Eye on Grading - Understanding and Recognizing a Star

Posted on 4/2/2002

How do the professional graders at NGC make the determination as to whether or not a coin qualifies for the star ()?

It is apparent that some coins of a particular grade are far more attractive than others of the same grade. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind NGC’s star () designation. NGC defines its star designated coins as those that have exceptional eye appeal. The coin itself could fall anywhere within the grade it is assigned, IE: if it were an MS 64 it could be at the lower end, mid-range or higher end of that grade.

Let me add that a star designated coin should not be thought of in the same way one would think of a “PQ” (Premium Quality) coin. When I think of a PQ coin, one that just misses the next grade immediately comes to mind. That coin may or may not have exceptional eye appeal. That is not what NGC star designated coins are all about.

Now for the logical question: How do the professional graders at NGC make the determination as to whether or not a coin qualifies for the star? Star designated coins can be either untoned (often referred to as “white” in some issues) or toned. In order for an untoned coin to qualify it must have full vibrant luster and be free of any distracting planchet irregularities, as well as distracting spots or blemishes. You may think this doesn’t narrow it down a great deal. When this definition is strictly adhered to it most certainly does narrow the field, as evidenced by the fact that NGC currently has designated far less than one percent of the eligible coins as being of star quality.

Making the determination on a toned coin is bit more complex and subjective. In order for a toned coin to receive a star designation it must first be considered attractively toned without objection from the graders who inspect it. Plain and simple, if there is a single objection to a particular coin receiving a star designation upon quality control inspection, it loses the star. It also must have full luster to the extent that the toning does not impede the luster. Furthermore, it must be free of any obvious planchet irregularities and be free of any distracting spots or blemishes. The toning color can be of a single color or multicolored but cannot have any areas that are dark brown approaching black.

In applying star designations to applicable proof coins, all of the above criteria apply for toned coins. Untoned coins, however, must meet one of the additional criteria outlined below to qualify:

  • They display cameo or ultra cameo contrast on the obverse only.
  • Coins that do not qualify for cameo but which display cameo contrast on both the obverse and reverse that falls just short of NGC’s minimum standard for cameo may receive a star. (Coins that display only a subtle contrast will not receive a star or a cameo designation.)
  • They qualify for the cameo designation and, in addition, have an ultra cameo obverse.
  • They qualify for the ultra cameo designation and, in addition, exhibit exceptionally intense contrast between devices and fields on both the obverse and reverse that exceeds by a generous margin that of the normal ultra cameo standard.

All eligible coins submitted to NGC are automatically reviewed for star designation at no additional charge. Coins already certified by NGC can be reviewed for star designation at a fee of $10 per coin and must be submitted under NGC’s Designation Review service. NGC will continue to expand the eligible coin types for this designation. Stay tuned!

Finally, I leave you with a complete and current listing of the coins that NGC is now reviewing for the prestigious star designation:

  • Jefferson Nickels, mint state
  • Roosevelt Dimes, mint state
  • Washington Quarters, mint state
  • Statehood Quarters, mint state
  • Franklin Halves, mint state and proof
  • Kennedy Halves, mint state
  • Morgan Dollars, mint state
  • Peace Dollars, mint state
  • Eisenhower Dollars, mint state
  • Anthony Dollars, mint state
  • Sacagawea Dollars, mint state
  • All U.S. proof coins from 1936 to 1978
  • Silver Commemoratives 1892-1954

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