Special *July 2003* Early Addition Of Our Book Review:
Indepth Book Review On 2000 North American Coins & Prices:
A Guide To U.S., Canadian and Mexican Coins....
Collectible Treasures Antique and Collectibles
Book Review July 2003
Interesting Information On Coin Collecting as noted in the 2000
North American Coins & Prices: A Guide To U.S., Canadian and
Chapter 4: The grading factor
HOW TO CLASSIFY A COIN'S CONDITION By Arlyn G. Sieber
Grading is one of the most important factors in buying and selling coins
as collectibles. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most controversial. Since the early days of coin collecting in the United States, buying
through the mail has been a convenient way for collectors to acquire
coins. As a result there has always been a need in numismatics for a concise way to classify the amount of wear on a coin and its condition
A LOOK BACK
In September 1888, Dr. George Heath, a physician in Monroe, Mich.,
published a four-page pamphlet titled The American Numismatist.
Publication of subsequent issues led to the founding of the American
Numismatic Association, and The Numismatist, as it's known today,
is the association's official journal. Heath's first issues were largely devoted to selling world coins from his collection. There were no
formal grades listed with the coins and their prices, but the following statement by Heath indicates that condition was a consideration for
early collectors: "The coins are in above average condition," Heath
wrote, "and so confident am I that they will give satisfaction, that I
agree to refund the money in any unsatisfactory sales on the return
of the coins."
As coin collecting became more popular and The Numismatist
started accepting paid advertising from others, grading became more formal. The February 1892 issue listed seven "classes" for the
condition of coins (from worst to best): mutilated, poor, fair, good, fine, uncirculated, and proof. Through the years, the hobby has struggled
with developing a grading system that would be accepted by all and
could apply to all coins. The hobby's growth was accompanied by a
desire for more grades, or classifications, to more precisely define a
coin's condition. The desire for more precision, however, was at odds
with the basic concept of grading: to provide a concise method for classiying a coin's condition.
For example, even the conservatively few classifications of 1892
included fudge factors.
"To give flexibility to this classification," The Numismatist said, "such
modification of fine, good and fair, as 'extremely,' 'very,' 'almost,' etc.
are used to express slight variations from the general condition."
The debate over grading continued for decades in The Numismatist.
A number of articles and letters prodded the ANA to write grading
guide-lines and endorse them as the association's official standards. Some submitted specific suggestions for terminology and
accompanying standards for each grade. But grading remained a
process of "instinct" gained through years of collecting or dealing experience.
A formal grading guide in book form finally appeared in 1958, but it
was the work of two individuals rather than the ANA. A Guide to the Grading of United States Coins by Martin R. Brown and John W. Dunn
was a break-through in the great grading debate. Now collectors had
a reference that gave them specific guidelines for specific coins and
could be studied and restudied at home.
The first editions of Brown and Dunn carried text only, no illustrations.
For the fourth edition, in 1964, publication was assumed by Whitman
Publishing Co. of Racine, Wis., and line drawings were added to
illustrate the text.
The fourth edition listed six principal categories for circulated coins
(from worst to best): good, very good, fine, very fine, extremely fine,
and about uncirculated. But again, the desire for more precise
categories was evidenced. In the book's introduction, Brown and Dunn wrote, "Dealers will sometimes advertise coins that are graded
G-VG, VG-F, F-VF, VF-XF. Or the description may be ABT., G., or
VG plus, etc. This means that the coin in question more than meets minimum standards for the lower grade but is not quite good enough
for the higher grade."
When the fifth edition appeared, in 1969, the "New B & D Grading
System " was introduced. The six principal categories for circulated
coins were still intact, but variances within those categories were now designated by up to four letters: "A", "B", "C", or "D". For example,
and EF-A coin was "almost about uncirculated." An EF-B was "normal extra fine" within the B & D standards. EF-C had a "normal extra fine" obverse, but the reverse was "obviously not as nice as obverse due to
poor strike or excessive wear." EF-D had a "normal extra fine" reverse
but a problem obverse.
But that wasn't the end. Brown and Dunn further listed 29 problem
points that could appear on a coin--from No.1 for an "edge bump" to
No.29 for "attempted re-engraving outside of the Mint." The number
could be followed by the letter "O" or "R" to designate whether the
problem appeared on the obverse or reverse and a Roman numeral corresponding to a clock face to designate where the problem appears
on the obverse or reverse. For example, a coin described as
"VG-B-9-O-X" would grade "VG-B"; the 9 designated a "single rim
nick"; the "O" indicated the nick was on the reverse; and the "X"
indicated it appeared it appeared at the 10 o'clock position, or upper
left, of the obverse.
The authors' goal was noble-to create the perfect grading system.
They again, however, fell victim to the age-old grading-system
problem: Precision comes at the expense of brevity. Dealer Kurt
Krueger wrote in the January 1976 issue of The Numismatist,
"under the new B & D system, the numismatist must contend with a minimum of 43,152 different grading combinations! Accuracy is
apparent, but simplicity has been lost." As a result, th "new
B & D system" never caught on in the marketplace.
The 1970s saw two important grading guides make their debut.
The first was Photogade by James F. Ruddy. As the title implies,
Ruddy uses photographs instead of line drawings to show how coins
look in the various circulated grades. Simplicity is also a virture of
Ruddy's book. Only seven circulated grades are listed (about good,
good, very good, fine, very fine, extremely fine, and about
uncirculated), and the designations stop there.
In 1977 the longtime call for the ANA to issue grading standards was
met with the release of Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United
States Coins. Like Brown and Dunn, the first editions of the ANA
guide used line drawings to illustrate coins in various states of wear.
But instead of using adjectival descriptions, the ANA guide adopted
a numerical system for designating grades.
The numerical designations were based on a system used by Dr.
William H. Sheldon in his book Early American Cents, first published
in 1949. He used a scale of 1 to 70 to designate the grades of large
"On this scale," Sheldon wrote, "1 means that the coin is identifiable
and not mutilated--no more than that. A 70-coin is one in flawless
Mint State, exactly as it left the dies, with perfect mint color and
without a blemish or nick."
(Sheldon's scale also had its pragmatic side. At the time, a No.2 large cent was worth about twice a No.1 coin; a No.4 was worth about twice
a No.2, and so on up the scale.).
With the first edition of its grading guide, the ANA adopted the 70-
point scale for grading all U.S. coins. It designated 10 categories of circulated grades: AG-3, G-4, VG-8, F-12, VF-20, VF-30, EF-40,
EF-45, AU-50, and AU-55. The third edition, released in 1987,
replaced the line drawings with photographs, and another circulated
grade was added: AU-58. A fourth edition was released in 1991.
GRADING CIRCULATED U.S. COINS
Dealers today generally use either the ANA guide or Photograde when grading circulated coins for their inventories. (Brown and Dunn is now
out of print.) Many local coin shops sell both books. Advertisers in Numismatic News, Coins, and Coin Prices must indicate which
standard they are using in grading their coins. If the standards are not listed, they must conform to ANA standards.
Following are some general guidelines, accompanied by photos, for
grading circulated U.S coins. Grading even circulated pieces can be subjective, particularly when attempting to draw the fine line between,
for example, AU-55 and AU-58. Two longtime collectors or dealers
can disagree in such a case.
But by studying some combination of the following guidelines, the
ANA guide, and Photograde, and by looking at a lot of coins at shops,
and shows, collectors can gain enough grading knowledge to buy circulated coins confidently from dealers and other collectors. The
more you study, the more knowledge and confidence you will gain.
When you decide which series of coins you want to collect, focus
on the guidelines for that particular series. Read them, reread
them, and then refer back to them again and again.
AU-50 (about uncirculated): Just a slight trace of wear, the result of
brief exposure to circulation or light rubbing from mishandling, may
be evident on the elevated design areas. These imperfections may
appear as scratches or dull spots, along with bag marks or edge
nicks. At least half of the original mint luster generally is still
XF-40 (extremely fine): The coin must show only slight evidence of
wear on the highest points of the design, particularly in the hair lines
of the portrait on the obverse. The same may be said for the eagle's feathers and wreath leaves on the reverse of most U.S. coins. A
trace of mint luster may still show in protected areas of the coin's
VF-20 (very fine): The coin will show light wear at the fine points in
the design, though they may remain sharp overall. Although the
details may be slightly smoothed, all lettering and major features
must remain sharp.
Indian cent: All letters in "Liberty" are complete but worn. Headdress shows considerable flatness, with flat spots on the tips of the feathers.
Lincoln Cent: Hair, cheek, jaw, and bow-tie details will be worn but
clearly separated, and wheat stalks on the reverse will be full with
no weak spots.
Buffalo nickel: High spots on hair braid and cheek will be flat but show some detail, and a full horn will remain on the buffalo.
Jefferson nickel: Well over half of the major hair detail will remain, and
the pillars on Monticello will remain well defined, with the triangular roof
Mercury dime: Hair braid will show some detail, and three-quarters of
the detail will remain in the feathers. The two diagonal bands on the
faces will show completely but will be worn smooth at the middle, with
the vertical lines sharp.
Standing Liberty quarter: Rounded contour of Liberty's right leg will be
flattened, as will the high point of the shield.
Washington Liberty half dollar: All lines of the skirt will show but will be worn on the high points. Over half the feathers on the eagle will show.
Morgon dollar: Two-thirds of the hairlines from the forehead to the ear
must show. Ear should be well defined. Feathers on the eagle's breast may be worn smooth.
Barber coins: All seven letters of "Liberty" on the headband must stand
out sharply. Head wreath will be well outlined from top to bottom.
F-12 (fine): Coins show evidence of moderate to considerable but
generally even wear on all high points, though all elements of the
design and lettering remain bold. Where the word "Liberty" appears
in a headband, it must be fully visible. On 20th century coins, the
rim must be fully raised and sharp.
VG-8 (very good): The coin will show considerable wear, with most
detail points worn nearly smooth. Where the word "Liberty" appears
in a headband, at least three letters must show. On 20th century
coins, the rim will start to merge with the lettering.
G-4 (good): Only the basic design remains distinguishable in outline
form, with all points of detail worn smooth. The word "Liberty" has disappeared, and the rims are almost merging with the lettering.
ABOUT GOOD OR FAIR: The coin will be identifiable by date and mint
but otherwise badly worn, with only parts of the lettering showing.
Such coins are of value only as fillers in a collection until a better
example of the date and mintmark can be obtained. The only
exceptions would be rare coins.
Click HERE TO GO TO Part Five of July 2003 Book Review
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