With so many grades and so much inconsistency in grading, what is a collector to do?

The Joys of Collecting: Do what the specialists do, compare lots of coins and cherrypick
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 09/13/16
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The Joys of Collecting column from the Sept. 26, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

The American Numismatic Association grading standards lists Mint State grades from 60 to 70, plus in recent times, 10 more + grades from 60 to 69, giving 21 grades in all. These are not defined either in writing or in photographs, and no person can consistently grade coins in this area.

Moreover, it is a game to resub­mit coins to get upgrades. Many coins graded MS-63 and -64 20 years ago are MS-65 and -66 now.

In addition, not now or ever have grades reflected sharpness of strike or eye appeal. For my money, I would rather have a beautiful MS-63 coin than an ugly MS-65 one.

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Today many thousands of specialists collect tokens, medals, Colonial coins, and early coppers.

In related organizations, rarely are there disputes about grading.

Buyers in those fields look at the coin or other item carefully, evaluate its appearance, and reflect if it is pleasing in appearance. 

Some years ago Whitman published the Optimal Collecting Grade plan. To use this, review the price of a desired item and determine what grade level gives the most for the money.

Let’s take a 1928-S Peace dollar, a coin I have mentioned before in this column. The current A Guide Book of United States Coins gives these prices: MS-63, $475; MS 64, $1,100; and MS-65, $20,000.

When I formed my set, what I did and you can do is cherrypick.

Look at dozens of MS-63 and MS-64 images. You will find that some MS-63 coins have fewer marks and are more attractive than MS-64 coins. In time, you can build a set better than MS-64, but at MS-63 prices.

If you set MS-63 cherrypicking for MS-64 as a goal, you can complete multiple sets such as Indian Head 5-cent coins, Winged Liberty Head dimes, Standing Liberty quarter dollars, Walking Liberty half dollars, and Peace dollars. Pick MS-65 as a goal and get set to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for coins that will be better but only slightly.

With grading changing and also inconsistent, don’t be a slave to numbers. Instead pick a grade that is reasonably priced in comparison to the next grade higher, cherry­pick for quality, and spend a year or two forming a set. You will get better coins and will enjoy the experience. Yes, you can buy coins by the labels alone and you can put together a set in an hour, but “instant collections” are no fun at all. My set of Peace dollars took two years to complete. 

U.S. coins mentioned in this article:

Peace dollar

Peace dollar: Commemorating the peace after World War I is the reason the Peace dollar was created, although the first coin was not struck until December 1921, three years after the official peace accords were signed. How much are Peace dollars worth?

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