Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An Interview with PCGS about Tech

I have been a fan of PCGS's online presence for a while. I asked them if they would be open to an interview about how tech is used in their organization and, much to my delight, they agreed. Enjoy!




PCGS Secure is an important program, especially these days with all of the counterfeits surfacing. Let's jump right in. What happens when a user scans the PCGS Secure QR code?


The Quick Response (QR) code on the back of the sixth generation PCGS holder allows a collector to instantly verify the coin’s information from his or her mobile device.  Using any free QR code scanner application, a collector can retrieve the date, mintmark, denomination, variety, country, grade, holder type, Population and PCGS Price Guide data by simply scanning the QR code. 


Each code has the coin’s certification number embedded into the code, making the code unique to the encapsulated coin.  This is one of many overt security features included in the PCGS holder. If you scan the QR code and the information that surfaces does not match the coin you see in front of you, something is amiss. 


Keep in mind that this is just one of many features of the PCGS holder and should not be considered as a standalone security feature.  We included the QR code mainly as a time-saving benefit to collectors.  Be sure to look for all the overt hallmarks of a PCGS sixth generation holder – the embedded security hologram, the gradient blue obverse label with Secure shield, and the firm enveloped weld along the holder’s perimeter. 



Is the micro-printing visible under the usual magnification used by collectors? What level of magnification is required to see it?


Yes, the micro-printing on the PCGS Secure shield can be seen with a standard 5x loupe, but is not detectable to the naked eye at arm’s length. 




I recently wrote about electronic scanable security/NFC tags being used as security precautions. What would it take to include something like this in a holder? What kind of cost could collectors expect?


Each sixth generation PCGS holder currently contains specially-engineered detectable additives within the plastic.  These additives can then be detected by a device as an added security feature.  If the additive is present, the device will beep.  If the additives are not present, the device will flash a red light, warning the user. 


The device is currently available only to PCGS authorized dealers, but we are looking into a future generation where customers can verify the presence of the additive.  Look for news on this front in 2017.



Does PCGS Secure require an additional fee, or is it included with all Regular (and above) submissions?


Yes, PCGS Secure requires an additional $17 per coin.  In addition to the Secure Shield label, your coin is also digitally scanned and stored in our database. This scan serves as a digital ‘fingerprint’ of the coin.  Should your coin ever be lost or stolen, cracked out and resubmitted to PCGS, our system will flag the coin for further investigation. 



Are PCGS holders marked to indicate a coin has been through the Restoration process? Isn't coin cleaning roundly frowned upon by numismatists? How is restoration different?


No, we do not label coins with any special designation if they are submitted through our Restoration service.  You are correct that ‘coin cleaning’ is frowned upon by numismatists, because the term ‘cleaning’ has a negative connotation. It is generally associated with harsh techniques, like chemical baths and wire brushing.


PCGS Restoration is not cleaning.  We use only industry-accepted techniques that preserve the natural beauty of coins.  In fact, many coins do not qualify for our Restoration service, which has fairly strict submission guidelines.  You can read more about the service here:  



Why are there five PCGS apps instead of one completely integrated app?


We decided to take the Google approach and split our apps into service-specific categories.  This helps the individual app’s speed and navigation, and also decreases the number of required updates.  For example, Photograde is huge due to the large number of high resolution images.  We did not want to lump this app with Price Guide, for example, since the Price Guide requires frequent updates, but also requires much less data usage to update.




Your social media presence is fantastic, especially for a non-news numismatic company. What brought about this focus? Do you feel it would benefit collectors if more non-news entities had a larger online marketing effort?


To answer both questions in a nutshell, with the advent of mobile phones, most information is consumed online, so we want to share our content where eyes are looking. The world we live in is a digital one, and most information within any demographic is consumed online. Yes, print still has its place, but it’s becoming a niche medium, almost novelty. So to answer your second question, yes absolutely. People are increasingly online, so why not share your information where eyes are looking?


We try to produce social media content from the standpoint of your friend who collects coins and likes to chat about it, be it via video, article or fun fact-style posts. We know there’s different experience levels of collectors, both avid and casual, and we try to share our message with everyone. Whether you’re just giving coin collecting a shot for the first time or the proud owner of several collections on the PCGS Set Registry, you’ll take something away from our social media pages.  Readers can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram by searching @PCGScoin or simply, PCGS coin.




PCGS's online set registry is interesting. Do you foresee more collectors moving to online showcases for their collections?


Yes, and we’re making significant investments in the user interface that we hope will improve the user experience, and promote the sharing of collections.  The Set Registry is a fantastic community, filled with many passionate, like-minded collectors.  This shows us that collectors do use the internet to showcase and interact with fellow collectors.  We will soon rollout upgrades to the site to improve the showcase-capabilities to make the tool even more visual. 



How are the registry rankings decided/scored?


You can read about the full rules of the Set Registry here:



What is the future of CoinFacts? It seems like a good platform to incorporate some kind of additional service. Perhaps a crowd sourced information and photo-sharing functionality, like Wikipedia? Also, social media could be integrated with up-vote/down-vote options, a la reddit.


We don't have plans for any major changes to PCGS CoinFacts, other than a more modern UI facelift and the adjustment to a fully responsive desktop site. We have recently expanded the ValueView section to include upcoming auctions and coins for sale.  Also, we have no plans to incorporate the ( into PCGS CoinFacts, except perhaps as we roll out a World CoinFacts.  Crowd-sourcing is a possibility, but needs to be controlled tightly.



What kind of copyright protection do you claim on CoinFacts? For instance, if I wanted to use a CoinFacts photo or narrative as part of a blog post, would this be permissable? And if so, under what conditions?


We are very protective of the material on PCGS CoinFacts, all of which is copyrighted.  Occasionally, we share information and images on a limited basis but only upon specific request and only if proper credit is given for their use.  Such requests are usually run by David Hall and/or Don Willis.  



Why will computerized grading not work?


PCGS invested a lot of time and effort into the concept of computer grading in the late 1980s.  The short answer is that computers have a difficult time detecting reflectivity and more generally, eye appeal.  We recently contacted the engineer from the 1980s about the advances in computing and his response was, “the computer will make all the same mistakes, only faster.”

That said, it is possible in the future that a computer could quantify things that a human eye cannot do at scale, like count the number of bag marks on a coin’s surface.  There’s no doubt that in time computers will advance to a point where they can grade coins.  But we’re not there yet. 

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