Imaging Changes Everything



acrylic-paints-174638_960_720.jpgThe tools we use to see the world change the kind of world we can see. In the latter half of the 19th century, two technological advances changed the world of imaging forever. First, the development of film photography, allowing more detail to be captured than had been possible with other imaging methods. Secondly, the development of pre-mixed artists’ paint in tubes, which allowed painters to leave their studios and paint what they saw in the world, instead of relying on sketches and models. The photographers began to focus on capturing the realities of the physical world in a way that paint never could, and the painters, through the Impressionist and Expressionist movements, began to focus on the experience of the world, in a way that photography could not capture.


agfa-682920_960_720.jpgThroughout the 20th century, photography became cheaper and more portable; more and more people were able to afford cameras and film, which led to greater experimentation with film. Films arrived, first the silent films, then “talkies,” and finally films with full color and sound, even experimental 3D effects.


selfie-465563_960_720And then, at the beginning of the 21st century, the digital revolution happened. Digital cameras were ubiquitous, and constantly improving in quality and size. When smartphones became de rigueur, most people had digital photography–in previous inaccessible quality–in their hands at all times. Selfie culture rose, as did the live-streaming of dramatic events, such as the rescue of the passengers aboard the famous plane that went down in the Hudson River. No matter event is happening, no matter where in the world, someone is covering it with the digital camera in their phone. That is what today’s world looks like.


The world of numismatics is not exempt from this story. As photography has improved, so have coin catalogs: instead of relying on descriptions of coins or artists’ depictions, collectors have photographs. On eBay, most prospective collectors can zoom in on any given coin in high detail. Purchases are more informed than ever. But something has been lacking. If a collector knew what coin she had, she could get a value on it. But what if she did not know? What if a treasure was sitting in her pocket change? Of course, there were occasional stories about such finds. Even this year, an extremely valuable coin turned up in a child’s pirate treasure playset. But this only happened when the coins chanced to make their way to experts.




There is no longer a need to rely on that chance. We’ve taken the next step, and paired digital imaging with machine learning. Our new Machine (read more about it here) can correctly identify and grade up to three coins a second…and we can put the power of that Machine on your phone. Our new app, Lookzee, is in development and has already identified many valuable coins simply by taking photos of unsorted coins from our stock. Right now, the image library is focused on wheat cents, though we will be growing from there, as we evaluate the needs of the numismatic community. Our goal is organic growth that collectors actually want and will use.






We are currently seeking testers for Lookzee: if you’d like to help us test the app before it is released to the public, please get in touch with us at

The Future of Coin Grading is Here


Over the last few years, conversations in the numismatics would about the use of ever-improving optical and computer technology have been heated. Is it possible to create a machine that can accurately sort coins in a manner that is useful to collectors? Can machines be taught to spot and analyze aesthetic qualities of a coin, such as toning?
In short: yes.
1.jpgFor a better answer, allow us to introduce the numismatic world to our new achievement, simply called “The Machine.” The Machine was conceptualized by owner Tim Rathjen and built entirely in-house by  a small team at The Stamp and Coin Place. Rathjen, a polymath with an eclectic interest in collectibles, firmly believes in the power of emerging technology to enrich and enhance even the most traditional of hobbies. The Machine is the product of years of study and experiments with ever-improving imaging technology.
You can read about the technical specs and how The Machine works on The Coin Blog, but here are a few of the big numbers. At average speed, The Machine can accurately grade and sort 3 coins per second, which comes out to 10,800 coins per hour, or 86,400 coins in one 8-hour workday. This incarnation of The Machine can accurately grade coins up to XF, and we anticipate that future versions will be able to do even more as we refine the technology.
2We have taken the first step into a field that has been almost entirely theoretical until now: automatic computerized coin grading. The speculative coin grading technology of the future is here. Of course, it’s not perfect yet. No first attempt ever could be. We look forward to the challenges of creating even more accurate and capable Machines.


The big question of computerized grading still remains: will computers replace humans in evaluating coins? We can teach a computer to “see” like a human being, but we still cannot teach a computer to “feel” like a human. As long as a specific coin speaks to something in an individual collector, the human element will always be the most important one in coin collecting.