Population Reports and Their Use
Population reports indicate the number of coins that have been graded by an independent grading service. The concept and use of population reports began in August 1986 with the first PCGS Population Report. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) began their reports in 1988 and ANACS began their reports in June 1991. PCGS and NGC reports are published monthly and ANACS publishes their report semi-annually at present.

The number of coins each service has graded are as follows: PCGS has graded over 7,000,000 coins and NGC has graded approximately 4,000,000 coins as of April 2003. ANACS has graded approximately 600,000 coins as of July 2003. Coins graded by ANACS with photo certificates from 1972 to 1990 are not included in that figure. This is due to the fact that ANACS was sold in 1990 to Amos Publishing which maintained the ANACS initials for the grading service but is a different grading entity than the ANACS that existed from 1972 to 1980. During that period, ANACS were the initials for American Numismatic Association Certification Service.

Population reports provide information on the number of coins graded by a service and the results of the grading by listing the type, date, mint mark and grade of the coin in a numerical column format. It is important to note that the individual grading services determination and standards for grades are not interchangeable. A coin graded as MS65 by ANACS may be graded as MS64 by NGC or PCGS. This is why the pricing sources list different values for each of the coins graded by each service.

The population reports serve as a valuable tool for both the investor and the collector. Prior to these reports, the number of rare coins existing was, at best, an educated guess based on factors as number of appearances that certain coins would have at auctions, or the difficulty or ease of finding certain coins at shows or in the wholesale marketplace. The buyer, unless he was an expert himself, was totally dependent on the seller as to the accuracy of information concerning the scarcity of the coin. Now, with the population reports, a reasonable measure of rarity can be established. There are some important guidelines and caveats to the use of these reports:

  1. Most importantly, the rarity or population of a coin is only one element for determining its value. Rarity alone is not a basis for establishing price. Newer grading services will have lower population report figures simply because fewer coins have been submitted to them. The investor should deal only with PCGS and NGC coins.

  2. The PCGS Population Reports are considered to be the dominant data source since it has graded three times the number of coins of NGC. Coins that may have a low population in NGC or ANACS, may have a much higher population as a PCGS certified coin. In truly rare coins, the total population of the coin in NGC and PCGS will be noted.

  3. When looking at the population of a rare coin, the main question becomes "What is rare?" The answer is lengthy but not complex. It depends on the coin series. Simply, coins must be measured against other coins in its' series, for example, the rarity of a certain Morgan silver dollar should be looked at in relationship to the rest of the Morgan silver dollars. This is done in two ways as the following example of a 1910-S $20 St. Gaudens gold piece in MS65 condition as graded by PCGS illustrates. (April 2003 PCGS Report is source)

    1. How does the rarity of the coin in the subject grade, MS65 for example, compare to the number of other MS65s in the series ($20 St. Gaudens)? By looking at the report, one can easily see how many MS65 coins exist in total for the entire series as well as how many exist in individual dated coins. If there are 21,641 $20 St. Gaudens in total graded as MS65, and the 1910-S has a population of 33, with the highest population of a specific date coin(in this case a 1924-P) in the series being 7,482 and the average population being 300, it is clear that this coin has valid rarity.

    2. How does the rarity of the 1910-S $20 St. Gaudens in the subject grade compare to itself in higher other grades. In MS65 there are only 33 1910-S $20 St. Gaudens. There are two coins of this date graded higher; one is an MS66 and the other an MS68. The population is reported as 33/10. The number of coins graded higher refers to all grades higher for that specific date coin.

  4. Population reports change. New coins are added to the tally as they are graded. Other coins are resubmitted and in some cases regraded higher or lower. This will cause the reports to fluctuate in population as the new certificate is recorded and the old certificate is deleted.

  5. Estimates vary as to the percentage of rare coins that have been certified. Some experts state that as many as 70% of existing coins have been certified. One method of determination is the number of monthly submissions to the services. They have declined on a monthly basis since the inception. A graph of numbers of coins submitted would look like a classic bell curve: A sustained increase, followed by a plateau, then a constant decrease.

  6. Low populations and high grades for modern U.S. coins, generally minted after 1950 are of no consequence or importance due to the very low values.

  7. ANACS is used primarily by collectors seeking to grade esoteric varieties of coins such as errors, rotated dies, doubled dies and other unique oddities.

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