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Looking Back on my 70 years of coin collecting



A Supplement to Chapter 3 Grading

Look it I can talk forever on the subject of grading mainly because I have some very strong feelings on the subject. This may due to my age and a belligerent nature that I have developed on topics I feel strongly about over my years in this hobby. So now I am going to tell you how I really feel about grading.

First let’s get one thing perfectly straight and that is everyone has biases. These biases influence our perception when we must interpret things like standards for grading. I had a political science professor that on the first day of class said “history is as perceived by the historians.” What he was saying was that there is no one real history. Political scientists tend to prefer historical accounts of events that support their perceptions. To give just one example I had always believed that FDR should have impeached for trying to stack (a term used within the FDR White House) the Supreme Court. Then one day listening to an interview with a political science professor on Vermont Public radio this very subject was addressed. The professor took issue with the term "stacking the court" and this was not FDR’s intent and that he totally dropped the issue once congress refused to support his plan. I said well I guess I was wrong and continue to listen to the interview. Then a few months later a documentary on FRD on the history channel again addressed this issue. It was pointed out that the action of congress to not support FRD in his attempt to stack the Supreme Court so upset FDR that in the very next election he spent all his remaining political capital (which evidently wasn’t that much) to defeat the twelve that voted against his plan. Only one of those twelve lost reelection. That is when FDR gave up on his plan to stack the Supreme Court. Two totally different accounts of one relatively recent event in American History. Which one is true? I depends on your personal bias or perception of FDR.

What makes a good grader? As far as I am concerned what makes a good grader is reparation – reparation – reparation – reparation. From my days when I was routinely buying coins to acquire stock for coin shows I would go to local coin auctions and grade every coin up for sale and when at coin shows I would grade coins (to myself) of the other dealers. All this took place before third party grading took off. I knew I made it when a friend of mine that owned a coin shop in Rockville, MD would ask my opinion. Do I ever disagree with a grade I get back from a third party grader? Yes yet I accept it (I yield to overwhelming experience). I expect these professional graders grade more coins in a week than most collectors see in a year (in some cases years). This also goes for small time dealers. Well established coin dealers with high inventory throughput rates should also have excellent grading skills. Simply looking at a dozen or so coins a week just isn’t going to cut it. There are more than 15 grades between AG & AU-58 and 11 grades of UNC. At 12 random coins a week how long would it take the average collector to examine one coin of each type in each grade?

The key grading tool related to grading is a well-established grading standard. When I started there was Brown & Dunn which used drawings to define the basic grades. Then came James Ruddy with Photograde (I still have my well-worn copy held together with Duct Tape) and this was followed by the ANA Grading Standards. Now to show a bias I had, I would buy coins using Brown & Dunn and sell coins using Photograde. Old timers wouldn’t think twice when someone checked their Brown & Dunn when assigning a grade. And Photograde was such an instant hit that no one questioned you when you handed them your Photograde to check grade. So yes I perceived a difference in accepted standards whether it was real or not. All I know is I made money in my sales. Today the major third party grading firms have reference collections something dealers and collectors don’t have.

Do we now have acceptable/workable grading system? In my opinion the answer is not simply no, but HELL NO. I addressed this issue in my first Chapter 3 post. I am totally against the single designator grading system whether this designator be a number or an adjectival grade. First in grades above AU-58 it assumes that strike issues and surface condition issue exist in comparable relationship. For example using NGS grading standards:

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.

MS/PF65 - Well struck with moderate marks or hairlines.

MS/PF64 - Average or better strike with several obvious marks or hairlines and other miniscule imperfections.

MS/PF63 - Slightly weak or average strike with moderate abrasions and hairlines of varying sizes.

Why can’t you have and MS-68 Strike and an MS-64 surface? I am sorry this is really not an ideal fantasy world. In the real world nature would not allow this assumed perfect relationship.

Second in grades below MS-60 it ignores strike and issues that can affect the coins overall appearance/desirability. NGC’s grading standards for circulated grades does not address variances in strike and surface conditions? In coins from the mid-1800’s on up to present day this should be relatively negligible but just like with Mint State coins they are there and in earlier coins one would definitely expect to find circulated coins with variations in strike and surface on coins from all around the world.

And talk about interpretation of a standard we have well struck, very well struck, sharply struck, very sharply struck and fully struck we have similar word play with imperfection and marks. In this case we cannot eliminate the possibility for different interpretations for such guidance. Here is where we must rely on the experience resulting from reparation – reparation – reparation – reparation.

For me the perfect grading system would be based on that used by NGC’s ancient department, however, modified to address modern strikes. In this case every coin would be graded for wear with all truly uncirculated MS & Proof coins being graded 60 and then Strike and Surface being individually scored 1 through 10 or whatever scale you choose (ancients use 1 through 5). Similarly circulated coins would be graded e.g., XF-45 Strike 6/10 Surface 8/10. Wear is defined by XF-45, Strike is defined by 6/10 and Surface is defined by 8/10. Maybe circulated coins could use the 1 through 5 range used by NGC’s ancient department.

Best regards




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