Why You Should Only Have Graded Banknotes in Your Collection

It happens all the time: An amateur book collector goes into a thrift shop and comes across an extremely old volume. His heart starts to pound when he discovers that it’s a first edition. The book is priced at just $25, and he might even negotiate for less. He imagines selling the rare book and getting rich.

It is when he consults a professional rare book dealer that he learns the book is worthless. Hundreds of copies are still in circulation. It's in poor condition, and the dust jacket is missing. Someone scrawled a birthday greeting inside. The binding is loose. There’s a coffee stain on Page 38.

Rare book dealers use just a handful of criteria, 10 at most, to grade condition and determine worth. By comparison, professional banknote grading services use up to 70.

Since the value of paper money is highly dependent on its condition, accurate grading is one of the most important aspects of collecting. Buyers and sellers must agree on a grade before they can agree on a price, and the great number of criteria in numismatic grading leaves little room for subjectivity. It’s true that eye appeal comes into play to some degree, but grading banknotes is far more science than art.

Experts at the most respected grading services, such as Paper Money Grading and Professional Currency Grading Service, have extensive training and years of experience.

Value is determined by significance, scarcity and condition. Typically, the less a thing has been handled, the more valuable it is. It takes a sharp eye to detect the minute tears, pinholes or pencil marks that affect worth. It takes someone who has examined thousands of notes to see that a degree of crispness has been lost, that certain colors have faded or that the emblems and markings are slightly off-center. It’s hard to pull the wool over the eyes of a seasoned grader. A careless erasure or amateur attempt to press out creases is easily spotted.

The highest grade that banknotes can receive is uncirculated. From there, each flaw is subtracted to result in accurately graded banknotes. Even a pristine bill will have points deducted if there are still too many of its kind floating around.

There’s nothing wrong with hanging on to worn banknotes because you like their appearance or appreciate their historical significance. However, if you intend to buy and sell, it is imperative that your collection comprises graded banknotes. Reputable dealers won’t take you seriously unless you can provide verifiable grades from licensed experts.

Grading also ensures that you always know the exact value of your collection. If you’re not educated, you may dismiss an item that’s worth a small fortune. If something unfortunate happens to you, your loved ones may inadvertently toss out valuables. An unscrupulous dealer may offer far too little for a highly prized note even if he knows better; never do business with dealers who seem uninterested in grades. Too, you’ll have to have proof of value before you can insure your collection.

Can you trust grading services like PMG and PCGS? You absolutely can. They are run by professionals who grade tens of millions of dollars’ worth of currency every year. They are insured. They love currency as much as you do, so the idea of losing or damaging a valuable banknote is repugnant to them. They can also offer advice about caring for your collection.

In short, they know what they’re doing. Do you?

The better informed you are about the value of your collection, the less likely you’ll be to make poor decisions.