A Primer on PCGS and NGC Label Designations

For more than 30 years the leading third-party grading services, Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), have continued to add value to coins encapsulated in their holders that are backed by the companies’ guarantee that the coins have been determined to be genuine and in the stated grade.

For more than 30 years the leading third-party grading services, Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), have continued to add value to coins encapsulated in their holders that are backed by the companies’ guarantee that the coins have been determined to be genuine and in the stated grade. 

The holders themselves have continued to be improved over the years not only to make them more inert to better protect the coins and enhance the holders’ appearance but also to make them much harder to counterfeit, especially with the most recent innovations.

In addition, the special designations that appear on the holder labels of coins graded by these companies have also proliferated over the years, which has led some buyers to become unclear about what each of them means.

The most well-known and widely used label designation for PCGS coins is “First Strike,” which was first used in 2004. The company says this refers to “coins issued in the first 30 days of the Mint’s release.”  It adds that there are two ways to receive the First Strike designation when submitting coins to the company and is very similar to NGC’s First Releases and Early Releases designations.

PCGS also offers a First Day of Issue label designation which has a similar definition to NGC’s equivalent designation, which applies to coins submitted to grading through an exclusive process within 24 hours of its initial release.

One way is to send coins in a package with a postmark date prior to the PCGS cutoff date for that particular issue, which the company posts on its website. The second way is to submit coins in the original unopened shipping box from the Mint with a postmark date prior to the cutoff date.

Several years ago, the company introduced a feature called “PCGS Secure,” which allows your coins to be identified should they be lost or stolen and then resubmitted to the company.  Each such coin is laser scanned, imaged, and registered into the PCGS Secure database. In addition, coins with the secure label feature a PCGS gold shield and hologram that include both overt and covert security features.

In order to identify coins that are high-end for their stated grade, the company introduced a “Plus” designation, and it also includes separate values for coins with that designation in its online price guide.

For older American coins the company offers a variety of attribution on the labels, and for some modern coins, there are special commemorative labels for anniversaries of certain coin series and coins first sold during a coin show as well as other special events.

PCGS also offers special label designations that commemorate a special event or numismatic release. These are often only available for a limited period of time. Recent examples include PGCS’ Pride of Two Nations First Strikes label that was only available for coins from the joint Royal Canadian Mint and United States Mint Pride of Two Nations sets that were released within the traditional 30-day “First Releases” time frame. Similarily, PCGS will release special “Show Labels” that are reserved for specific releases that were submitted on-site during coin shows, like the 2019 Fun Show Special label and 2017 Long Beach Expo.

NGC offers an even wider range of special designations on its coin holder labels, which are used to identify coins received within a certain timeframe or at a particular event. 

The company also offers grade-modifying designations such as NGC Plus and Star, which are given respectively to coins at the high end of their assigned grade and coins with exceptional eye appeal.

The most widely used NGC label designations are “Early Releases” and “First Releases,” which are available for coins received by NGC or an NGC-approved depository within 30 days of the first release of a new coin. The two terms are interchangeable, “and the same definition and cutoff dates apply to each term.”  NGC maintains a list of ER/FR cutoff dates for U.S. and world coins.

For coins received by NGC or its depositories within one day of the first release of a new coin issue, the company offers the “First Day of Issue” designation. Typically, this designation is only available to bulk submitters or at certain trade shows, though it is sometimes available to all submitters, in which case the company provides instructions on how to obtain the designation. 

There is a related designation called “First Day of Production” for coins struck on the first day the Mint began production of the coin. Those coins must be received by NGC or its depositories “accompanied by documentation from the Mint that confirms the coins were struck on the first day of that coin’s production.” This designation is only available to bulk submitters like MCM.

Show Releases” are another popular NGC label designation. This one is reserved for coins whose release date coincides with a particular coin show or a release date shortly before the start of the show. Labels with this designation will typically state the name of the trade show followed by “Show Releases” or some variation that reflects the coin’s type and release date. 

In these cases. the company posts an article on its website with instructions on how to obtain the particular show designation and which coins are eligible for it. Coins with show labels are listed separately in the NGC price guide.

For coins that have been verified by NGC to be among those first struck by a Mint, which requires appropriate documentation, the company will designate those coins as “First Struck.” Examples include “One of First 1000 Struck” or “One of First 50,000 Struck.”  This designation can only be obtained by bulk submitters.

First Year of Issue,” whose labels are green or red, are offered for U.S. and world coins that are the first dated year of a new coin type such as 1986 American Silver or Gold Eagles but does not apply to a new version of an existing coin.

First Day Ceremony” is used to designate coins officially released at a ceremony or event organized by the U.S. Mint or another governing body overseeing the release of the coin.  Such coins must be submitted with advance notice to NGC and arrive the day after the ceremony and may require documentation. 

Finally, “First Strike” designations, not to be confused with “First Strikes,” is reserved for special ceremonies when officials from the Mint or other notable figures strike the very first examples of a new coin.  To obtain this designation, supporting documentation is required.

The wide range of special label designations used on PCGS and NGC coins often add value to those coins, enhance their presentation, and distinguish them for coins without the designations, which can result in lower populations of graded coins with the designations as well as higher trading values for such coins.

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