I have been working with computers for over 30 years. During that time, I have watched computers evolve from room-sized systems to smart-phones that can fit in the palm of your hand. To make this point to people I talk with, I hold up my iPhone and tell them that it is more powerful than the IBM System/370 Model 158 that I used in college—using punch cards!
I was reminded how much technology has changed when I read the article The birth … and death of computerized grading. The article recalls the stories of how computers were supposed to revolutionize coin grading and how New York inventor Henry A. Merton received a patent for computerized coin grading.
Merton’s patent claimed that his system could electronically identify, distinguish, and grade coins based on imaging technology of the daya. Using this system, Merton founded what would eventually called CompuGrade. Starting with Morgan Dollars, CompuGrade would use decimalize grading, assigning partial points to a coin, such as MS 64.5.
Limitations of the technology doomed computer-assisted grading almost as quickly as it started.
Imaging technology has greatly improved in the last 20 years. When combined with x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging, and other electromagnetic technologies, computer imaging becomes an indispensable diagnostic tool. Have you ever been through an MRI and watched the computer reconstruct your internal anatomy from those images allowing for a virtual tour of your body? It is amazing technology.
Advances in biometrics that work on the physiological aspects of the body can now determine differences shown by the same person because of biological changes, such as the effect of aging on your hands. High performance imaging systems are being tested for facial recognition and other identification programs to help law enforcement. While this technology is not perfect, it has shown a lot of progress.
Biometrics uses a concept called pattern recognition. Pattern recognition uses previous knowledge or statistics to recognize or match patterns. Pattern recognition uses a scoring system to determine how close a match would be. A real world implementation can be found in Apple’s iPhoto ’09 application that includes a feature called Faces that helps organize photos by who is in the picture. Faces uses pattern recognition to recognize the people. Interestingly, while Apple’s documentation says that Faces works only on humans, users have reported that it can also recognize pets!
The same technologies could be used for grading coins. Since coins are more static than living beings, the computer can recognize the patterns and the scoring system could be translated into a grade for the coin or even find patterns, such as VAM varieties for Morgan Dollars.
Imaging technologies can be programmed to easily tell of a coin has be cleaned or dipped by noting how the light reflects off the surface. Think of how the computer can “look at” a coin and find the cartwheel effect or determine the fine lines that occur when a coin is cleaned or whizzed.
The article mentions that imaging can be used as a fingerprinting of coins to help in counterfeit detection. With Chinese counterfeiters becoming more sophisticated, computer imaging can be use to find these counterfeits. When a coin is determined to be a counterfeit, the die patterns can be saved in order to be used to find other counterfeits. Additionally, chromatography could be another technology to determine whether the gold or silver is from the period or contemporary.
Computers are great tools. Imaging technologies enhanced by computers can do wonderful things. To apply this technology to coin grading and analysis would be a fantastic addition to the industry. Can you imagine being able to take the technology to major shows and for a small fee, provide on sight diagnostics for coins before submitting them to the grading services? Too bad I do not have the money to invest in this. I believe it would be a great tool for the collecting and investing world.