Coin Grading Companies: PCGS vs. NGC

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) dominate the field of third-party grading services. Both are widely regarded among collectors and are considered two of the most trusted services. This article will give an overview of each and compare their various benefits.

Coin grading became popular in the 1980s as collectors sought to have universal standards for the quality of their coins. That is when Numismatic Guaranty Company (then Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, “NGC”) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) were founded. Although various companies have entered the space since then, those two companies continue to dominate the space. Both are universally recognized and respected throughout the world.

Both companies have been around for decades and offer professional coin-grading services. The main difference between the two is that PCGS is slightly older than NGC, having been in business since 1985, while NGC has been around since 1987. While both companies utilize the Sheldon Scale, they do utilize different coin designations in some cases. Ultimately, both companies provide reliable services and have a strong reputation among collectors.

NGC was founded in Parsippany, New Jersey, in 1987 under the name Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. The company changed its name to Numismatic Guaranty Company in 2021 and today operates out of Sarasota, Florida. The company has graded over 55 million coins since its inception and is the official grading company of the American Numismatic Association and the Professional Numismatists Guild.

PCGS was established in 1985 to establish definitive grading standards and guarantee accuracy. It began operations in California in 1986 and remains there today. The company has graded over 42.5 million coins, medals, and tokens. Owned by Collectors Universe, the company has divisions in Europe and Asia.

When comparing PCGS vs. NGC, it becomes apparent that the two companies use very similar grading scales and criteria, though some of their designations are different.

For example, NGC uses the terms “Early Releases” (ER) and “First Releases” (FR) for coins submitted to them within 30 days of their initial mint releases, while PCGS uses the term “First Strike” to indicate the same. One potentially confusing overlap in terms is NGC’s “Ultra Cameo” (UC) compared to PCGS’s “Deep Cameo” (DCAM). The words mean the same thing that a proof has deeply mirrored fields that contrast sharply with the frosted devices. Similarly, when the U.S. Mint struck bullion Silver Eagles at several branch mints to keep up with exceptionally high demand in 2021 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the companies used different terms to designate those coins. PCGS certified the pieces with the “Emergency Issue” designation, while NGC used the “Emergency Production” designation.  Both companies use the same  “First Day of Issue” (FDI) designation, which is limited to coins submitted to grading within 24 hours of the coin’s official release date.

One of the areas in which the two companies diverge considerably is certification labels. Both companies offer classic labels that collectors with more conservative tastes tend to prefer. These labels provide the respective company’s name, logo, grading information, and serial number associated with the particular coin.

Beyond these generic labels, though, both companies offer themed labels for many of the coins they grade. While there are a few exceptions, PCGS generally makes one side of the label more traditional with little adornment and puts any elaborate images on the opposite side. By contrast, NGC tends to highlight the themes of its labels. While grading information is still clearly displayed, the eye is often drawn to the imagery rather than the grade. Flags are sometimes the background for the grading information itself. Images of structures, such as the Taj Mahal, people, such as Sacagawea, animals, like the panda, and other features are prominently displayed in vivid color. All other things being equal, these special labels can make a big difference in terms of the aesthetics of a collection. Those who prefer color and vibrancy in their unique labels will likely favor NGC, while collectors looking for something different from the standard labels while retaining a classic aesthetic will probably go with PCGS.

The companies also offer signed labels, a key area in which collector preference can set one company apart from the other. The companies make deals for signed labels separately. Although in some cases, such as with former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John Mercanti, an individual may sign labels for both companies, in other cases, a signor may sign labels for just one of the two. The latter arrangement would leave collectors looking for labels with a particular signature, just one choice of grading service.

Both companies offer instructions on coin submission on their websites. NGC accepts direct submissions from members. Grading tiers determine the price and turnaround time for each submission. Fees for individual pieces range from $19 to $350+1% of fair market value, and turnaround times range from 24 hours on working days to 28 days. NGC also offers add-on services with an extra fee and extra time to the estimated handling. Such add-ons include special labels, specific designations, and even some designations or pedigrees. You will also pay a $10 handling fee for all submissions, and shipping will be an additional charge. Forms must be completed and sent with payment to the company. Coins can also be submitted through an NGC Authorized dealer.

The process and requirements for submitting coins to PCGS are similar. The company has a submission guide on its website, including a blank submission form. Members can submit individual coins or groups of coins. The grading fee ranges from $23 to $300+1% of fair market value. Turnaround times depend on the coin and the level of service and range from 15-70 days.

While there are other grading companies, PCGS and NGC dominate the coin grading space, much like Coca-Cola and Pepsi dominate the soft drinks industry. Many collectors have their preferences, whether for submitting their own uncertified coins or purchasing them from dealers. In contrast, others are happy to go from one to the other depending on the coin, situation, or simply what is available at a given time. NGC and PCGS are similar in many ways, but they have some key differences that are important to some hobbyists and relatively insignificant to others. Regardless of which company individual collectors may prefer, there is no denying that those who plan to sell or at least want to have the option of selling graded coins are best served by turning to one of the two leaders in the industry for all of their coin grading needs.

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