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Coin Clinic: Ancient practice sees many variations

Explain the practice of placing a coin in the mouth of a deceased person.
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By Richard Giedroyc

2014 U.S. Coin Digest

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Explain the practice of placing a coin in the mouth of a deceased person.

An ancient Greek custom placed a coin in the mouth of the dead to pay Charon his fare to carry the soul over the River Styx into the underworld. The term Charon’s obol refers to the low denomination obol coin that was traditionally used for this purpose. This has been proved by such coins having been found at grave sites studied by archaeologists and likely by grave robbers as well. The practice was later adopted by the Romans, then by early Christians who many times placed a gold-foil cross, metal-leaf tablet, or some exonumia item in the mouth of the deceased. The Celts, Germans and other European groups have practiced similar customs. A somewhat similar practice of simply burying money with the dead for their expenses in the underworld is still practiced in some Asian cultures. Hell Bank notes were often used rather than real money. There have been recent reports of frugal families burying out-of-date credit cards with the deceased.

Reader Larry Michelson writes: In the Jan. 14, 2014 issue you said that CAC will sticker coins that are very close to the next grade.

That is only partially true. It is true if they place their gold sticker on the coin (very uncommon). Whereas their normal green sticker and the one that the public is most used to is placed on certified coins that are at least solid for the grade. Readers should be made aware of that distinction.

Michelson also notes there is at least one company that offers the same service for foreign coins. Reader input is appreciated.

Isn’t this rechecking of third-party certified coins by yet another party over the top, or are the third-party services failing to do the job they are supposed to be doing?

The true bottom line is to buy the coin, not the encapsulation. Not everyone is an expert who can authenticate and grade a coin accurately, but the buyer should look at the coin before making a purchase. If you are in agreement with the opinion of the service then consider making the purchase. If you are uncomfortable with the opinion of the service look for another coin. The word “opinion” is important. It is an opinion each service offers. You still need to be the final judge, not the service or an additional service that rechecks the work of the first service.

What prompted the establishment of these third party certification services?

The services were founded to bring consistency and honesty to grading in the coin market. There are still problems today, but prior to the establishment of these services there was rampant confusion due to coin dealers purchasing a coin insisting the coin is in one grade, then selling the same coin claiming the coin to be in a higher grade.

Not everyone likes to have their coins encapsulated. Where did the certified encapsulated coin concept originate?

ANACS was offering to authenticate and grade coins, providing a photo certificate when the coin was returned to its owner. These photographs were insufficient to ensure the coin could not be switched. Although ANACS eventually changed to encapsulating the coins it examines, competing services adopted this practice more quickly.

Are there certain coins that should never be purchased unless they have been encapsulated by a third-party certification service?

Never say never, but there are some coins where the use of these services would be advisable unless you fully trust your own judgment. An example is the Mint State $3 gold coins. The value of coins in this series changes so dramatically even between such increments as MS-60 and MS-61 that it becomes challenging to ensure the correct grade without having each coin certified. A mistake, using this example, would be costly.

I purchased a certified and encapsulated rare date coin for my collection, then took it out of the encapsulation to place the coin on my coin board to complete the set. I’ve kept the slip the service encapsulated with the coin. Will what I did become a problem when I go to sell my set?

Looking at this scenario from the view of a potential buyer, I don’t know for certain the coin in question is the coin that had been submitted for certification. The coin will need to be resubmitted if someone considering buying your collection wants to ensure the authenticity and grade of the coin before making the purchase.

Isn’t it a conflict of interest for a coin dealer to establish a third-party authentication and grading service?

Most of the third-party services were founded by coin dealers. Coin dealers, handling many coins, have more credibility than would a collector who might found such a service. Most of the dealers who established these services have gone out of their way to separate their coin buying and selling business from the authentication and grading services.

Who grades the uncertified “raw” coins appearing in an auction catalog?

The auction catalogers either grade the coins or describe the grade and appearance as they were told by the auctioneer. Ultimately the auctioneer or the auction company he represents is responsible for the authenticity and accuracy of the description of each lot. Many of the auction companies that publish a catalog are now insisting all coins being sold individually be authenticated and graded by a third-party service prior to being listing for sale.

Is there any statute of limitations on the guarantee a coin is authentic when sold?

Any coin dealer who wants to stay in business will guarantee the authenticity of a coin without any time limitation, as long as the coin is retained in some manner that it can be proved it is the same coin the dealer sold. There are coins known that were discovered to be excellent counterfeits many years after they had been sold to the person who later learned this bad news. The reputation of the dealer would be tarnished if he refused to refund the money from such a transaction.

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