Lately, I have been reading and participating in the discussion forum at the NGC and Collectors’ Society website. One of the discussion talked about the “FIRST STRIKE” designation being added to the grade of slabbed bullion coins by the major grading services. Although they may have slightly different guidelines, both NGC and ANACS post their policies on the web that are very similar. Basically, to gain the FIRST STRIKE designation, the coins must be submitted in the original Mint packaging with all the official Mint documentation that shows the coins were struck in the first month of their run. This designation has nothing to do with the first coins that are struck from a die pair or coins that were struck from the first used die pairs. These are just coins struck during a particular month.
According to the Consumer and Business Awareness page from the US Mint, the Mint does not track the order which coins are minted. Coins that are produced are packaged as convenient, thus that coin that is marked as FIRST STRIKE could be the last coin struck by that die set. If the mint strikes 1,000 coins from a die pair, does that 1,000th coin deserve FIRST STRIKE designation? The Mint does not support this designation.
This situation borders on consumer fraud. Not only does the US Mint not keep records on the number of coins they strike on the first day, but the shipping records are not as detailed as to determine how many are actually shipped as FIRST STRIKE. Also, the term FIRST STRIKE is not properly defined. For example, the ANACS site says proof “coins must be submitted to ANACS within the first month of release by the Mint” and that bullion must be “sealed in the original Mint packaging and have full and proper Mint documentation inside the sealed Mint packaging proving that the coins were struck no later than January 31 of the year of issue.” The subtle difference shows an inconsistency that could be troubling to an unsuspecting market.
The capitalist in me has no problems with the grading services coming up with a new way to expand their market. However, without a consensus on what FIRST STRIKE means and without tying it to something real that proves that the coin is a FIRST STRIKE, the confusion will cause long-term damage to a hobby where some outsiders worry about being taken advantage of. This is not good for the hobby.
I am putting together a set of uncirculated American Silver Eagles that have a minimum grade of MS-69. All are NGC graded. I will not add a FIRST STRIKE coin unless the price is comparable to other coins, because the designation does not make sense when I can purchase an MS-69 that is just a beautiful but not minted in the first month.
P.S. You can also read a similar opinion on the Coin Collecting (and other Numismatic Interests) Through the Eyes of a Beginner blog. The blogger, Arlington, wrote an entry First Strikes: A Marketing Gold Mine that you may want to read.