Collecting on a Budget

Collecting Sample Slabs

Published February 8, 2024 | 6 min read

By Kellen Hoard

Listen to this article

Did you attend the ANA World’s Fair of Money® in Pittsburgh last year? If so, you probably saw (or were part of) the mob clamoring for a sample slab from the new CACG grading service. The slab served a triple purpose: 1) To show collectors what the new slabs looked like. 2) To build excitement about the newest entrant into the slabbing business. And 3) to serve as a limited-edition memento of the convention. (Sample-slab enthusiasts have contested how “limited” these slabs are. Given a production figure in the thousands, it is likely the single most common sample ever made.)

I was particularly interested in the excitement surrounding these pieces. A relatively small but passionate group of collectors, including myself, have acquired sample slabs for at least a few decades. Samples are niche but diverse, and new varieties continue to be “discovered.” (New and poorly documented sample-slab issuances by several companies several times per year in countries around the globe for the past several decades have left many varieties still uncataloged). Those intrigued by the CACG sample slabs will find answers to questions they may have about samples below.

What Are Sample Slabs?

In the second edition of his book Sample Slabs, author David Schwager described them broadly as follows:

“[Grading] companies sometimes give away slabs. [These] usually [include] inexpensive modern coins like State quarters or 1960-64 dimes, to demonstrate their products, show new features, or as gifts for preferred customers. These slabs are samples and therefore known as sample slabs.”

Sample-slab labels often feature the word “sample,” but not always. Furthermore, though most samples contain inexpensive coins, many include more expensive items like Morgan dollars or foreign gold. Schwager includes “sample, promotional, club, show, luncheon, novelty, and Young Numismatist coin and currency holders” in his 2016 book. However, as the offerings and labels of slabs became increasingly complex, further specificity has been necessary to determine what exactly counts as a sample slab and what is simply a gimmick. Collector Burton Strauss is in the midst of creating an updated 3rd edition to the Sample Slabs book (with over 500 new entries). He also authored a white paper that attempts to distinguish what should be cataloged as a sample slab. The paper is too long and detailed to discuss here, but it is worthy of review. Suffice it to say that the definition of a sample slab is ambiguous. But most slabs that fall under Schwager’s broad definition qualify. When in doubt, look for the word “sample” or the name of a coin event on the label.

This 1964 Roosevelt dime (left) graded Mint State-64 is housed in a two-piece collar-type old green holder Sample slab from Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). It sold for $65 on December 5, 2022. A 1923 Peace dollar, graded Mint State-60 by Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC), sold for less than $200 at a recent auction. (Photos: Heritage Auctions)

Where Can You Acquire Sample Slabs?

Grading services typically give away sample slabs. They will commonly have examples on hand at shows or conventions. They are also available at events like the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) Luncheons. At many shows, young numismatists (YNs) receive special sample slabs for their attendance or completion of scavenger hunts. Sometimes, services will hold giveaways through their social media pages, for certain groups of their members, or through other distribution methods. Online platforms like eBay or Instagram are the best secondary market way to acquire these pieces, though some collector-to-collector sales occur in-person at shows. The secondary market features the rarest samples, samples from international services, or samples from defunct grading services (of which there are many). The prices can range from under $10 for a common slab to hundreds or thousands of dollars for rare varieties.

How Do You Begin Collecting Sample Slabs?

As with any area of numismatics, it is important to “buy the book before the coin.” I recommend purchasing an electronic copy of Sample Slabs to acquaint yourself with the field. Additionally, take some time to observe what different sample slabs are selling for on eBay before purchasing examples so that you do not overpay. It can also be helpful to choose a sub-area of focus within sample slabs—PCGS Luncheon Slabs or currency samples or early generation ANACS samples, for example—to help build expertise in a certain niche. ANA convention visitors should attend the annual informal meeting held each year at the convention hotel to learn, buy/sell, and show/tell about interesting sample slabs. Sample slabs are an exciting, fresh, and ever-changing niche. I encourage those who find their curiosity piqued to spend some time exploring this field.