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How the PCGS Set Registry Changed The Hobby

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - September 25, 2020

The PCGS Set Registry has more than 120,000 sets covering every area of the hobby, with more sets and categories added all the time. Click image to enlarge.

The dawning of a new era rose upon our hobby in 2001 with the birth of the PCGS Set Registry.  Launching in February of that year, the PCGS Set Registry was the first such collecting initiative our hobby had ever seen, pioneering a new way for coin collectors to build their collections, show them off to others, and compete with one another for top honors.  Just 15 sets received awards in 2002.  Today, PCGS recognizes hundreds of different sets with its annual awards – growth that mirrors the phenomenal explosion in popularity of the PCGS Set Registry, which now boasts more than 120,000 sets inclusive of virtually every nation in the world and spanning all numismatic genres.

So, how did it all begin?  The idea came to light in the late 1990s, as PCGS thought-leaders cobbled together a list of the all-time finest sets and then-current finest sets and published their grade-point averages and level of completion in brochures.  These PCGS Set Registry brochures helped fuel excitement among collectors, inspiring PCGS innovators to develop a way of building competitive Set Registries online.  When the PCGS Set Registry hit the internet in February 2001, it launched with 327 sets – a number that doubled by the beginning of that summer.

By the time World Coin Registry Sets premiered in February 2003, more than 5,000 sets had been registered, with 10,000 online by the end of the following year.  Over the years, thousands of PCGS Set Registry Awards have been presented, and the PCGS Set Registry Hall of Fame reads like a Who's Who of Numismatics, honoring many of our hobby's finest collectors and luminaries for their achievements and contributions.

But what has the PCGS Set Registry done to change the hobby?  If one thinks about it, the advent of the PCGS Set Registry represents a sea change in the way collectors collect coins – and the types of coins they collect. Before the PCGS Set Registry, how many collectors in our (still) analog surfed the web to enjoy numismatics?  Consider that, when the PCGS Set Registry launched in 2001, approximately 8% of the world used the internet – that's a share that has since jumped to 62%, according to Internet World Stats.

No statistics can furnish a figure on what percentage of coin collectors were frequent internet users in 2001.  However, the relative paucity of online numismatic resources at that time – let alone a dearth of coin dealers or coin clubs that were connected to the Information Superhighway – speaks volumes about the wanting state of the hobby's online presence then.  The PCGS Set Registry, coupled with PCGS CoinFacts, which debuted in 1999, persuaded many collectors to hop aboard the internet, and the results have been phenomenal since.

Still, the PCGS Set Registry did more than help revolutionize the appeal of the internet for coin collectors – it also helped create a new marketplace for top-pop coins.  While collectors had always vied for top-grade coins, perhaps only a handful of collectors were really concerned about buying an MS68 example of, say, a particular Lincoln Memorial Cent over an MS65 or MS66 specimen of that same issue.  Yet, the arrival of the PCGS Set Registry and its heavy reliance upon the judging of "best" sets based on grade-point averages suddenly meant that adding the single-finest 1996-D Lincoln Cent – or 1973 Eisenhower Dollar – could mean the difference between achieving the all-time best set and coming in second place.

Sharp increases in value for so-called modern "super-grade" coins during the mid-2000s and in the years since is almost surely linked to the rise in popularity of Registry Sets and the hobby-wide realization that many of these top-grade modern coins are much rarer than conventional wisdom may suggest.  Superior modern coins have earned a degree of importance in the marketplace that would have been perhaps unimaginable to collectors as recently as the 1980s and 1990s.

So, too, has the marketplace for world coinage heated up.  With world coins enjoying a significant share of the PCGS Set Registry activity and also serving as one of the fastest-growing segments of the Set Registry universe, collectors around the globe find enjoyment in building sets of coins representing their home nations as well as others.  This has also helped make the international numismatic community feel much smaller and far more interconnected than ever before.

With the creation of the PCGS Set Registry, collectors can now "tour" some of the finest collections around without ever having to leave the comforts of home.  At one time not so many years ago, a collector wishing to view the world's finest cabinets had to wait to see those coins in a museum, at a coin show, or in another physical setting – then travel there to view them.  Now, collectors can readily click around on the PCGS Set Registry and explore the many splendid coins in the finest coin sets from around the world with a few clicks of the computer or taps on a phone.  This has inspired many collectors to try their hand at building their own versions of these magnificent sets on the PCGS Set Registry – maybe even top them!

Friendly competition aside, the PCGS Set Registry enhances something that has been at the root of our hobby since its days as the pastime of ancient royalty: the thrill and enjoyment of building a coin collection.  Even the most deep-pocketed of collectors, those with virtually unlimited funds, must spend years completing the sets of their dreams, fervently bidding at auctions for elusive coins that may appear for sale only once in a generation.  With the PCGS Set Registry, collectors of every age, income, and background are inspired to join in the fun and build their own sets – to fulfill their own numismatic passions and to put on display for the world to see.

Not that such a desire is anything new.  Collectors like John Clapp, Louis Eliasberg, and King Farouk built collections that were known the world over.  However, with the PCGS Set Registry, every member has the chance to exhibit their collections to the masses.  But it's so much more than show-and-tell gone digital.  Rather, it's the opportunity to collect coins on a whole new level while achieving and enjoying meaningful awards and numismatic acclaim with coin sets hand-built through the passage of time, dedication, and persistence.

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