Learn Grading: What Are Full Bands and Full Torch?
Nothing new here, I am back to my pet peeve – silly grading standards. You can go onto reading other posts – this is my pet peeve and I am going to continue with such posts until someone can provide a convincing argument on why what NGC is doing is superior to my approach.
I will be referring to the NGC article with the above address so I suggest you bring it up.
All U.S. coins above AU-58 are graded using a standard that magically combines strike and surface conditions. I want to discuss this concept. First let me just briefly touch on what can affect strike and surface.
Strike – The physical setup of the presses, installation of the dies and collars as well as slight variations in the dimensions of the planchet can all play some part in the quality of the strike produced. Once the dies start to separate in the process of converting a blank planchet into a newly minted coin the quality of the coin’s strike is forever defined. Things can happen to the coin that affect the condition of its surface but not the quality of its strike. Minor imperfection from post production handling cannot hide the quality of the original strike even scratches do not hide the quality of strike. Yes one could say if hit by a hammer the quality of the original strike would be obscured but so would all the features need to define a grade and score for both the strike and surface. In just such cases the determination would have to read “Physically Damaged Coin” no grade determination is possible.
Surface – The condition of a coins surface immediately following the completion of the strike to the day it is forever removed from circulation is continuously changing if for no other reason due to chemical contaminants in the air. There are also changes due to physical contact with mint equipment, bagging, counting, transport and activities related to getting the coins to the bank and into the hands of the collector. Once in circulation the surface changes due to wear and physical damage.
Please look the NGC definition for the grades MS-66 to MS-70 which I present below.
MS/PF70 A coin with no post-production imperfections at 5x magnification.
MS/PF69 A fully struck coin with nearly imperceptible imperfections.
MS/PF68 Very sharply struck with only miniscule imperfections.
MS/PF67 Sharply struck with only a few imperfections.
MS/PF66 Very well struck with minimal marks and hairlines
First for the grade MS/PF70 Strike is not discussed because the strike for a MS/PF69 is defined as being “A fully struck coin.” How can one improve upon the strike required for an MS/PF69. As such it appears MS/PF69 is as high a strike can be graded or as I prefer scored, besides it appears surface conditions is what controls the determination of whether or not a coin can be graded 70.
The following discussion relates to the NGC article specifies above and I refer specifically to the coins shown in that article. The first photo shows a 1935S Mercury Dime graded MS67+ and a 1917 Mercury Dime graded MS67+ FB. When you use the option to enlarge the photos it is obvious that the quality of the strikes are significantly different with the bands on the 1917 dime being fully struck up to the point that all the detail related to the bands is there while the 1935S dime has noticeable details related to the bands of the fasces missing, yet NGC gives both coins the same grade MS67+, by grade definition both are defined as being sharply struck even though one has flatness in the design features where the other does not!!!! Come on, what the heck kind of grading system is this? But the best is to come.
The other photo shows a 1988D Roosevelt Dime graded MS67 and a 1984P Roosevelt Dime graded MS66 FT. These coins confuse the heck out of me. First the strike of the 1984P FT is defined as very well struck while the center design devices from the torch’s flame to the bands on the torch are boldly struck just like those on the Mercury dime. To say the least definitely superior to those same features on the 1988D whose strike is defined as Sharply Stroke one notch above “very well struck.” Here is where things get tricky. Is this a weighted grade? That is, is it an average of the entire obverse strike with the entire reverse strike? In the case of the Roosevelt dime there are three components that make up the design elements on the reverse of the dime. These are the Olive Branch, the Oak Branch and between them the torch with flame. On the MS67 the strike of the Olive & Oak branches is much better than the strike for these design features on the 84P dime with a FT designation. To put a major premium on this coin only because 1/3 of its reverse has a full strike is totally stupid while the rest of the strike is definitely inferior to the MS67.
The concept to blend strike and surface condition to come up with a single grade is just stupid. I continue to insist NGC should grade all coins the way they do ancients. That is a grade for wear, a score for surface and a score for strike. All UNC. Mint state and Proof coins would get a grade of 60 simply it is either uncirculated or it isn’t. Then the strike would be scored 1 through 10 and the surface would be scored 1 through 10. This way the 1984P dime might have actually graded MS60 FT, Strike 6 and Surface whatever, this approach would tell the buyer that even though it has a full torch the overall strike is just slightly above "about average" (what I would call a score of 5/10) with a bold torch but some weakness in the overall strike. In this way the buyer can determine how much, in the buyer’s opinion, that premium should be, if any. To be honest I don’t think every collector would pay big bucks for a full torch with a strike of 6 when FT dimes with strikes of 7, 8 or possibly 9 exist.
Also how does the NGC system address a coin with a strike of 7 and a surface of 4? Don’t say they don’t exist. Simply it is stupid to think that strike and surface would always have a comparable score. Strike is the result of the minting process and Surface is the result of what happens after the coin is minted and simply these two factors have no relationship to one another.
Although I keep insisting that NGC should use the same approach to grading used by the NGC Ancient Department, it appears that the NGC Ancient Department has lost its way with respect to grading Mint State coins. Rather than just use the designation UNC or Mint State the ancients department has embraced the following terms used by NGC:
MS = Mint State/UNC = equivalent to the grades:
60 Weak or average strike with no trace of wear. Numerous abrasions, hairlines and/or large marks.
61 Weak or average strike with no trace of wear. More marks and/or multiple large abrasions.
62 Slightly weak or average strike with no trace of wear. More or larger abrasions than an MS/PF 63
Ch MS = Choice Mint State/UNC = equivalent to the grades:
63 Slightly weak or average strike with moderate abrasions and hairlines of varying sizes.
64 Average or better strike with several obvious marks or hairlines and other minuscule imperfections
Gem MS = Gem Mint State/UNC = equivalent to the grades:
65 Well struck with moderate marks or hairlines.
66 Very well struck with minimal marks and hairlines
67 Sharply struck with only a few imperfections.
68 Very sharply struck with only minuscule imperfections.
69 A fully struck coin with nearly imperceptible imperfections.
70 A coin with no post-production imperfections at 5x magnification.
Do you see the problem here?
The terms MS, Ch MS & Gem MS are defined as being equivalent to the indicated NGC grades and these grades are defined by distinct conditions related to both strike and surface. So how is it possible for NGC ancient to score an MS ancient with either a strike or surface as a 4 or 5 (which many are) if by definition of these characteristics are typically weak and at very best average? The same goes for Ch MS and all Gem MS ancients must score at least 4 for both strike and surface.
One thing is NGC Ancient may want to score MS state ancients on a scale of 1 to 10. However at a minimum NGC Ancients must define the designations MS, Ch MS & Gem MS (if they insist on using this approach) by using terms that in no way relate to the coin’s strike or surface conditions as the current definitions do since NGC Ancients already scores these features independently.
I am not trying to give the NGC Ancient Department hard time. I was and still am super pleased when NGC Ancients decided to move from the 18th century and almost totally move into the 21st century by recognizing that grade and strike & surface are not related and must be addressed separately. NGC Ancient fell short only when they decided to force their grading of Mint State ancients to look like all the other grading done at NGC rather than accepting that they are the standard against which all other approaches to grading should be compared.
By the way there is no need for Ch. MS or Gem MS, to a great extent Ch MS should be implied when one gets a high score for both Strike & Surface. This would be stronger if for Mint State coins the scoring for strike and surface was increased to 1-10 from 1-5. And there is no better way to imply a gem specimen then to assign the coin the highest scores (8 to 10 or 9 to 10) for strike and surface as well as designating it as having both eye appeal and Fine Style.