NGC Grading: What Are “Wheel Marks”?

Posted on 1/20/2015

Wheel marks are most often seen on 20th-century silver and are easily missed by the inexperienced eye.

Wheel marks are a concentrated area of hairlines that are caused by the rubber wheels in coin counting machines. When there is insufficient spacing between them, the wheels can essentially polish a small portion of the surface of the coin. These wheel marks are most often seen on 20th century silver such as Mercury and Roosevelt dimes as well as silver Washington quarters since these are the types of coins that you would most expect to be run through counting machines by dealers.

While they are easily spotted by an experienced coin grader, they can be quite difficult for those who don’t know what they are looking for to see. Below are some examples of wheel marks on Washington quarters.

Photographed in normal lighting, this 1954 Washington Quarter looks
completely normal aside from the small die break on the eagle’s wing.
Click images to enlarge.

This is the same coin turned perpendicular
to the light. You can see the large
wheel mark across the eagle.
Click image to enlarge.

This 1957 Washington Quarter also looks pretty nice with a regular image.
Click image to enlarge.

This is a picture of the same 1957 Quarter
(note the reed mark by the ear)
with a slightly lower angle on the lighting.
Now the wheel mark across the face stands out like a sore thumb.
Click image to enlarge.

As you can see, they are very hard to spot in online images with normal lighting. The wheel marks must be perpendicular to the light source to stand out. This is why it is essential to rotate coins while grading.

If you are still having trouble seeing a wheel mark, it can also be helpful to pull the coins a bit out of the light as that can help accentuate the hairlines. This reduces the angle at which the light hits the coin, causing the damage to stand out more prominently as shown in the second photo of the 1957 quarter above.

Coins with wheel marks are not eligible for NGC numeric grading and will receive an NGC Details grade along with the “Obverse Wheel Mark” or “Reverse Wheel Mark” notation.

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