Last week I mentioned that, at dinner recently in New York City, I
was seated next to Mr. S., who bought his first coin from me when he
was 14 years old. Now a successful businessman and a true numismatic
connoisseur, he showed me a picture of his beautiful About
Uncirculated 58 1796 Draped Bust dime, which has more eye appeal than
some Mint State 62 and MS-63 coins I’ve seen.
This week I illustrate the dime and let him tell you about his system:
“Besides the third party grade, I grade each coin based on 5
criteria — (1) eye appeal, (2) toning, (3) originality, (4) surface
quality, and (5) strike.
“For each of the 5 categories I assign a number from 1 to 10 with 10
being the highest. The highest total for a given coin is 50. By the
way, I never gave a coin a 50. Generally, if a coin grades under 25 I
will typically pass on the coin. If the coin grades between 25 and 30
I may buy the coin. If a coin grades over 30 and I need it, I
typically buy it. Eye appeal, originality, and toning are difficult to
separate and are extremely important, so I heavily weigh those
categories more so.”
Mr. S. starts with a certified coin and takes it from there. Beyond
that, only a few pass his system! For Mr. S., an About Uncirculated 58
coin as shown here can be a better coin to own, and at a much cheaper
price, than an MS-63 without eye appeal.
Mr. S. is not unique, although his numerical system may be. Robert
G. Galiette, whose collection Stack’s Bowers Galleries will be selling
at auction during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of
Money in August, spent more than 20 years collecting double eagles —
cherrypicking for quality. Often, 10 or 20 coins were examined before
one that was just right was found.
Connoisseurship such as the above is even more important with paper
money. Numerical grade is important, but equally or more important, in
my opinion, are aspects such as brightness, sharp signatures (on
hand-signed notes), and excellent centering. I would rather have a
national bank note graded AU-55 with excellent attributes than an
Uncirculated 63 national with faded signatures and irregular centering
(such certified notes abound).
Finding coins and notes with great eye appeal and other
characteristics costs no more! If there is a win-win situation in
numismatics, this is it. There is a price to pay, however: time is
needed and also education so you know what to expect.