The Joys of Collecting column from the Sept. 5, 2016, Monthly issue
It was not until 1958 that the first book covering the grading of
all American series was published — A Guide to the Grading of
United States Coins, by M.R. Brown and John W. Dunn. This used
line drawings. By that time, I had been dealing in coins for five
years, and I do not recall any dealer or auction house using it.
The first technical discussion of grading to appear in
Numismatist was in the February 1892 issue and was by Joseph
Hooper. “Coins are graded as to condition, and the following terms
thereto apply,” noted the writer, who then gave a list ordered by
Roman numerals I to XII. For its era it was well thought-out. Simple:
“III. Uncirculated, showing no abrasion or wearing of the reliefs,
scratches, nicks or indentations. A coin may be Uncirculated and yet
not have the sharp impression of the first strike as the dies tire,
widen in sinkages, and lose their sharpness, gradually, in so much
that the later impressions have often been mistaken for die varieties,
more especially where the same dies have done long service for a large
issue.” Dozens of other proposals appeared in print.
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In 1970, Photograde, by James F. Ruddy, was published and
became a sensation. However, it did not go into the divisions within
Later in the 1970s, the American Numismatic Association Certification
Service was created. For a fee, coins of questioned authenticity
could be submitted. If found to be authentic they would be returned
with a suitable photographic certificate without grades.
The next step was for the ANA to set up a process to officially
determine coin grades. Dealer Abe Kosoff, founder of the Professional
Numismatists Guild, surveyed dealers and collectors, Kenneth
Bressett wrote descriptions for grades 1 to 70, including MS-60, -65,
and -70, adapted from the Sheldon system. I wrote the general
narrative. The results, the Official Grading Standards for U.S. Coins,
were published by Whitman in 1977. However, there was a demand for
more Mint State information.
Taking matters into their own hands, dealers and collectors added
intermediate grades such as MS-60++, MS-65+++ MS-65-, and many other
variations, none of which were defined. Among Mint State coins,
grading was wild and woolly.
Finally, on July 4, 1986, the
“This past weekend, the ANA Board of Governors met, debated, and
unanimously accepted the 11 point grading scale—MS-60, 61, 62…70.
Originally intended to discuss the feasibility of the MS-64 grade, the
ANA Governors showed their leadership in the hobby by going the whole
route and accepting all 11 grades. They felt this was a necessary
action for the future as well as today.”
As a logical next step the ANA had gone into the grading business in
1979. Coins sent to Colorado Springs, Colo., were evaluated by a fine
team of in-house experts and were returned with a photographic
certificate listing separate grades for the obverse and reverse.
However, there were too many variables. A price guide would have to
list, for example, MS-63 obverse, MS-65 reverse; MS-63 obverse, MS-64
reverse; and MS-65 obverse, MS-65 reverse. Moreover, for some coins
the obverses graded better than the reverse. It was decided to have
just an “average” single grade. A coin that was 63 on one side and 65
on the other could be called MS-64.
Money poured into ANACS, making the ANA more profitable than ever.
Was it proper for a nonprofit organization to be such? The board of
governors struggled with the issue. In the meantime in the private
sector, various individuals started their own grading services, some
of which were more liberal in the grades assigned. Confusion reigned!