• seperator

May 29, 1990


Computers made a major breakthrough in the 1990s. Their influence was even felt on the coin collecting world. In 1990, the PCGS introduced the first coin grading computer, Numismatic News was there.

Computer grading! PCGS scores technological breakthrough

“On Wednesday May 16, your coins will take the next giant step!” proclaimed advertising by the Professional Coin Grading Service in the May 8 issue of Numismatic News as it cryptically announced the pending release of information on the world’s first computer grading system.

“Imagine objectivity beyond question; Imagine accuracy rivaling perfection; A grading method without temperament; Imagine … We did,” the advertisement concluded.

On May 14, PCGS unveiled its new “PCGS Expert” coin grading computer in a private screening held in Orange County, Calif., attended by Numismatic News editor Robert E. Wilhite. The official public announcement was made on May 16 as indicated by the advertisement.

The long-awaited introduction of computer coin grading had become a reality. PCGS planned to go on-line on May 17, grading Morgan silver dollars.

The innovative system, which purports to be human interactive and sensitive to grading characteristics such as strike and overall eye appeal, was developed by a computer research team led by Louis M. Crain employing state-of-the-art computer hardware and software largely built from scratch over the past two years.

So secret was the project that very few PCGS employees were aware of its existence until hours before the public unveiling.

How does the system work?

In computer jargon, “the Expert combines state-of-the-art computer technology with leading edge software and peripheral hardware. The system employs robotics, expert systems, real time video, image enhancement, image processing and an on line image data base.”

In simpler terms: Once placed on a carousel – designed to hold more than 40 coins – an individual coin is brought up for grading, and by means of robotic adjustments is moved by a precise fixed position for grading by the computer.

In roughly three minutes, the computer assembles in the neighborhood of 2.2 billion bits of information in making its final determination of grade. Crain observed that the human mind goes through a similar process in grading a coin, though does not realize it. Like a human grader, Crain said, Expert can make a preliminary decision as to grade even before all of the data is assembled.

In the grading process, multiple images of coin are captured in digital form under various lighting conditions using a high-resolution camera. The images are then computer enhanced to bring out the important features of the coin.

The computer then examines key regions of the coin, such as Liberty’s cheek, identifying, classifying, measuring and scoring all flaws. Secondary areas, such as Liberty’s hair, letters and the rim are also thoroughly scanned with similar recording and scoring.

According to Crain, the computer is interactive and can explain its grading decision in any given case by pointing to flaws that even human graders may have overlooked.

Next, Expert takes into account light flow. “Reflectance analysis” is used to measure the depth of mirror and inherent luster of the coin.

Apparently, during the testing, it was discovered that Expert was so sensitive that it was able to identify a level beyond deep mirror on some prooflike Morgans – what the testers began to refer to as “X DMPL” because there was no other term to describe that additional depth of mirror.

Strike is also taken into consideration by Expert as it measures the strength of the strike, including areas of Liberty’s hair, particularly that above the ear.

One of the biggest fears that many have expressed over the advent of computer grading has been whether or not a computer could judge eye appeal.

According to the designer, the PCGS Expert has been programmed to do just that. It is programmed to measure several aspects involved in eye appeal, including whether a coin has a satin finish, smoothness of light flow, flash, color and toning “to establish the mood or eye appeal of the coin.”

All of this information is then synthesized into a single grade.

“Expert has the capability to further define the grade beyond the standard whole number grading system that is used throughout the industry. PCGS will continue to use the hole number system,” a spokesperson said.

The process of developing the world’s first computer coin grading system began two years ago, when PCGS graders, in consultation with computer systems specialists, determined that “a system could be designed to grade coins emulating human methods.”

Working with specialists in software development and the PCGS grading staff, it created a working prototype.

Using Morgan dollars from the PCGS permanent grading set and testing of more than 10,000 coins, Expert was programmed.

The Morgan dollar was chosen as the first coin to be computer graded because “they comprise the largest percentage of submissions of any type of coin.”

As it expands, PCGS plans to have Expert grade other coins with high submission volumes such as Saint-Gaudens double eagles, Walking Liberty half dollars, proof Franklin halves and other series.

Sticking to high-volume coins has been necessitated by programming costs, according to a PCGS spokesperson.

“It may not be economically feasible to grade more exotic and infrequently submitted issues,” the spokesperson said.

Prices for encapsulation and grading are expected to remain the same.

According to the PCGS representation, the introduction of computer grading will not affect previously graded PCGS coins, which will still be protected by the “PCGS Guarantee of Grade and Authenticity.”

Traditional grading by PCGS graders will continue and those submitting coins will not be allowed to choose between computer and human grading, but all computer-graded coins will be verified by a human grader.

Prior to the advent of computer grading, PCGS had employed professional graders to examine each coin before encapsulation.

By the end of 1989, PCGS had been in operation for nearly four years and was grading an average of 71,409 coins per month.