The collecting public has been concerned at one time or another about the authenticity or actual grade of the collectibles they purchase. Stories abound about people being cheated by unscrupulous dealers or telephone solicitors. Inevitably, it's the collector and subsequently the hobby that are injured by this chase for profit.
Enter the authentication and grading services that have sprung up, like ANACS (American Numismatic Association Certification Service - the first) and PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service - the first to encapsulate in hard plastic). For a small fee, a coin, sports card, comic book, or casino chip can be certified authentic and of a certain numeric grade, then sonically sealed in a hard plastic container. Thus, the item is protected from damage or deterioration, and the collector is protected from doubt.
However, encapsulation, or 'slabbing' has become a collectible in its own right. Coins encapsulated by a perceived inferior grading service often sell at lower prices than those from a well-respected name, in spite of the fact that visibly, the coins are identical. Also, a recent marketing ploy by one of the larger services is a grade 'Registry', which is similar to the Guinness Book of World Records. This program lists the owners of coins graded at the loftiest levels. Coins that normally sell for a few dollars are commanding outrageous prices at auction. For example, a top grade 1958 Lincoln cent (yes, that's a 19) included in the Registry recently traded hands for, get this, $10,000. Later modern issues slabbed by this company are reaching several hundred dollars in current auctions. In essence, collectors are buying the coin at market value, but paying hundreds, sometimes thousands for the the paper tag and plastic that surround it. It's mystifying.
For me, it's akin to admiring your fine jewelry in a safe...the collection becomes an investment commodity rather than the hole-filler for your high grade set or the piece of history you gingerly hold between your fingers. Pity. But, alas, slabbing appears to be here to stay. After all, it is convenient and an effective method of preservation for items of which we are merely temporary custodians -- in the grand scheme of things.