Let’s suppose that you are a better than average coin grader. You know this because you enjoy the challenge of grading coins and the kind of fact finding and analysis that goes along with it. Besides many of your friends regularly ask you for your opinion on their own coins or those they are about to buy. But! There are times when you grade coins you really feel uncomfortable. Perhaps confused is a better description. There’s something about a particular coin that makes it difficult for you to establish the usual level of confidence you have when deciding on a final grade. Why is this? Are you just having an “off day”? This may be a possibility but there could be other reasons as well.
Some kinds of coins are problems (grading-wise) for nearly everyone, even those with a lot of good grading experience. So relax. Understand the areas that can be difficult and be more resourceful and patience when you come across coins that fit this particular class. The following table illustrates some of these areas and offers suggestions that will help you feel more comfortable with the grading task.
COIN GRADING PROBLEM AREAS
WHAT TO DO
Darkly Toned Silver Coins (especially mintstate ones)
Find a way to look under the toning. Try extra strong lighting. If a stereoscope is available you can get both your eyes working
George V 5¢ Nickels in the AU-50 to MS-62 Range
A headache for everybody Nickel is very hard so any visible mark or damage has to be explained. Circ. examples will show hairlining in open fields and a slight difference in colour at the high points of the King’s effigy. Have a good magnifier and take double or triple the normal grading time. Plan to grade the coin on another day to see if you agree with your first result. Understand any differences.
Small Coins Like 5¢ Silvers (especially mintstate)
Big coins like silver dollars are much, much easier to grade than 50 silvers. Always use a magnifier and totally avoid the little coins when your eyes are tired. Little coins cause intense eye focus and strain because of the tiny detail to be studied.
Very Weakly Struck Coins
The problem here is to determine if the lack of detail normally seen on a coin is a result of a weak strike or wear. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure so look for other indicators. How much lustre is still present? If by all other measures the coin looks unc except for the weak area then it’s likely a weakly struck unc or AU. If the lack of detail points to a typical EF and there are many marks in the open fields (i.e. right out to the legend) then the coin is probably a normal EF, not a weakly struck AU or Unc.
Shallow Detail Coins
Pre 1948 George VI decimals and Young Head Elizabeth coins are good examples of coins with very little or delicate design detail in the areas that usually get “first” wear. For example 1955 NSF one cent coins are painful to grade in low grades. Form your own grading reference set to ensure consistency.
Copper coins with Red
Is the “red” colour real or the result of someone fooling around to make you think the coin is new? Two points. There are a lot of people who clean copper to fool you. It’s not always easy for experts to tell if a copper coin has been cleaned. If anything looks unusual about the colour be suspicious but don’t be too quick to condemn the coin. Watch for off-colours (like pink), streakiness, little blue spots, etc. Look for wear and marks. If the coin shows the circulation signs of an EF but is full red, you’re pretty safe in assuming there is a problem.
Coins At or Above MS-64
Remember the differences (in marks etc) between grades at or above MS-64 are extremely small. That means you have to allow extra time to find them. Always use magnification regardless of how good you think your eyesight is.
Specimens vs. Prooflikes
Specimen coins have to show signs of being struck with extra pressure. Look for signs of boldness at the edges and fully formed letters. For Elizabeth coinage check for fullness of strike on Queen’s shoulder or cheek. Be suspicious of any roughness or porosity (under magnification).
Atypical Mintstate Coins
Typical mintstate coins, say an MS-63, show roughly the same quality of lustre and surface marking that is associated with that MS-63 grade. An atypical MS-63 might have MS-60 surfaces and MS-65 lustre. This can be confusing. You have to develop a feel to know how much of a strong characteristic is needed to make up for a deficient feature somewhere else. Pay attention and practice.