So You Want to be a Coin Grader?

Posted by John Maben on 7/1/2003

I believe that the best way to shed light on how one can become a professional coin grader is to share my personal experiences with you; taking you back in time and working our way to the present.

I believe that the best way to shed light on how one can become a professional coin grader is to share my personal experiences with you; taking you back in time and working our way to the present. While other graders’ stories may be quite different, I believe the best of us all share similar levels of experience and dedication to our field.

When you think of what it would be like to be a professional coin grader, visions of numismatic bliss and leisurely days spent enjoying what we all love so much might immediately come to mind! What could be greater than to look at so many different coins, many of which are so exceedingly rare that it is unlikely even the most traveled numismatist would encounter one in a lifetime? The very thought of being paid handsomely to do what you might otherwise do just for pleasure is enough to make you giddy. How wonderful it must be to work along side of other professionals who possess a wealth of numismatic knowledge that is almost beyond comprehension for the average collector.

The year was 1978, and while a senior in high school I began working part-time in the local coin and stamp shop. Located in suburban Philadelphia, it was in a tacky farmers’ market of sorts, appropriately named the “Bazaar” of all Nations, and said to be one of the original indoor shopping malls in the country. As an adolescent and younger teen I collected stamps. My father worked at the main post office in Center City and would occasionally surprise me with various plate blocks and first-day covers. I enjoyed keeping them neatly organized in binders. My mother worked in a luncheonette where she would occasionally be given a Peace Dollar, a 1921 Morgan Dollar or a Franklin Half Dollar for payment and the owner would allow her to buy those at face value. A couple of times a year she would bring home a tall glass sugar (long before sugar was evil) jar full of these coins. Our family would dump them out, and with Redbook in hand, we would commence assessing our newly found fortune.

Upon graduation from high school I attended college briefly but decided it wasn’t for me. I, instead, pursued what seemed like a fantastic opportunity in the coin and stamp business. My sister’s husband was an owner of a coin shop and he seemed to be doing quite well so I figured I could too. I quickly realized that, while stamps may have been my first love, the money (no pun intended) was in coins. I shifted my focus to learning as much about coins as possible and, more specifically, about the grading of coins. I recognized early on that the better one could grade, the greater the earning potential. I had two excellent teachers, Steve Paradisi and Frank Greenberg, both of whom are still in the business today.

Now a full-time rookie employee, I thought nothing of the 9am-9pm hours that I worked, 6 days per week and Sunday until 5pm. After all, $150 per week was nothing to sneeze at! This schedule lasted a couple of years and it was during this time period that I gained my base knowledge upon which I continue building to this day. My hours became a bit more reasonable around the time we moved the coin shop out of the mall and into a strip shopping center in a bit more upscale area. This was a pivotal point for me as it also marked the beginning of the legendary gold and silver and rare coin “boom” that ensued as a direct result. It was now that I’d be given more responsibility and opportunity to grow. More