    We all know that no two coins are created/aged equal. This is especially true with copper cents. I can understand the red (RD) and brown (BN) designations. But I hate the spread in what qualifies as red-brown (RB). PCGS will designate a copper cent RB if it has 5% to 95% original (well that's probably debatable) red. Of course if one looks at auction prices, coins with 95% red sell at a higher premium than one designated as 5% red. That's one of the flaws with prices guides to mention an example.

    I just don't understand why the mixed red-brown designation couldn't have been better defined. For example, 5% to 50% brown-red (BR) and 50% to 95% red-brown (RB). Of course, if slabbed coins tone in their holders, which they do, the designations may be meaningless over time. I've seen some brown cents designated as red in older holders which probably toned in time inside the holder. So maybe this issue really isn't one.
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  3. ddddd

    ddddd Member

    It's an interesting thing to think about and I agree with you that the RB range is super wide and somewhat arbitrary. Maybe there should just be two designations: Red (original color as it left the mint) and "Toned" (to account for all the mint red examples that have toned-unless you argue that "Red" can be toned too)?
    wxcoin likes this.
  4. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 66+ Supporter

    I guess it comes down to eye appeal in the end, whether it's red or toned. That's why I try to look at auction prices and learn what makes some demand a higher premium. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for redheads, but, I'll never turn away a beautiful, well struck toner.
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    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    For the most part, the special designations, and I do mean all of them, are nothing more than gimmicks. Or, to use another phrase, advertising hype.

    Granted, their so called purpose is to better describe the condition of the coin, with "better" really being the key idea. For example, using the copper designations, Red is best, Brown is worst, and Red Brown is, well, better than Brown but not as good as Red.

    The reason the special designations came about, and make no mistake they came about long before the TPGs ever existed so the TPGs can't be blamed for their existence, was because pretty much everybody (collectors and dealers alike) wants "their coin" to be special, to somehow be "better" than the other guy's coin. And if their coin is "better" then it should sell for more - right ? Short and sweet, that's what it's all about - money, and or bragging rights. And it's true of all the special designations.

    But here's the thing, the question that one must ask oneself - are the special designations really accurate methods of describing the coin ? I mean that's what their purpose is supposed to be - they are supposed to provide a better, read as more precise, description of the coin.

    Again, take the RD, RB, BN designations. The question was asked above, is Red really red ? And understand, the very definition of Red is defined as original mint red, and original mint red is a very distinctive and specific color - and everybody here knows exactly what it looks like. Answer, yeah, sometimes it is. But many, many other times, no, it isn't red at all - it's toned, and a good bit darker in color than original mint red. But yet it's still called Red. And if it's toned, then why isn't it called Red Brown ? Answer, because of it was then hardly anybody would ever have an actual original mint red coin. And if the vast majority never had one, then they wouldn't be happy about it because their coin would no longer be "special" - better than the other guy's.

    Another example would the FS designation, Full Steps, for nickels. Its purpose was to define a coin that was especially well struck. Well, little could ever be farther from the truth than that ! But, given the standards of the designation, it often is a difficult designation to meet. In point of fact, it was found to be too difficult at times - and hardly anybody was getting the designation on their coins. So what did they do, what was the answer to this dilemma ? Why change the standards and make it easier to meet the designation. Stop requiring all 6 steps to be full and and unbroken and only 5 - then maybe more collectors and dealers could have their coin get the special designation - and everybody would be happy ! So that's what they did.

    Now that alone, loosening the requirements, you should tell you that, to borrow an old phrase - something's rotten in Denmark ! But if that's not bad enough, consider the special designation itself. Its purpose is to define an especially well struck coin. Thing is, the vast majority of coins that are given the designation - have terrible strikes ! Oh the steps may be there, even all 6 of them, complete and unbroken, but the rest of the Monticello building - Ha ! - good parts of it may be completely missing ! And yet it'll still get the special designation !

    So I ask you, how can parts of the building, the details, be completely missing and yet that coin be considered to be an especially well struck coin ? Doesn't the definition of an especially well struck coin mean that all the details are there ? That's sure what it means to me, and I'm pretty sure that's what it means to just about everybody else too. So why then ?

    Some may argue that especially well struck doesn't mean fully struck. Well OK, I can buy that. But especially well struck is gonna be pretty dang close to it. It better be, or it's simply not especially well struck. You can't have a coin where the handrails are missing, the lines in the gables are missing, maybe a window or two is missing, and still call that coin and especially well struck coin ! Yeah, the steps may be there, but if everything else is missing then it's flat out a weakly struck coin - by any definition !

    The same kind of thing is true of all the special designations, with one possible exception - CAM and DCAM. With those, it's pretty hard to make a bad call on those because they either are or they're not. The cameo effect is there or it isn't. But all the rest - gimmicks, hype. And sadly, the reality is that's all they are. And they equal money and or bragging rights.

    I suppose a lot of people aren't gonna like me saying that but it's kinda hard to argue with I think. Of course I have no doubt there are those whose opinions do vary.
  6. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 66+ Supporter

    @GDJMSP,I couldn't agree more. The Jefferson nickel examples you mentioned give me a chuckle at times since a coin could be slabbed as FS, yet, Monticello can look like a mushy mess. It's sad that a big part of the coin market pays big money for what the TPGs say, regardless of how the coin looks. I do find bargains (at least in my opinion) now and then for coins that have superior strike and eye appeal but lack the special designations (FS, FB, FT, FBL, ...). Since I have a special place for copper coins (poor mans gold) I'd lie if I said that original red didn't matter. But I have some brown toned IHCs that I wouldn't part with as they are exceptional in every other way.
  7. John Burgess

    John Burgess Well-Known Member

    My understanding is it's 95%+ red is red, and 95%+ brown is brown and everything in between in that 90% is Red/Brown. I think there is top premium for the ones qualifying as red (at least with older cents) and there's no premium for Brown. In the main category, that huge middle of red/brown, the eye appeal is what would dictate those prices, not the RB designation. Just that the RB is never going to command RD prices. A huge amount of coins will fall into brown or Red brown, only a few will fall into the red category, but there's still some really nice coins in the red/brown category with great eye appeal.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with it, they aren't grading coins on toning, they are grading coins on it's condition and adding the qualifier of RD, RB, BN to the label as surface color preservation level with these identifiers. RD would be Premium Quality, while Brown would be Low Quality, everything else is standard quality and subjective based on eye appeal of the particular subject. Red can be as it left the mint and even slightly toned, but not more than 5% brown overall. the RB is basically "standard quality" of color seen. not exceptional preservation, and not the worst.

    Also, I'd like to add, people get over on grading companies on cleaning coins, they get over on them with artificial toning, what's to say that some "old reds" haven't gotten past them also over the years by people that spent the time working on how to "dip" copper acceptably at least to slide some past the grading companies, you KNOW those people HAVE to exist. I'd assume it would be easier to bring a coin to full red (and more profitable) than it would be to take a brown and only move it into the red/brown category.

    I'm sure that has had to of happened at some point and some crafty people spent the time to figure out how to do it and slip it past them, and some red in slab are cleaned coins. I don't really see the added value to it personally. they all will eventually turn RB and then BN.

    And you also have to consider, they have changed the alloy over the years, the mix. there's brass, there's bronze, and that's two different colors of alloy ones more orange, the other is more yellow, one years "red" might not necessarily be the same color "red" as another year's "red" if it's a slightly different alloy mix. then there's improper alloy mixes that cause streaking or blotches. heavier pure copper areas will tone faster than where the alloy mixed well and give it darker streaks, and make it fall into RB much earlier than a coin that the alloy is mixed properly.

    I personally think it works quite well and there's quite a bit of wiggle room in the RB category for eye appeal to play a factor on desirability and value while the coins themselves are all original beauties especially on the high side of the red/brown range. Still though a Red/Brown should never surpass a Red's value. but still I'm skeptical of a lot of RD designated coins as being original, but I'm a skeptic. I can't see paying that premium when there are absolute stunners still in the RB category.
    wxcoin likes this.
  8. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 66+ Supporter

    I've got a beautiful RB early Lincoln cent that was probably in an old Whitman album. The obverse is a full, original red while the reverse has toned to a pleasant brown. The strike was exceptional and the eye appeal off the charts (in my opinion). Personally, I do look for nice RB coppers over full red ones that sell for multiple times more.
    John Burgess likes this.
  9. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    I have never been a fan of old red copper. By “old” I mean something that is older than I am, roughly prior to 1950. I have had too many of the red pieces turn brown while I owned them because they had been dipped and the “red” was really an expensive illusion.

    The TPGs have also stopping backing their opinions on color too. NGC wouldn’t guarantee a copper coin beyond ten years. Once the time is up, you have send it to them to be re-graded to maintain any guarantees. For Brown copper, I think this policy is very unfair. Given proper storage, brown copper coins are stable.

    From the eye appeal perspective, I like R&B for Indian Cents and mint lusterous Brown for large cents. I won’t pay the money for red copper coins, and I don’t even like them because they are too delicate.
    John Burgess and wxcoin like this.
  10. Publius2

    Publius2 Well-Known Member

    I collect IHCs in Brown and Red/Brown because, like @johnmilton, I don't trust the coin from turning in the holder and also because I cannot afford to pay what we collectors seem to have determined is the price premium required for a Red coin.

    I also won't buy any early copper of any kind in a high percentage RB or Fully Red condition for the reasons stated above and because I don't think any but a very rare few survived in that condition without some "help" along the way.
    wxcoin likes this.
  11. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    I've never liked Red because it was too unstable, and I don't like RB because to me they look "splotchy". I prefer and nice solid brown.
    Etcherman, wxcoin and John Burgess like this.
  12. John Burgess

    John Burgess Well-Known Member

    that's a valid point of view. I have some really nice uniform chocolate brownies I really like myself.

    As always, buy the coin, not the holder. :)
    wxcoin likes this.
  13. Mac McDonald

    Mac McDonald Well-Known Member

    What's so easy/obvious about arriving at 95% red or brown...??? One says it is, the other says it isn't..."it's less...only 90%...or 85%," etc., etc...and there's that "arbitrary" and "interpretation" thing again, so we're back to square one. Nothing is "easy"...but a good, well-written and custom (for each coin type, et al) computer program and software for scanning, evaluating and grading coins would help considerably in turning night into day. We have all the technology needed and more...just need to take the BIG money factors away from the TPGs and high-roller coin gurus and it would happen...if we just lived in a more perfect union where the coin is the real king it should be in numismatics.
  14. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    You keep the pennies, I'll keep the dollars of any kind okay, thanks. Enjoyed all of the opinions, they were worth the read.
    wxcoin likes this.
  15. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 66+ Supporter

    I agree that computer software could be developed to generate a more consistent grade. I wrote a lot of image processing software for weather radar applications before I retired. AI has really evolved over the past couple decades. That said, there are some issues that may make it a challenge; i e., cleaned coins. Also, coins do tone in holders after they are graded; some more so than others. Theoretically, the numeric grade shouldn't change but not necessarily the description. In the real world, human graders don't see most coins the same and within the grading pool there's most likely considerable turnover. We all know that grading standards have changed over time. I'm sure that computer software and imaging techniques will change as well so a computer generated grade today may not match one 20 years from now. We live in an imperfect world where change seems to be the norm.
  16. KBBPLL

    KBBPLL Well-Known Member

    Thanks for bringing up one of my pet peeves. It's a strike designation, but if a bag mark crosses the steps or the torch lines or the bell lines, no matter how innocuous, it doesn't qualify. It isn't "especially well struck" anymore if it got a tiny ding? How does that make any sense? The numerical grade already accounts for bag marks. If you're going to have a strike designation, grade the strike. Rant off.
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  17. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    The only rebuttal one could make to this is if the mark is the steps, head, bell lines or torch, most experienced collectors are going to pick it up because that’s the place they will examine in detail. If the mark is minor, it should not totally tank the grade, but it might make the coin harder to sell.
    wxcoin likes this.
  18. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    I think it should be mentioned that special designations are NOT part of the grade and have no effect on the grade. It seems at times that a lot of folks simply don't realize and understand that they are two completely different things. Special designations are descriptive terminology - that's all they are.

    A Lincoln cent for example can be designated as Red, but the numerical grade is 64. And if the same coin were designated as RB or BN, the numerical grade would still be 64.
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  19. dimeguy

    dimeguy Dime Enthusiast

    I agree with @GDJMSP on a lot of what he posted. I feel the designation are hype and not much more. In building my Lincoln cent set, I made it a point to gather a wide sweep of colors to gain a full appreciation for what this set is and how copper can appreciate and change, even within a close grade span. In that set there are some remarkably lovely struck brown coins that I would be hard pressed to give up for a red one. I know many who strive for those red-cents, and don't get me wrong, they are nice, but for comparable grade the brown ones are just as beautiful and artistic. Shame they get the snubbed nose so often by Lincoln cent collectors.
  20. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    For Mint State copper coins, the color is part of the grade. It's been that way before the Sheldon scale was applied to grading. I remember a clerk at the Gimbels' coin counter in New York City telling me that a large cent he had for sale was "a Brown Unc." in 1963.

    If the color is not a part of the grade, it is certainly part of the price.
    wxcoin likes this.
  21. Razz

    Razz Critical Thinker

    I picked up an album of LWC and there were 6 or seven years of post WW2 RB coins that I thought were pretty nice. Need to retake some photos in a little better light. DSCN1849~2.JPG DSCN1851~2.JPG
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