Collector’s Edge

Posted on 9/10/2019

Don’t always dismiss “Details” graded coins.

Q: I sent in all of my US type coins for grading and encapsulation, but a few came back with grades reading "UNC Details - Cleaned." I never clean any of my coins, and I try to avoid ones that look like they've been cleaned. What do I do now?

A: Collectors are frequently surprised when their prized coins submitted for certification fail to receive a numeric grade, but this is not the end of the world. Most 18th and 19th Century United States coins have been cleaned at one time or another, and it's only in recent decades that such pieces have been penalized in the marketplace. In fact, some of the great collections formed prior to the advent of certified/encapsulated grading in the 1980s included many such pieces. Their owners were either oblivious to the cleaning or did not find it offensive. During the past 30 years, we've become a bit sensitive on the subject and are too quick to dismiss a lightly cleaned coin as unsuitable.

There's a broad range of appeal within coins found to have been "Cleaned." Some are absolutely hideous, with blazingly bright surfaces on a well-worn coin that could not possibly have mint luster. Others were moderately cleaned many years ago and have since retoned inside a coin album or envelope. Some of these coins do get certified with numeric grades, provided that their current surfaces are considered market acceptable by the commercial grading services. Finally, there are coins which are so close to being problem-free that their owners are truly perplexed when they're returned with non-numeric grades. Obviously, the range of values for all of these coins are as broad as their respective levels of eye appeal.

This 1859(P) dime was certified by NGC as "UNC Details - Cleaned,"
yet it remains quite attractive to the eye and could represent a good value to the collector.
Click images to enlarge.

Coins that make one look two or three times in an attempt to see what the graders called Cleaned can oftentimes present a very good value to collectors. This writer owns several such pieces and is in no rush to replace them. For example, one of the coins I take with me when teaching at the ANA's Summer Seminar is a beautiful 1831 quarter dollar certified as simply UNC. I acquired it already so labeled, and I paid a price that reflects its non-numeric grade, but the area of cleaning is just a small portion of the overall design. The coin is superbly struck and fully lustrous, while splendid toning essentially hides the cleaned patch. Given these qualities, it possesses the eye appeal of a piece grading MS 64 or so, yet it cost but a fraction of the value for MS 64.

The lesson here is that not all Details-graded coins are equal. Some are eye sores, and others are quite appealing, while most fall between these extremes. It's this very reason that prevents grading services from assigning values to Details coins within their price guides. It's up to the collector to determine the desirability of such a coin and pay accordingly. Of course, if a coin was acquired with the belief that it would receive a numeric grade, this may be little consolation.

Collectors may limit themselves to buying only coins already certified with numeric grades, but an alternative is to take classes in grading offered by the ANA. This will assist them in knowing what hidden traps to avoid when purchasing uncertified coins.

Related link
NGC Details Grading

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