Cabinet friction is not a term you hear much anymore.
For decades it conjured images of the slightest, almost
imperceptible rub caused by bluebloods sliding rarities across the
velvet lining of their handmade coin cabinets.
The phrase was a way to turn an ever-so-slightly circulated coin
into an Uncirculated one. And it acknowledged, in its own way, a truth
that has largely been forgotten — the best circulated coins are better
than the worst Uncirculated ones.
For the most part, the term “cabinet friction” disappeared with
the rise of the 70-point grading scale. A coin with cabinet friction
can now be an About Uncirculated 58 coin. In the cold logic of a
numeric scale 58 is always less than 60. In every price guide AU-58
coins are priced less — sometimes much less — than Mint State 60 pieces.
The rub, so to speak, is that almost every collector would pick a
raw AU-58 coin over a raw MS-60 coin, especially if he wasn’t using a
40-power glass. The best AU-58 coins are MS-65 coins with a brush of
What should their value be? Is that bit of wear such a grievous
thing that an AU-58 coin is worth less than a baggy, blotchy coin that
is technically Uncirculated?
The fashion now is that the AU-58 coin is worth less. But fashion
changes, and old collections are littered with once desirable coins
that now merit only body bags.
Remember “blast white”? From the 1960s through the 1980s, dealers
pushed “blast white” silver coins. And while a blast white coin is
beautiful, dealers sold thousands more than ever existed.
Thirty-year-old, blast-white coins submitted to grading services
often come back in body bags or in a genuine holder with a
Professional Coin Grading Service .92 — cleaned — designation. The
price of these once desirable pieces is a fraction of that of
In April, Heritage Auctions sold an 1885-CC Morgan dollar with a
PCGS Genuine .92 designation for $580.75, about the value of a Very
Fine 20 coin. Photos show a coin that would otherwise grade MS-63 or
better. Coin Values shows the same coin in MS-63 at $800.
Collectors who bought into the “blast white” fashion years ago are
paying the price now.
A few collectors are rejecting the tyranny of wear-based pricing
and seeking out AU-58 coins. If you look at auction listings you’ll
see a flash in the pan now and then when an AU-58 coin breaks out.
At the same April sale, a PCGS AU-58 1817 Coronet, 13 Star cent
with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker sold for $920,
substantially more than the value given in the hobby’s price guides.
It sold for MS-63 money.
Nice AU-58 coins are rare and beautiful. I think they will
eventually be priced accordingly. What do you think?
Gerald Tebben is editor of the Central States Numismatic