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The Origin of Intercept Shield Products

CLEARING THE AIR By Ed Reiter

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January, 2002  - Ma Bell was having trouble with electronic telephone equipment: Corrosion was eating away at the relays and connectors, and the need to replace the equipment was eating away at her budget.

She turned to Lucent Bell Labs, her research and development arm, and the experts there came up with a novel solution. They developed a type of chemical shield that intercepts corrosive gases in the air and neutralizes them, thereby protecting the electronic equipment from costly damage.

Two decades later, that same technology is helping to preserve rare coins from similar damage--damage that could cost their owners many thousands of dollars through grade-reducing tarnish and other unsightly blemishes caused by chemicals in the air.

Using the technology devised by Lucent Bell Labs, a two-year-old company called Intercept Shield in Far Hills, New Jersey, has developed a line of products that protect coins either individually--in 2-by-2 “snap locks” or grading-service holders--or collectively, in boxes or albums.

The founder and president of Intercept Shield, John Albanese, has devoted many years to safeguarding the value of rare coins. In 1986, he was one of the founders of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), which revolutionized the coin business by introducing the concept of independent third-party grading of coins, followed by their encapsulation in sonically sealed, hard plastic holders. He left shortly afterward to form a second coin-grading service, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America (NGC). And PCGS and NGC have dominated the field ever since.

Several years ago, Albanese sold his interest in NGC to resume his successful career as a professional numismatist. But he soon began looking for a new challenge--something big and important, along the lines of the Grading Revolution in which he had played such a pivotal part. He found it in Intercept Technology--the name by which the discovery is trademarked.

“I’ve seen millions of dollars of coins destroyed by corrosion,” he declared. “Even coins in grading-service holders can be damaged by harmful gases because the holders aren’t airtight. Intercept Technology is just as revolutionary in the field of coin protection as PCGS and NGC were in coin grading.”

Recognizing that the technology had potential applications beyond the telecommunications field, Lucent about 10 years ago had licensed its use in other areas. Albanese obtained exclusive rights to use it in all applications involving collectibles--including not only coins but also such other hobby areas as stamps, baseball cards, comic books and autographs. To date, however, he has concentrated his efforts on coins.

“Intercept Shield” is the name of both his company and the polymer strip or sheet that contains the protective material in solid-state form. The material never comes directly in contact with the coins being protected. Rather, it is placed in the containers that house the coins--the holders, boxes or albums--and serves as a kind of sentry, ferreting out impurities in the air and reacting with them at once to keep the atmosphere clear around the coins.

The Intercept technology not only neutralizes harmful gases but also renders the air static-free. Static electricity can cause problems for stored coins by drawing particulate matter to their surfaces, where it can break down and damage the metal.

Intercept Shield’s snap-lock holders are available in 13 different insert sizes ranging from 18 millimeters to 40 millimeters, and will accommodate U.S. series as small as the dime and as large as the Draped Bust silver dollar. Most of the widely collected U.S. coins will fit in one of these holders.

Five new insert sizes are in the works to hold half dimes, early large cents, twenty-cent pieces, early $10 gold pieces and three of the four American Eagle gold bullion coins (the fourth Gold Eagle, the half-ounce size, fits in the same holder as Capped Bust quarters and later $10 gold pieces).

The snap-lock holders are priced at three for $3.95. A box with a capacity of approximately 34 of the 2-by-2 holders is available for $4.95--and since the box itself has an Intercept lining, it provides double protection for the contents.

Intercept Shield currently offers 20 different deluxe albums designed to house “raw” (uncertified) examples of widely collected U.S. coin series. These are aimed at collectors assembling complete sets; they provide slots for all date-and-mint varieties--as well as proof-only issues for modern series in which such coins were struck.

The albums range in size from two pages for relatively short series, such as Peace dollars and Franklin half dollars, to eight pages for longer series such as Lincoln cents and Washington quarters--each of which is housed in a single album. The suggested retail price varies according to the number of pages, ranging from $20.50 to $35.50.

Among the albums are two for the 50-state Washington quarters--one with slots for just one example of every state’s coin, the other with two slots per state, so the owner can display coins from both the Philadelphia and Denver mints.

The company offers a double-protection box for certified coins that will accommodate 10 holders (or “slabs”) from any of the major grading services. The boxes retail for $13.95 apiece.

At present, Intercept protection is being offered by only one grading service--the Independent Coin Grading Company (ICG). It charges $3 extra for this protection, which is provided by a gasket inserted into the holder.

The Intercept Shield boxes and albums are made from acid-free and sulfur-free materials to reinforce the level of protection. Even the plastic slides in the company’s albums are inert. And the albums come with matching slipcases--which, like the albums themselves, are lined with Intercept material.

“Everything we do is designed to provide the maximum possible protection for our clients’ coins,” Albanese said.

The protection will last for at least 10 years--and probably much longer, he said. Users will be able to gauge the product’s success, and determine when it needs to be replaced, by observing its color--for while the coins behind the Intercept Shield remain unchanged in appearance, the shield itself will darken in time as it absorbs more and more pollutants. Gradually, it will turn from dark brown to jet black, signaling that it’s time for a new shield.

Albanese stressed that the Intercept holders are suitable not only for coins with bright surfaces but also for those that are toned.

“A coin will not change color inside one of our holders,” he explained. “If it’s nicely toned to begin with, it will stay that way. Most people think this technology is meant just to keep white coins white, but it works equally well with toned coins.

“You have to remember that toned coins--even those that are toned very nicely--are on their way to turning totally black. They might be pretty today, but in time oxidation will turn them black. Intercept technology halts that oxidation and keeps them in the same condition indefinitely.”

Intercept Shield sells its products only to dealers and other retailers, not directly to individual collectors. Information on how to obtain them can be found on the company’s Web site, www.interceptshield.com

The man primarily responsible for developing Intercept Technology is John P. Franey, a longtime employee of Bell Labs and Lucent who headed the team that discovered it and now serves as project manager for its many applications.

“I oversee and verify the technical use of it,” Franey explained. “In other words, I verify that the materials being made are up to the quality standards that were set forth in the original material and that the applications are reasonable.

“Our use for it remains the primary one. Our systems are housed in it and we protect our equipment with it, so it’s very important to us. Otherwise, the major market right now is in protecting electronics from corrosion and static damage. As I understand, NASA houses the spare computer for the space shuttle in it. There are also military applications.

“At this point,” Franey said, “we don’t issue licenses anymore. We have enough licensees to cover all the markets. We’re here just as technical support.”

Lucent leaves the preparation of products up to individual users of the technology.

“Lucent doesn’t involve itself in any product design,” Franey said, “other than to verify that it’s reasonable. Originally, we tutored everyone on how to do this and how to calculate and design their products. Now, we only get involved if a company develops a radical departure from the previously proven applications. Then we require them to submit their proposal to us so we can take a look at it and see if it’s reasonable.”

At present, he said, there are “a couple of dozen” applications for the technology.

Franey got a firsthand look at the coin application--and the coin market in general--last August, when he attended the 2001 convention of the American Numismatic Association in Atlanta as Albanese’s guest.

“I was on vacation in the area,” he said, “and the company invited me to come over for a day, so I stopped by. I’d never been to a coin show in my life, and I figured it would be interesting to see what it was like.”

What he saw impressed him greatly.

“I never realized there was that much interest in coins,” he remarked. “I had always assumed that most coin collectors just bought and sold coins and really didn’t know all that much about their technical aspects--how they’re made and so on. But the people I met had a tremendously high level of expertise. They were very knowledgeable, and I was very impressed.”

Franey’s brief exposure to rare coins clearly left a mark on him. But then, he has left an indelible mark on the hobby--by helping to reduce the number of marks that are left on it by that other “Ma,” Mother Nature.

From www.coinshield.com

 

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