An Overview of Graded Coin Labels

Graded, also know as certified or slabbed, coins, are given labels upon which information like their grades, designations, and specifications are displayed. A multitude of NGC and PCGS coin labels exist in a wide variety of themes, adding another layer of collectibility to graded coins.

Graded, also known as certified or slabbed, coins, are given labels upon which information like their grades, designations, and specifications are displayed. A multitude of NGC and PCGS coin labels exist in a wide variety of themes, adding another layer of collectibility to graded coins.

Today, many of the coins that you may consider buying will have already been graded by an unbiased third-party service. They can come with a variety of labels, so are some labels better than others? It’s not quite that simple, but let’s start with the basics.

When you are observing a slabbed coin, the label will tell you much of the basic information about that specimen. Typically, this includes the name of the coin, its denomination, its year of issue, and the grade along with any additional designations. In the case of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) coin labels, you can also find a bar code and a number. These are part of the counterfeit prevention measures used by NGC and PCGS and allow you to look up that specific coin in their respective database.

As far as coin slab label dimensions are concerned, most of them are very similar. The most notable exception to this is in the case of oversized coins and holders, such as 5 oz. silver America the Beautiful coins. These receive larger labels.

With all of the certified coins available today there are plenty of designations to keep track of as well. Like grades, these designations are given by third-party grading services such as NGC and PCGS when the coin meets specific requirements. They are additional qualities beyond the condition that have been formally recognized. Let’s cover some of the designations that you’ll see frequently.

For those collectors who First Releases, Early Releases, or First Day of Issue is not enough-there is First Day of Production. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) offers First Day of Production designation for select coins that are actually struck on the very first day that a Mint begins to produce said coin.

In order for coins to qualify for this impressive designation when they are submitted to grading, they must be accompanied by documentation from the issuing Mint that will guarantee that they were struck on the first day of a coin’s production. This designation is only available to bulk submitters of coins that are eligible for this designation. Just a small percentage of coins will ever receive this strictly defined designation.

The NGC First Releases and Early Releases designations are seen commonly. First of all, these designations are equivalent. NGC even points this out, the only difference between Early Releases and First Releases is the phrasing.

These designations are time-based, which is one of the reasons they are seen so frequently on new releases as they hit the market. In order for a coin to qualify for NGC Early Releases or First Releases, it must be submitted for grading within 30 days of its release date. The coin can be sent directly to NGC or to an NGC-approved depository. NGC keeps its own calendar for the eligibility of each release for these designations, as the exact dates of eligibility are ultimately up to them. If you need the calendar, it can be found on the NGC website.

The NGC First Day of Issue designation is not seen as often as the designations mentioned above. The main reason for this is that the window for First Day of Issue is much smaller. For a coin to be eligible for this designation, it must be received by NGC within a week of its release date with accompanying proof that it was purchased within one day of the Mint release date.

The First Strike designation is used by PCGS. For practical purposes, it is equivalent to NGC First Releases or Early Releases. A coin needs to be submitted to PCGS during its first 30 days of issue to qualify for the First Strike designation.

The Ultra Cameo designation is awarded by NGC based on the visual contrast of a coin. This designation will only be seen on proof coins because of the requirements. Only proof coins with very sharp contrast on both sides receive the Ultra Cameo designation. If a proof coin submitted to NGC displays contrast but is not enough to qualify for Ultra Cameo, it may receive the Cameo designation.

PCGS also has its own designations for visual contrast on proof coins. For proofs with excellent visual contrast, they use the Deep Cameo designation. For proofs with a lower amount of contrast, they award the Cameo designation.

In addition to enjoying more types of coins on the market than ever before, there are also more types of labels. Certified coins are very popular for many reasons and sometimes the special labels they receive make them even more appealing from a collectible standpoint. Let’s take a look at some of these special labels and how they add collectible appeal.

Both NGC and PCGS offer special labels for a number of circumstances. Some are signature labels as mentioned above. Others are simply a different color, such as blue instead of brown. Some carry a theme for the country that issued the coin, like a Canadian-themed label for a certified Canadian Silver Maple Leaf. There are even special labels that are only used for a popular series, such as the Chinese Silver Panda, or even for special releases, like NGC’s Pride of Two Nations label. 

The labels on coin slabs all display the same general information about the coin inside, but you will see a variety of special labels on the market. Some labels have been signed by notable designers or important figures in numismatics. Others are made to celebrate a specific theme or a particular series of coins. There are even some special labels that are primarily for aesthetics, such as the very classy gold and silver foil labels that can be found from time to time. The special labels that you may find on the market are always changing based on current coin themes and major occasions, so keep your eyes open.

Signature labels are a popular choice and are a step up from standard labels. Many collectors prefer them if given the option. These labels have been hand-signed by figures with either numismatic or general significance. For example, John Mercanti signs labels for both NGC and PCGS, and ModernCoinMart is proud to carry certain exclusive Mercanti signed labels. He served as the 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. He created an impressive number of designs for modern U.S. coins including the design for the reverse of the American Silver Eagle.

Signed labels offer a way to add a bit of differentiation in the NGC and PCGS coin populations. In the case of living figures who sign labels such as Edmund Moy, Elizabeth Jones, and John Mercanti, each label is actually signed individually. Since these labels are hand-signed, there are only so many to go around. They are far scarcer than standard labels.

For more information about the signatures that are commonly seen on signature-graded coin labels, read more on this Info-Vault article.

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