The term "slab" is slang for any type of holder that third-party grading services use after they professionally authenticate and grade your coin. There are many advantages to submitting your coins to third-party grading services. One of the top reasons that you should use a third-party grading service is that your coin will be authenticated by a professional numismatist. The second most important advantage is that your coin will be housed in the best and most durable coin holder that money can buy.
Third-party Grading Services
Third-party grading services started in the late 1970s and early 1980s to provide a professional numismatic opinion of a coin's grade and guaranteeing authenticity. During this time, many investors began to realize the potential for investing in rare coins. Coin prices were generally on the rise during this time, and this appealed to many investors. Unfortunately, many people started calling themselves "coin dealers" and were selling over graded coins at exorbitant prices to people who are unfamiliar with coin collecting and grading practices. This resulted in many people suffering significant losses and becoming disillusioned with the coin collecting hobby.
Third-party grading services hire expert numismatists that examine every coin for its authenticity and provides their expert opinion as to the coin's overall grade. The service then seals the coin into a transparent plastic holder that protects it from environmental and physical damage. These holders will not damage the coin since it is suspended within the holder using an inert plastic insert. Additionally, you cannot remove the coin from the holder without damaging or destroying the holder. These tamper-evident holders are another deterrent to counterfeiters targeting coin collectors.
The advent of third-party grading services brought stability to the coin collecting market, especially for rare and expensive coins. No longer were buyers dependent upon an opinion from the same party that is selling the coin. Now a third party, which has no vested interest in the transaction, can provide a professional and unbiased opinion as to the coin's grade and hence its value. Additionally, counterfeit coins were more easily detected and removed from the marketplace. However, recently there have been reports of counterfeit third-party holders containing counterfeit coins.
Slab holders are specially constructed to store rare and expensive coins for extended periods. The inert plastic insert which comes in contact with the coin's edge is engineered explicitly so it will not react with the coin's metal. This includes damage from physically coming in contact with the coin and making sure that the plastic insert does not emit any gasses that would cause discoloration or corrosion on the coin's surface.
The outer housing is made from transparent hard plastic. Although this plastic does not directly come in contact with the coin's surface, it is also made out of inert material that will not emit gases or in any way react with the coin's metal surface. Additionally, they have constructed the outer plastic housing out of high-quality plastic that is optically clear and will not discolor over time.
Finally, they place a label indicating the coin's denomination, year of minting, other identifying characteristics, and the professional numismatist's opinion of the coin's grade inside the coin holder. The coin is then sonically sealed which provides a virtually airtight closure between the upper and lower pieces of the outer house. Any effort to remove the coin or tamper with the indicated grade would become evident on the coin's holder.
Why slab coins
Experts highly recommended that any valuable or rare coins be submitted to one of the top-tier third-party grading services (PCGS, NGC, ANACS). In addition to getting a professional numismatist's opinion of the coin's grade and authenticity, you also receive the highest quality holder to protect your coin. Remember, the slightest fingerprint could reduce the value of a rare coin. Most importantly, these holders protect against physical damage if the coin is dropped unprotected onto a hard surface.
The primary disadvantage of having your coins slabbed is the cost. Costs range from $10 to $30, or more, to submit a coin to a third-party professional coin grading service. But the value that you receive back can be priceless. Finally, when it comes time to sell your coins, by yourself or by your heirs, there will be no doubt as to how to determine the value of a coin because its type and grade have already been determined by a professional numismatist.
The leading third-party grading services also have apps for your smartphone. PCGS and NGC have published apps where you can use your phone's camera to scan the barcode on the slab's label. Using the Internet, it will query a database to retrieve the critical information for the coin that you are holding in your hand. If available, it will also return retail price value information for your coin. You can then use this as an estimate of what your coin could sell for in the open market.
Alternately, some coin collecting purest feel that placing a coin in a slab is in effect "entombing" in preventing you from truly enjoying the coins in your collections. Being able to hold a raw coin (not in any holder or album) allows you to truly inspect the surfaces of the coin. The plastic of the slab may cause reflections that could possibly hide and in perfection.
Although this is the best way to protect individual coins, you must remember there are additional steps that must be taken to protect, preserve, and store your entire coin collection.