Numismatic Coin Club World Internet Numismatic Society

by Paul Richards, WINS#25

Our current PO1 to MS70 grading scale has its roots in a system designed years ago for Large Cents. The Large Cent system was informally adopted by the entire numismatic community. Howebver, grading is both the blessing and curse of coin collecting. Here's my approach, which, I believe, is somewhat standard.

(New collectors -- never buy and coin you don't like and never pay more than your gut tells you -- that way you'll never be tripped up by grading questions. AND, practice, practice, practice your grading skills.)

When grading, I ask myself a series of six questions:

Question #1 -- does the coin have problems? Many numismatists (me included) feel that a problem coin cannot be graded. Cleaning, dipping, staining, scraping and so forth are 'problems.' Problems are inflicted on a coin after the minting process is complete. Shysters clean coins. Skilled shysters clean coins so it is difficult to tell that they have been cleaned. If a coin looks funny, it probably is. If the coin looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Question #2 -- is the coin a proof coin? Proof coinage falls into a separate category from normal business strikes. Proof coins do not display mint luster (see next question); they do display a mirrored surface.

Question #3 -- is the coin uncirculated? This is usually easy to answer. Those 'almost unc' pieces are the ones in question. A circulated piece shows definite wear. That is, it shows metal eroded away by circulation. An uncirculated piece (almost always) shows mint luster. Mint luster is not shiny-ness. Mint luster is a 'creamy-ness' (there are probably better words) that is evident when you take a coin and look at it from different angles under a point souce of light. Rock a coin back and forth under a good light and look for highlights eminating from the mint luster. Remember that mint luster comes from microscopic radial striations in the metal's surface. An uncirculated coin displays mint luster on all parts of the coin, especially the fields. Look for evidence of wear by checking the high points for luster. If it is there, the coin is an unc. If the high points do not reflect light like the rest of the coin, the coin is probably AU.

Question #4a -- how worn is a circulated piece? This is easy. There are detailed grading guides on this subject. It is easy to tell the difference between, say, between a G-4 and a VG-8. Likewise, it is easy to tell the difference between an XF-40 and an AU-50. Just look in the grading guides.

Question #4b -- how badly marked is an uncirculated or proof piece? This is a little tricky. The grading guides attempt to help, but experience is the best teacher. An 'average' number of marks usually gets you an MS63. Look at 100 unc Morgans and you get to know what 'average' means. Look at 100 unc Mercs and you'll come up with an 'average' for them. To qualify for a '5' (that is, MS65), your coin better have darn few marks -- and no prominent ones, either. A small collection of small marks is better than a pristine coin with one big blemish. Grading uncs is much more an art than grading circs. Take the plunge and assign a grade. It's your grade that matters to you. Not anyone else's!

NOW, the grading is over. After answering these four questions, you should have a number. Is it a G4, a VF20 or an MS65? You are done grading, but you are not done describing the coin.

A coin is not fully described until it has a grade and its attributes are articulated. 'Attributes' are different than 'varieties.' You can find 'varieties' in the Red Book (e.g., 'with arrows', 'VDB' and 'small motto' are varieties). You can find attributes in the answers to Questions #5 and #6 below.

Question #5 -- how are luster, strike and eye appeal? Three primary attributes are luster, strike and eye appeal. Exceptionally lustrous uncs deserve mention over normal luster. Uncs with exceptionally crisp strike also deserve special mention. Finally, exceptional eye appeal can be found on both uncs and circs. Eye appeal is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.

Question #6 -- are there any other attributes? Check over the exhaustive (and exhausting) list below.

[Color & Toning]
full white
original color
dark color
light tone
pleasing tone
rainbow tone
unusual tone
dark fields
light devices

deep cameo
ultra cameo
deep mirror PL
ultra DMPL
proof only
frosted unc

premium quality
extra nice
pleasing look
appears undergraded
key date
more info: URS
more info: R

repunched mm
repunched date
misplaced date
doubled die obv
doubled die rev
blundered die
clashed die
cracked die
polished die
scratched die
gouged die
split die
early die state
mid die state
late die state

off center
rotated die
clipped planchet
flawed planchet
filled die
strike doubling
out of collar
wrong planchet
wrong metal
unstruct planchet
partial collar
capped die
first brockage
struck thru wire
die protector
planchet flaw
flan flaw
gas bubbles
full steps
full split bands
full head
full bell lines

light clean
cleaned & re-toned
artificially toned
light whiz
heavy dip
light dip
polished coin
acid-raised date

[Physical Abuse]
rim ding
flattened edge
small scratch
large scratch
obverse scratch
reverse scratch
icepick hole(s)
plugged hole
foreign material
jewelry alteration
uneven wear
coin counter marks
deceptive plating

[Improper Care]
pvc damage
fire damamge
water damage
soil damage
cabinet friction
sliding rub
mount marks


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