Question: What U.S. coin was first to be documented “perfect” and the
first to be graded Mint State 70 and Proof 70? With literally millions
of coins encased in plastic holders today bearing the grades MS-70 and
Proof 70, some may question, “Why is this important or worth a mention?’’
Page 1 of the July 30, 1986, issue of Coin World announced
the earthshattering news: The American Numismatic Association
Certification Service (ANACS), the leading third-party grading service
at the time, had given one Uncirculated Statue of Liberty gold $5 coin
the lofty grade of Mint State 70 and “four or five” Proof examples
were graded Proof 70 out of 50 submitted for grading.
Richard Montgomery, then ANACS director, explained that the obverse
and reverse designs facilitated a perfect strike and when struck on
flawless planchets had achieved perfection.
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To say that the perfect grade raised some eyebrows is an
understatement. While 70 always had been theoretically possible, few
U.S. coins by that time had been graded even MS-67 or Proof 67.
Yet, both a perfect coin and a perfect grade were predictable and
inevitable, when we look through the clear lens of history.
In 1949 William Sheldon devised a “quantitative grading” scale to
denote the condition of 1793 to 1814 cents, using adjectival
descriptions and numbers (1 to 70) to benchmark. At the top of the
range (Mint State) Sheldon identified three numbers: 60, 65 and 70.
Soon dealers began applying Sheldon’s scale to other denominations
and it became the norm during the 1960s. By the late 1970s rising
prices, particularly for silver dollars, moved the market to seek more
precision. In 1981 the ANA recognized the use of two additional Mint
State grades, 63 and 67. But the market wanted more precision, namely
formal recognition of a 64 grade.
Then came 1986, the pivotal year in coin grading.
Professional Coin Grading Service entered the marketplace in early
February, raising the bar by expanding the six Uncirculated grades
commonly in use to 11 one-point grade increments in the Mint Stage
range. In order to remain competitive, in less than six months, ANACS
The grading revolution was front and center in the headlines, but
less evident were the revolutionary changes underway in coin
production at the U.S. Mint.
In next month’s column we’ll explore some of those changes.