The Mystery of No Grades

Posted on 7/19/2012

Common causes for “no grades” were cleaning, artificial toning, scratches, environmental damage and repair (or damage) to the submitted coins.

Anyone who has submitted coins to NGC for grading knows that one of the most disappointing feelings is getting back what are commonly referred to as “no grades” or coins that were not graded. In the past, any coin that did not meet the standards for encapsulation was sent back to the submitter in a poly sleeve inserted in a plastic flip. Over the years, these became known as “body bags” in the trade. Receiving them was dreaded by anyone who had just paid good money to have the coin graded. Amateurs weren’t the only ones getting “body bags.” Many of the most experienced dealers also received coins back that were deemed as “no grades.” Common causes for “no grades” were cleaning, artificial toning, scratches, environmental damage and repair (or damage) to the submitted coins. These all seem to be reasonable causes for not holdering a coin, but many of these issues are easily overlooked by submitters (amateurs and pros alike) which results in paying grading fees and receiving your coin(s) back in “body bags.”

Thankfully, several years ago, NGC began to holder coins that did not meet the minimum standards due to one or more of the problems mentioned above. “Problem” coins would now be Details Graded, with the offending problem mentioned on the holder. This would allow expensive, or otherwise collectible coins to be certified as genuine but graded for Details purposes.

To be clear, this does not mean “net grading.” that term refers to a standard where all problems are taken into account resulting in a “net grade” for the coin. An example would be an 1844–D Half Eagle that has partial luster and enough details for a grade of AU 50, but because of excessive bag marks, the coin has been net graded as Extremely Fine 45. Not all coins can be net graded because the offending problem(s) could be relatively minor at first glance. An example might be a 1907 High Relief graded MS 60 because of light hairlines, but at first glance might look like a cinch MS 63. Consumers could easily be confused by this, thinking the coin was very under–graded. To resolve this, Mint State coins with Details Grading are limited to the term “Uncirculated.” Details Grading is best defined as the grade the coin would achieve without the problem that has been indentified.

One of the most common questions I am asked about coins that have been Details Graded is how to determine value. This can be very difficult because every coin is different. The degree of cleaning or other impairments can vary from light to very harsh. In general, the value of a Details Graded coin is usually set at least one grade lower but sometimes two. The purpose of the Details Grading is to have a coin in a holder so that it is guaranteed genuine and will still fit in with other certified coins in a collection. For many collectors, an impaired coin is often the only affordable way to purchase many of the “key” issues of a series. For the best advice on the value of these types of coins, you should consult a professional numismatist. Another suggestion is to compare actual auction records to photographs of similarly described impaired coins that have sold in recent years.

Not all coins are eligible for Details Grading. NGC will not holder coins that have material applied to the surfaces. This includes coins that are deemed to have questionable toning, environmental damage or traces of PVC on the surfaces. Issues such as PVC can become worse over time. When sealed in an airtight holder, it could make the situation worse. These coins can sometimes be professionally conserved and then become eligible for NGC grading. Artificial or questionable toning is an issue that is among the most perplexing for some submitters. Keep in mind that NGC makes every effort to ensure that coins they encapsulate are original and not the result of some coin doctor’s lab experiments. Remember, for every coin NGC grades, they risk their reputation and sometimes place hundreds of thousands of dollars on–the–line for a $100 grading fee! If color, toning or surfaces come into question, NGC has no choice but to err on the side of safety. This is for their protection and the many buyers who purchase NGC products in the future. Unfortunately, some coins that you know came from an original source will sometimes be sent back as “no grade.” For expensive coins, consultation with the professional conservators at Numismatic Conservation Services (NCS) can bring clarity to the coin in question. Perhaps the offending surface issues can be removed and the coin certified.

Another big mystery for many submitters is the very common “Improperly Cleaned” designation. I’m not sure of the percentage of coins that receive this designation, but it is not insignificant. “Improperly Cleaned” does not mean a coin that was dipped in dirty Jewel Luster. NGC generally uses this term to describe mechanical cleaning issues. Mechanical cleaning usually means the presence of hairlines that are the result of harsh cleaning. Imagine the results of using a scouring pad on your 1881–S Morgan Dollar. Pencil erasers are also a very common tool of numismatic destruction. Coin conservation has progressed light years in the last few decades. Many years ago coins needed to be bright and shiny for those new to the hobby. Dealers sometimes complied with these wishes by using very harsh cleaning methods. Just to be clear for those who might be wondering, Improperly Cleaned does not mean the coin can be certified after it has been conserved or cleaned properly. In many, if not most cases, the cleaning damage is permanent and irreversible.

The NGC website has a tremendous amount of information on the subject of what coins they will holder and the possible results. Many of the terms mentioned above are explained in detail. For non-professionals it is always beneficial to have an expert review your coins before they are submitted to NGC for grading. This pre–screening process can save you the cost of grading fees and considerable frustration if it is obvious your coins will not be graded. Most dealers gladly offer this advice for little or no charge unless you intend to submit a very large numbers of coins. Over the years, I have saved customers thousands of dollars in grading fees who had no idea that many of the coins they wanted to submit would come back either uncertified or Details Graded. Again, the services of a competent numismatic mentor can be a collector’s greatest asset. Hopefully, this tricky subject is now a bit clearer and the next time you get coins back from NGC you won’t be as dismayed when you receive a few NO GRADES!

Jeff Garrett bio

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the NGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add Coin

Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to NGC Coin Registry Example
The NGC Registry is not endorsed by or associated with PCGS or CAC. PCGS is a registered trademark of Collectors Universe, Inc. CAC is a trademark of Certified Acceptance Corporation.