What slabs do

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Valentinian, Jun 23, 2018.

  1. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Some collectors want their coins slabbed. Ancient-coin collectors mostly don't. I have argued that slabs make it hard to see the coin--not because the coin cannot be clearly seen if you look at it, but because the slab distracts the mind. It is so much easier to see the large-type grade than it is to look at the coin itself.

    Sellers know that most of the value of a slabbed coin is in the grade, so they may fail to do much more than present the coin in its slab, without detailed identification. Look at this coin which came today which I cracked out of the slab (photo using an iPad). What do you think?


    Well, regardless of your final judgement, you at least have to look at the coin. I see a coin with substantial wear, but excellent depth of strike and centering. You might wish to know the ID, so I looked it up
    Maximian (MAXIMIANVS AVG)
    four emperors sacrificing over tripod in from of the gate of a camp with towers,
    ALE for Alexandria in exergue, B in field right.
    If you have RIC you can go to volume VI and find under Alexandria on page 661
    that it is not listed, but the corresponding type is listed for Diocletian as Alexandria 8 ("c. 295") and "R4" (this coin would be 8b). The other types of argentei from this first issue at Alexandria are all R5 and the second issue has some "R4" with the VIRTVS MILITVM legend.

    So, now you know it is very (some would say "extremely") rare. Coupled with the pleasing appearance, that boosts the value a lot (to me).

    Now, with some more research you can find that any type of argenteus from Alexandria is relatively uncommon. The Sisak hoard had none. The Gemini auction VIII wrote "Tetrarchic argentei of Alexandria are very rare; for all emperors and all issues, Gautier in 1984 found in museum and private collections and in published catalogues only a total of 39 specimens." The major collection M&M XIII had none. Argentei have been found in the last decade, but catalogs where some were disbursed such as Freeman & Sear 11, 12, and 16 and Manhatten 3 had none from Alexandria. Nomos 3 had 3 from Alexandria, none of this type.

    acsearch yields about 53 from the search "argenteus Alexandria" but some are the same coin offered twice and none are of this type. So the coin might be "unique" and a seller would be justified in touting its rarity.

    But, it was slabbed. Can you forget all that above and look at what was offered and think how you would think with the following information? Here is what you see when a slab is offered:



    You see "Ch VF" which is pretty good but low grade for the high-grade-only collector. Look further and you see "Strike 5" (excellent) but "Surface 3, scratches" (not good).

    You do not see any significant ID. Neither my photo nor the seller's photo show much in the way of "scratches" (they are very hard to see in the interior of the camp). If you wanted FDC they would be a serious detraction from perfection, but for a "Ch VF" coin they are not much of a detraction. Personally, I like the surfaces with their toning.

    The people who bid against me were probably thinking "Only Ch VF and scratches--not good!" I am happy about that because I got it for about the price of a normal, common, argenteus. If you have a slabbed coin, or are thinking of buying a slabbed coin, I think the slab makes it hard to see the coin for what it really is.

    Tell us a story about a slabbed coin!
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  3. ycon

    ycon Well-Known Member

    I wrote up a slab I purchased (and liberated) here: https://www.cointalk.com/threads/vas-electionis-of-paul-iii-by-benvenuto-cellini.315826/

    I, too, think I benefited from the coin being sold as a slab. Neither NGC nor Heritage noted that the dies were by Cellini (as they would have been had the coin been sold in an Italian/european auction.) Because of that I got the coin for a relatively good price-- about the price of regular vas electionis scudo of Paul III, and not the type by Cellini (which, incidentally, Heritage lists as the same "coin").

    lf-1edit (1).jpg
    Papal States. Paul III (1534-1549) gold Scudo d'Oro XF (AU50 NGC) Rome mint, 3.33g, B-905, Fr-65. S PAVLVS VAS | ELECTIONIS, St. Paul standing facing, fleur below, head slightly right with halo, epistles in right hand, sword in left / PAVLVS III | PONT • MAX, pontifical arms. Dies by Benvenuto Cellini.
  4. ycon

    ycon Well-Known Member

    for reference, here is my coin, and here are others of the same type, archived on acsearch. Note that despite being only a slightly lower grade, mine is less than half the price of all the other ones sold.
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  5. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    I don't think my only slabbed coin purchase benefited in price by being slabbed, and very skimpy information on the slab didn't help either like no weight or catalogue attribution. I only paid about 10% more than it's previous slabbed sales with Heritage and Pegasi, and jumped at the offer to send to me broken from slab with cheaper postage.
    A picture of when it was slabbed below and below that freestyle...:shame:
    nHT34CjAPx9R5R6rb87KiWc8Xo2F36.jpg Nikopolis gate.jpg
    Roman Provincial, Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Gordian III (238-244 AD) Æ 27 (12.43g) Sabinius Modestus, legatus consularis., City Gate, Obv.: Laureate and draped bust right. Rev.: Arched gate flanked by two roofed towers with arched windows in uppermost story. Varbanov 4182. Rare! NGC XF.
    The towers are actually rounded, raised off the face of the coin. Interesting details on top of the towers and along the top of the wall.

    *Ex. Lanz 97, Munich 2000, Lot. 847
    Heritage, Pegasi and Praefectus coins.
  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Excellent educational post and great coin, @Valentinian! I've also observed that you can find some fantastic slabbed coins "cheaply" by scrutinizing the ones not graced with the magic letters of AU or MS.

    Here's a good example:

    ROMAN REPUBLIC, M. Piso M.f. Frugi
    58 BCE (redated from Crawford's 61 BCE by Hersh and Walker, 1984)
    AR denarius, 20 mm, 3.94 gm
    Obv: terminal bust of Mercury right, wearing winged diadem; calix below chin; to left, star above wreath; dotted border
    Rev: M·PISO·M·F / FRVGI above secespita (sacrificial knife) and patera; all within laurel wreath
    Ref: Crawford 418/2b; Sydenham 825; Calpurnia 23
    formerly slabbed, NGC XF, 4/5 strike, 4/5 surface

    I generally don't like to post what I pay for coins (if you have to know, you can make the effort to look them up) but because of the nature of this post I will say-- $302.50 including BP; May 2016.

    This is not a common coin. There are 20 in ACsearch (between 2003 and now) and I didn't check to see if some were duplicates. Grades are ~VF to EF. Mine has better centering than many and abundant eye appeal. Here the three most recent examples sold:

    $1123 + BP, 2017
    $1300 + BP, 2017
    $1414 + BP, 2016

    So... perhaps the existence of ancient coin slabs isn't an entirely bad thing (yet)? :D

    Edited to add that while I made out like a bandit on this coin, I've certainly paid a hefty premium for many coins. I have no delusions of thriftiness :D
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2018
  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Gorgeous and rare argenteus, @Valentinian ! Glad it has been broken out of jail!

    Nice one, @Ancient Aussie . Another catalog reference is AMNG (Pick) 2107, which describes three varieties of reverse dies (based upon the breaks in the inscription), including yours.
    Ancient Aussie likes this.
  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    We cross-posted, @TIF -- your coins are gorgeous, too! :cat:
    TIF likes this.
  9. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    That certainly is a good example! That is an excellent coin (even if not graded with magic letters that have power to transform a coin) at a remarkably low price.
    TIF likes this.
  10. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Stay away from the Kool Aid, my friends. Not the live all, end all. However, if your 'eyes' tell you different, then by all means go for it. In essence, you are the final grader.......
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  11. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Biblical Kingdoms Supporter

    The first time that I saw a slabbed ancient coin...
    ...I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I'd say—look at that ancient coin in there, I can almost touch it. But, because of the plastic, I can't touch it. How cruel I mean cool is that? Wow! This two thousand year old coin—so close, yet so far! Finally after hanging out here for a while, I learned that it was not only okay to touch the ancients but it was encouraged. I'm not sure what I'll do with all of these slabbed ancients. Maybe I'll just leave them slabbed and buy un-slabbed replacements for all of them. :wacky:

  12. YoloBagels

    YoloBagels Well-Known Member

    IMO ancient coins should only be slabbed if they are UNC or extreme rarities.
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  13. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Good idea. Buy better ones, not slabbed, and sell off the slabbed ones that have been replaced. There are people who are now like you used to be--buyers who want the assurance of slabs.
  14. Johndakerftw

    Johndakerftw Mr. Rogers is My Hero

    I’ll buy them and crac them out for you. :D

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  15. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Biblical Kingdoms Supporter

    Thanks, Erin, but I better keep them. Many of these slabbed coins are in my posters. :lock:
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  16. Johnnie Black

    Johnnie Black Neither Gentleman Nor Scholar Supporter

    @Valentinian @Ancient Aussie @TIF I wish I had the eye like you do for these treasure finds. I hope to develop that ancient cherry picking ability someday.
    Ancient Aussie likes this.
  17. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Thanks, Johnnie, but in this case it wasn't really a cherry pick. It was just a case of me stumbling across a type of coin I wanted and being fortunate that it was in an auction frequented by US collectors who are trained to buy the letters on the slab-- and this slab didn't have the right letters :).
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  18. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I can't claim I knew everything about the argenteus before I bid. Many of the details in the OP were discovered after I got the coin. However, I had studied argentei enough to know the Alexandria mint is rare and, most importantly, I did look at the coin, not just the slab's grade.
  19. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    You really did find quite a bargain in your coin, which is much better than the other three recent (and more expensive) examples you posted.

    A few years ago I had a similar experience with a slabbed Hadrian aureus that was not graded AU or MS but was an under-recognized, underappreciated value:


    A major problem with slabbed ancients is that you can't 100% inspect them as you would an unslabbed coin, and great coins can go unrecognized.
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  20. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    When I first started collecting ancient coins a little over ten years ago, my dealer gave me David Vagi's two-book set Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. This was an excellent background and introduction to the hobby, and I especially valued the first 185 pages of volume two, where Vagi goes through his Numismatic Introduction to Roman coins.

    On page 175 Vagi lists the grading terminology for ancients:

    Very Fine
    Extremely Fine
    Mint State (FDC)

    My dealer further helped me understand that within these grades are modifiers like "good VF" -- better than average VF but not quite up to EF; "about EF" -- better than good VF but a touch below full EF condition' "good EF" -- even better than average EF; etc. These "good [condition]" and "about [condition]" modifiers are useful and for me, cover everything practical that I need to know about an ancient coin's condition without having the coin in hand.

    Now compare NGC's grading scale for all coins, that it applies to (forces on?) ancients:

    NGC grading scale.png

    There are many grades in this scale that aren't in Vagi's scale, and after having spent over ten years collecting and looking at ancient coins, I see no practical value in trying to force this number of grades on ancient coins. Once an ancient coin's condition is generally classified under Vagi's scale, the real decision depends on so many other factors that further refining the grading scale (i.e., using NGC's classification) just seems useless to me.

    Yes, it's true that NGC also includes evaluation on characteristics like strike, centering, etc., but I challenge anyone who has been collecting ancients for more than a few years to tell me what NGC's evaluation provides that the collector couldn't better evaluate himself/herself about the coin, either from a high-quality picture or having the coin in hand. Really, does NGC's description of TIF's coin above "XF, 4/5 strike, 4/5 surface" remotely begin to tell you anything about what makes her coin such a fantastic example of its type?

    I'm curious: those of you who have found value in NGC's descriptions -- value that you yourself wouldn't have discerned -- when buying a slabbed ancient coin, I'd find it informative if you could show some actual examples with an explanation of what you learned from the slab's information.
  21. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

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