By Jesse Robitaille
Three collectors and part-time dealers in southern Ontario have launched the Canadian Numismatic Assurance Service (CNAS), a new “sticker service” aimed at levelling the inconsistencies among third-party grading services.
The three CNAS founders – Will Christie, 22, Cole Lawrence, 19, and Josh Lucrezi, 23 – have more than 45 years of collecting and dealing experience, which they are now using to evaluate Canadian coins certified by one of four major third-party grading services. Each of them began collecting lower-grade coins in childhood before growing into the high-end market with a focus on more sought-after specimen, proof-like and business-strike coins. Eventually, they each started their own part-time dealing business before combining their knowledge to launch CNAS.
“We all have a big collector background,” said Lawrence, who deals as Burlington Bullion in his hometown of Burlington, Ont. “We have a wide degree of knowledge between the three of us, and we want to start putting ourselves out there in a more professional manner because we love the hobby and we want to see it grow.”
CNAS currently evaluates all pre-1968 Canadian and colonial coins certified by either International Coin Certification Service (ICCS), Canadian Coin Certification Service (CCCS), Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) or Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC). CNAS also accepts some tokens, including the Bank of Montreal and Upper Canada issues. While it has plans to expand into some post-1968 Canadian coins in the future, CNAS rejects all submissions certified as cleaned, corroded or otherwise damaged.
“There needs to be a numerical grade to reference for the service to work,” said Christie, who also deals under the banner of Upper Canada Coins in Mississauga, Ont.
Rather than start another third-party grading service – “that sailed in the ’80s,” according to Christie – the three young collectors-turned-dealers decided to try their hand at the assurance business.
“We already have four major companies competing for the market up here, so that’s one in four collectors with a different opinion on who to trust,” added Lawrence. “Why make it one in five?”
Because they also deal coins on the side, the trio noted a grading service could have presented more conflicts of interest than the sticker service. With CNAS, they plan to make some of the firm’s records, including the date of a coin’s evaluation but not its sticker status, publicly available.
“As we’ve been trying to start this up and grow it, we’ve been very careful not to sticker our own coins or own collection pieces,” added Lawrence. “Trust is so important in this hobby, so we just want to make sure we don’t accidentally break that trust.”
IN THIRD-PARTY GRADING
The CNAS concept arose after the trio and other people with whom they do business noticed a gap in the grading results from the four main services commonly encountered in the Canadian numismatic market – ICCS, CCCS, PCGS and NGC.
“I’ve complained for a long time about the inconsistency, and so have the other two, and we realized we see it from a lot of people. We’re not alone in seeing that inconsistency,” said Christie, who added while those four services are “pretty well accepted” by collectors and dealers in the Canadian market, there’s no “dominant grader.”
“And they have completely different standards,” he added, referencing a 1912 $10 gold coin from his collection that was certified by NGC as Specimen-64 and then by PCGS as Specimen-69, just one grade point below what the latter service considers “a flawless example.”
“I’ve also cranked out a 1964 dollar from NGC, graded as ‘Proof-like Cameo,’ that was actually a specimen; it was hairlined,” said Christie. “I’ve seen this a million times. There are a lot of extreme examples out there in every direction. I’ve cut out ICCS coins graded as ‘six,’ some have come back from PCGS as ‘eight’ while some have come back as ‘four.’ Grading isn’t a science – it’s an opinion – so for us, it’s all about keeping some kind of consistency.”
Neither PCGS nor NGC follows the Canadian grading standards used by ICCS and CCCS, Christie added, “so half the time they’re on the mark and half the time they’re not – and everywhere in between.
As an example, Christie said to consider a collector who’s seeking a 1948 silver dollar in Mint State-63, an example of which is then offered at auction with certification from one of the main grading services.