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Coin Sniffer ready to dog coin docs

The Professional Coin Grading Service is ready to launch the first phase of a new detection system that will identify organic substances on coins.
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This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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If it wasn’t meant to be part of the coin when it was minted, it shouldn’t be part of it now.


The Professional Coin Grading Service is ready to launch the first phase of a new detection system that will identify organic substances on coins.

The PCGS Coin Sniffer™ will be used on coins submitted for its Secure Plus™ in late September or early October.

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It is able to detect organic substances that may have been applied to the coin surfaces, including plastic resins such as Bondo, putty, caulk, wax, lacquer, varnish, acrylics, paint, ink, acetone, glue, citric acid, soap, eggs, fertilizer, forehead and nose grease and even urine.

The PCGS Coin Sniffer uses dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDX), Fournier Transform Infra-Red Spectral analysis (FT-IR), Raman Spectroscopy and other analytical techniques.

“We are still in the development stage of detecting inorganic foreign materials, such as metals,” Don Willis, PCGS president, said Aug. 13 at the ANA convention in Boston.

This second phase is expected in early 201.

PCGS legal counsel Armen Vartian noted recently that indium, an exotic metal, is used on coins to provide features like full heads and full split bands that coins never had before. The indium is shaped to replicate these rare but desirable attributes.

However, indium, which initially looks great, breaks down over time, leaving PCGS holding the bag when the coin owners invoke the buy-back guarantee given by PCGS on its services.

To detect indium and other inorganic materials, PCGS will apply EDX technology to analyze coins on the atomic level.

“It’s similar to scanning with an electron microscope,” said Willis. “Foreign metals, as well as metal fatigue due to high heat from a blow torch or laser, can be detected.”

Metallic solutions such as solder, bleach, iodine and potassium or potash have been applied to alter a coin’s surface, PCGS noted.

David Hall, founder of PCGS, said Aug. 11 at the convention that he expected more buybacks of previously graded coins that had avoided detection and he also said PCGS would get more aggressive in the legal case rather than explore a settlement.

By the middle of the month PCGS legal counsel Vartian hopes to file papers amending a May lawsuit initiated in federal court for the Central District of California.

He said that the number of defendants would be reduced.

Vartian noted that because this had been his expectation all along that the original defendants had not been served.

He also said they were still accumulating evidence.

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