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Ram’s Soap Box

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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.

Numerical Grades

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:
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:
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:
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.



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Very well thought out, and your argument makes complete sense to me.  But youre going to bruise your brain if you keep beating it against the wall.  :-)


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On 9/24/2018 at 9:54 AM, dleonard-3 said:

Very well thought out, and your argument makes complete sense to me.  But you're going to bruise your brain if you keep beating it against the wall.  :-)

I totally agree.  Change is highly unlikely, however your observations are very relevant.

Collectors need to be aware that a single numeric grade that encompasses strike, surface and the ever subjective "eye appeal" is not sufficient by itself to determine value.   You still need to look at these and other aspects separately.  It's nice that NGC Ancients will do some of that for you, but there are now literally millions of PCGS, ANACS and NGC graded coins on the market, so the Sheldon 70 point grading system will be with us for a long time to come.  Even if you could magically switch to a new grading system starting today, you would still need to define equivalences between the new and old systems.

The numeric grades as defined by NGC are VERY general and cannot be applied equally to all coins.  I would highly recommend purchasing a copy of The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins edited by Kenneth Bressett.  This book goes into great detail about each numeric grade and all of the elements that go into determining a generic numeric grade.  It then applies those principles to all of the U.S. circulating coinage from half cents through $20 gold pieces.  All descriptions are also accompanied by full color photos.

One very important aspect that you did not mention in your definition of Strike is die state. A well struck coin from a fresh set of dies is much more appealing (and potentially more valuable) than and an equally well struck coin from highly deteriorated dies, yet by your definition, each should receive exactly the same numeric value for strike.  Of course you could always add yet another number to indicate die state. ;)

Ultimately, I think people like a single number.  It certainly isn't perfect, but it does give you a general idea of what to expect and it provides a starting point for making comparisons.

Edited by coin928

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Hello Coin928

Yes I have a copy of the ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins edited by Kenneth Bressett which I believe is a must have for in every numismatic library. I also owned a copy of Penny Whimsy by Dr. William Sheldon. And Dr. Sheldon never ever developed a grading system never mind a 70 point grading system that will be with us for a long time to come. Dr. Sheldon developed a methodology for pricing Early American Large Cents. This determination of a large cent’s value involved a few steps. First the value for every large cent would have to be developed in its Basel State (this is the lowest state of preservation in which you could still identify the Sheldon variety). Once these values are established you would then tell Dr. Sheldon the date of the large cent, its Sheldon number (or possibly he would determine it for you) and its adjectival grade (Good, VG, F, VF etc.). Dr. Sheldon would then find the Basel State value for that coin and multiply it by the value multiplier for the stated adjectival grade and determine the coin’s value. These value multipliers are what you and almost everyone else call the Sheldon grades. The value multiplier for Good was 4, VG =8 and so on. If you asked Dr. Sheldon to grade a coin he would have given you the appropriate adjectival grade based on the standards in use at the time and not a number.

Right now I accept that the NGC graders can competently Grade Surface and Strike according to the definitions defined at their web site all I am saying is it totally illogical to defend the argument that a strike for an MS 67 must have a surface that corresponds to an MS67. There is NO correlation between Strike and Surface. So if the NGC can in fact score strike and surface according to their own guidelines as I believe they can then simply grade the coin UNC and present the strike and surface scores determine by the graders – there is no extra work involve since it is something they have to do for every UNC coin (MS or Proof) they grade.

So all I am doing is asking for the grade to be broken down into its component values. This is not a new system in that I willing accept the standards used to determine grades but by presenting the information related to the components that makeup that grade you are providing the collector more info on what the collector is really getting.

I agree that worn dies can produce some ugly looking coins but NGC ancients has found a way of addressing such conditions (They add notes to the label for such a case it could be “Worn Dies”).

Look it NGC already says as part of grading any Uncirculated business strike or proof they score strike and surface. I personally want as much info as possible so I want that info that NGC generates before assigning a numerical designation. I know when I purchase ancients I will purchase a specimen with a strike of 5/5 and a surface 4/5 over one with a strike 4/5 and surface 5/5. With these two cases being so close together I prefer a bolder strike. Blending this info to a single number I feel cheats the collector of meaning information. Also I would never purchase either a MS or circulated ancient with either a surface or strike score below a 3/5. For me the scores defining condition related issues is just as important if not more important in some cases than the grade.

If people could so readily accept a grading system that never existed (the so called Sheldon Grading System) why do you believe they could not accept the same info developed for that system in a form that simply provides the collector more information?

My best regards

Edited by RAM-VT

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Since you invaded what I consider my very private space I will tell you how I feel about your ranting on grading. To give you some background I to have been collecting

for 50 years. You and I have one thing in common we had to learn how to grade on our own because it was a matter of survival. The problem I have with what you are asking

is the complication of the subject. NGC and PCGS have brought some sense of order to a hobby that was in total chaos. Is their system perfect? No. Will it ever be? Probably not.

One of the most important things that these two companies have done is to get the collectors hands off of the coins and protect them in holders. More collectable coins have been

ruined by unknowledgeable collectors than anything else. The other thing that makes what they do so great is a platform from which you and I can easily tell our grandchildren

about coin collecting. Hands on is a thing that children require, and the coins are protected thru the whole collecting story.

To me these things have at least equal value to grading. I am afraid what you want will confuse the heck out anyone looking at the possibility of collecting coins.

Where do you stop your system. If there is a surface blemish do you add a 1 to 10 score to that and then raise or lower the score of the surface by a .1, .5, .9, etc.?

And what about  "EYE APPEAL"?  How are you going to put a 1 to 10 number on that baby. And don't tell me it is not part of grading. I have seen MS 66 coins with 

such bad toning that you can't even see the design. Coins I would not take as a gift. Another thing about grading that is so very hard to deal with is the fact that

individual collectors see differently from each other for many reasons. Just like you and I do. Lets not take a great thing and turn it into what it took away. CONFUSION!

The Swiss Knight, ME


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Hello Swiss Knight (Cool moniker)

First I agree with you on the benefit provided by the holders used by the third party grading companies. I have accidentally damaged way to many coins by simply dropping them or dropping something onto them. In some of my early posts you will see I have nothing but praises for these holders.

As for your other comments I see you creating mountains where I don’t even see a mole hill.

As for the extraneous comments about eye appeal, toning and blemishes you must have missed where I said NGC should keep doing what they are doing now.

What I am against is NGC’s combining strike and surface conditions (which have nothing to do with grade or post production wear) to determine grade and the extremely naive assumption that a coin with a great strike must have a corresponding great surface as implied by their very own grading standards when there is absolutely no correlation between these two condition factors. Simply I want NGC to stop melding these condition factors and blending them into the grade. Simply condition and grade are totally separate and should be reported separately.

This resistance to change and insisting that current practice is good enough reminds me of a presentation I was part of at a symposium many-many years ago. The purpose was to present new technologies that would provide an approach to the current method of addressing an industry problem. The lead off speaker represented the leader in providing the existing technology and his argument was unique. He started off by showing the outside of some research center in Russia with a motto carved in granite (in Russian) above the entry doorway. We were told it translated to something like “Better is the enemy of good enough.” In other words, if it works don’t waste your time trying to make it better. This approach may explain why the U.S. defeated the Russians in the cold war. With this approach we had no justification to improve on the Model T Ford, countries developing the bullet train when we had proven steam locomotives, and why replace the land line telephone or get rid of vacuum tubes for transistors? In the late 1960’s my mother had breast cancer and had to have both breast removed. Thank god doctors did not maintain the concept that mastectomies work so don’t look for something better. Unlike Russia, in America it is not part of our nature to say “oh it is good enough.” If we can do better, we do better.

Best regards


Edited by RAM-VT

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