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Grading system rocked by environmentalism

Would you sign a petition to save the light bulb? No? Well, you might want to rethink your position.

With the country busily going green and everybody looking to be environmental heroes, it is likely nobody is going to consider its impact on coin collecting.

What impact is that, you might ask? There will be a big one.

How do we grade coins in the future?

Legislation is being drawn up to outlaw the incandescent light bulb that has been the mainstay of our home lighting systems since Thomas Alva Edison invented them in 1879. Incidentally, it is also the mainstay of the numismatic grading system.

Just think, decisions where thousands or millions of dollars are at stake might just get messed up by the abolition of the old-fashioned light bulb.

Right in the The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins it says, “The lighting we recommend for grading is a 100-watt incandescent light bulb approximately three feet from a coin.”

That is the recommendation. There is also a warning: “Fluorescent light, which spreads illumination from a diffused origin, is apt to conceal minute differences and camouflage certain defects, and should not be used.”

The warning can’t be more explicit. If you want to grade U.S. coins correctly, you have to use incandescent lighting. What will the hobby do if light bulbs are banned in 10 years time?

“Wow, I didn’t see that,” a dealer might exclaim of a hairline scratch on a coin in the future, “but don’t worry about it. Hold it under the legal fluorescent light and you won’t see it either. What you don’t see can’t hurt you.”

Collectors aren’t likely to be happy with comments like that.

Will we have a black market in light bulbs? Shops can keep them under the counter as newsstands once kept racy titles.

Or will incandescent light bulbs be given prescriptive status for coin collectors, like someone with an illness can be prescribed narcotics?

That might give the hobby more of a flavor of forbidden fruit. What teenager of the future would want to play the latest computer games when he could handle illegal light bulbs?

Better yet, collectors should just watch the current legislative environmental push and work to assure numismatics of a continuing supply of light bulbs in order to preserve the grading system.