Intro – Grade the Coin, Not the Slab

PCGS arguably serve a role in grading coins – their consistency has been admirable in past years. However, in the correct identification of Australian pre-decimal varieties, caveat emptor – buyer beware!

1920 London No Dot dies?

My interest in the study of die identification markers evolved from reading the following article by Paul Holland in the Australian Journal of Numismatics (vol.28, 2017). The paragraphs in question are quoted here:

“In other words, all such 1920 English die pennies clearly were originally ‘dot below the bottom scroll’ whether the dot can now be observed or not, in agreement with listings by Dean 28 and Sharples 29. Extrapolating these findings to other 1920 pennies would suggest that all were originally marked with a dot, or at least that the Melbourne Mint intended to mark them this way. This presumption would suggest would suggest that 1920 ‘no dot’ pennies don’t exist, were struck from working dies where the original dot was in low relief and had either been worn away or been polished from the die, or perhaps were struck from dies where the dot had been omitted by mistake. 

Certainly a few high-grade examples with no apparent dot are known, but such coins are quite rare. Resolution of this problem is likely to require painstaking analysis of higher grade 1920 pennies with no apparent dot down to the level of individual working dies, with special emphasis on finding very early die state examples, to preclude the possibility that die wear has removed traces of the dot.”

One possibility overlooked by Paul Holland (a scientist), which was suggested by Fred Lever (an engineer) in personal correspondence, is that of Rockwell hardness testing. If the Melbourne Mint were inexperienced in the production and hardening of die steels for the minting of coins, it would make sense to create a baseline understanding of hardness using the London supplied dies and then seek to replicate that indigenously.

1920 No Dot – A quick Run Down

As for 1920 no dot analysis, although this will be a topic for another post, a brief outline is provided as follows:

Below is PCGS cert: That blob of metal is a defining die marker for the early state 1920 no dot reverse die. I cannot confirm any other no dot die to date.

Below is PCGS cert: The blob remains while the faint die cracking between the dates begins.

Below is PCGS cert: The blob is nothing more than a faint mark on the metal, but the primary die identification marker is transparently clear. PCGS have – by and large – correctly grouped together the same die in 1920 no dot. However…

Below is PCGS cert: It is graded single finest of 1920 No Dot in BN (brown). It looks nothing like the above coins – it is poorly struck and the serif No. 2 in the date is note the same as above. My suspicion is Sydney Mint. This coin is an outlier and I ignore it for the purpose of grading in No Dot BN. More research to identify that serif and die to follow.

1920 London Obverse – Dot Below Scroll Reverse

Top End Coins stocks a number of 1920 variety pennies for the express purpose of updating the knowledge base of dies likely in circulation.  The VF25 graded coin is well struck and clearly noted as a dot below scroll variety.

The F12 graded variety below is showing similar wear to the ‘no dot’ variety available for $6500 on Ebay. The dot was clearly visible to the grader at time of grading and subsequently given the appropriate varietal grade. However, had the dot been worn and invisible, would the coin have received a coveted “no dot” status? Given that the Ebay coin was recently graded (it sports the latest type of PCGS slab technology), I suspect the answer may be yes.

Recruiting Inexperienced Graders at PCGS?

This is not my first encounter with incorrectly graded varieties from PCGS. In the following post I wrote of the return of a genuine Double Dot 1920 Penny which is identified by the cud over W in COMMONWEALTH as illustrated below. The coin was rejected as a modern counterfeit.

Below is a PCGS “No Dot” graded coin recently purchased on Ebay. Although $150 is not quite as painful as $6500, the cost in confidence to collectors purchasing inconsequential coins for their collections are enormous. I believe it is one of the reasons that pre-decimal coin collecting has seen a steep decline in interest from collectors in recent years. The obverse is identified by the die crack in IMP, but I’ve yet to accumulate a sufficient number of 1920 pennies in better than average grade to conclusively rule out this die as a No Dot variety.

This is where the work gets painfully difficult. I will have to group coins by various die identification markers (typically die cracks) and then ascertain the location of a dot on at least one of those coins to conclusively rule out the possibility of the coin being No Dot. Given the grade of 1920 pennies circulating today, that may not be possible. Which is why PCGS remains an undisputable source of high grade coins with images that permit identification.

Note the Inconsistency 

Referring to the coin illustrated for sale in Ebay, it is labelled by the seller as a London die. He (I know the seller) is correct – the obverse is a London die. However, PCGS are not ascribing no dot varieties to the English Obverse. So either PCGS needs to update their registry (because this coin is a miraculous new variety of a single example) or a grader – failing to understand how the dots disappear on low grade examples – incorrectly awarded a variety that will sting uneducated buyers for years to come.

Not the Final Word on this Subject – Grade the Coin, Not the Slab

Top End Coins holds a number of articles on the 1920 varieties. Fred Lever and Paul Holland are a good place to start in the library:

I know Fred wrote to me indicating an update to the 1920 story. I’ll get back to him and update this post and library with new information as provided. As for $6500 for a unique coin that is too good to be true… Caveat Emptor.