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Grading Hints on the Buffalo Nickel, Mercury Dime,
Walking Liberty Half, and Morgan Dollar


by Bill Fivaz, NLG (Presented by Mark Watson, WINS#13)

(Part 1 of 5)

Grading is, without a doubt, the most cussed and discussed subject today in numismatics.

The purpose of this series is to acquaint the reader with the grading aspects of four very popular 20th Century series. the Buffalo Nickel, Mercury Dime, Walking Liberty Half Dollar, and the Morgan Silver Dollar.

There are a few "ground rules" we should cover prior to getting into the actual grading intricacies of these four very collectible coins:

1. We will be concerned primarily with the About Uncirculated to MS-65 grades, as this is the area of most concern to collectors and causes the most confusion. The lower (circulated) grades generally can be zeroed in upon fairly easily by referring to the available grading books.

2. This series is not expected to teach you how to grade these four coins so much as to give you the technique of how to grade them. Experience is the critical element in grading any series, and when coupled with knowledge and patience, hopefully you will be able to develop a better self-confidence in your grading skills on these, as well as other series.

3. Although grading is very subjective, it does have certain parameters upon which most collectors and dealers agree. No two knowledgeable people may view the same coins in precisely the same way time after time, but their opinion (and that is the key word!) probably won't vary too much from a certain center point.

4. Remember. ownership of a coin is worth up to 1.5 points on the grading scale. In other words, if you own the coin, you may subconsciously feel it is just a little better than it really may be. This is the human factor and difficult to avoid, so please keep it in mind.

5. There is quality in every grade! Every MS-64, for example, does not fit conveniently in a "generic" MS-64 slot. There are low-end MS64s, mid-range MS-64s, and high-end MS-64s. This is true for every grade, uncirculated and circulated. What the grading services are telling us when they assign a grade to a coin is that the coin is, in their opinion, at least a MS-64, but not quite good enough to attain the MS-65 level. Ideally, we strive to purchase those coins that lie in the upper end of the particular assigned grade, and to do this we must develop the aforementioned confidence in our grading skills.

Lastly, before getting into the first series, we should take a look at how to look at a coin to arrive at a proper grade.

A. First, get an overall naked eye impression of the coin without using your loupe. You'll find that most of the time your initial analysis of the coin will hold true after you examine it with a magnifier. In other words, if you don't like the coin looking at without any magnification, you won't like it afterward. By following this suggestion you will also be able to pick up on the most important feature of grading. eye appeal.

B. Use a 5x or (preferable) a 7x power magnifier for grading. I recommend a Hastings Triplet which will cost you a few bucks more, but you won't get the peripheral distortion that is so common with the cheaper loupes. Higher magnification will result in "overkill" and seriously limit the view area of the coin.

C. Use the proper lighting. An incandescent lamp is the best (75 - 100 W); sunlight is the worst, with fluorescent a close second.

D. Use the "T 'n T" method when looking at a coin. "Tip and Turn" it under the proper lighting so that you can pick up the slide marks and subtle wear on the high points.

E. Look at the third side of the coin. the edge.

F. Try to hold the coin over a soft surface (even a notebook or a piece of paper) in case you should drop it.

G. Be as respectful of others' coins as you are of your own. Handle them properly by the edge, and afford them TLC.

H. Armed with the proper basics of good coin grading techniques, it may be said that the more coins you look at, the more proficient you should become in grading. Concentrate on learning everything you can about the grading of one or two series first, and then apply that knowledge and those techniques to other coins. the same techniques apply to every series.




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