You and a collector friend are discussing a coin that each of you has just graded. Actually, the two of you are arguing because you disagree on the coin’s grade. Why the difference? Two possibilities follow. First, each of you are using a different frame of reference, i.e. a different set of grading standards. This does happen from time to time especially between a very experienced grader and a totally novice grader. Second, and the more usual, one of you sees tricky, hard-to-find marks on the coin that the other missed (perhaps from using poor lighting or being in a hurry). The second instance frequently occurs when mintstate (or near mintstate) coins are graded. Collector “A” grades the coin one grade higher than collector “B” and argues heatedly that collector “B” is being way too conservative. The first thing that should go through collector A’s mind after learning of collector B’s grade is “Did B see some extra marks on the coin that I missed and hence that is the reason for the lower grade?” The easy way to address this is to ask B for his or her reasons for the grade selected. In real life few of us will do this. Instead we argue more for reasons of pride than for getting at the truth. Whenever a knowledgeable grader selects a grade lower than you determined on your own, always be sure to ask for the reasons. Keep an open mind. You may find that you missed seeing some important marks.
How does one evaluate coin marks? If coin marks are to be expected on coins, which are more preferable than others? The short answer is that coin marks are evaluated in four ways. These are according to their size, location, number and nature (i.e. origin). The last one, nature, is too frequently ignored by all but the most experienced graders and frequently the source of many disagreements or arguments about grade selection. Table I will help you organize how you judge marks that appear on coins. The table is specifically intended as a guide for coins that are in the mintstate grade range or very nearly so, so keep this in mind as you read through the details. Remember that if someone disagrees with your grade and thinks it should be lower, ask why. Maybe, you missed seeing something important that would cause you to change your opinion.
ASSESSING MARKS ON COINS THAT ARE NEAR UNCIRCULATED AND MINTSTATE
|General Questions To Ask||How big are the marks in relation to the overall size of the coin?Big marks on big coins are the same as small ones on small coins||Are they in places that are quickly noticed as soon as you pick up the coin?||Are there a lot of marks to give the coin a “messy” or cluttered look?More marks, more mess! Less is best.||How did the marks get on the coin? Did another coin hit it? Did someone abuse the coin? Has it seen circulation?|
|Your Impression: Very Bothersome||Easily recognized without a loupe. Deep cuts into the coin. Very long marks or scratches. Easy to see on first look.||Obverse location worse than reverse. Open area worse than detail areas. On a key part of monarch’s design.||So many marks that give a cluttered look. Could also be a few too many big marks. A cluster of many tiny marks is distracting too.||Those caused by human handling or deliberate harsh cleaning. Random and wispy light lines could be a sign the coin is lightly circulated.|
|Your Impression: Somewhat Bothersome||Not as big or as noticeable as above on first glance at coin.||Semi-hidden. Not so noticeable or distracting.||No sense of clutter but marks are clearly present to show it imperfect.||Mild but not harsh attempts at cleaning or human mishandling.|
|Your Impression: Of Little Concern||Can only spot with a loupe after lots of study. Not immediately noticed and not important relative to other aspects of grading the coin, i.e. it’s lustre.||Hidden or easily confused with the coin’s finer details of design. Takes some study to actually find them.||All business strike coins have marks unless the grade is above MS-67. A few very scattered marks requiring a loupe to notice them are unimportant.||Marks caused by contact with other coins while at the mint. A few trivial hairlines that aren’t easily noticed.|