US Coins

Bugeja column 051914

Michael Bugeja's skill as a grader of his own Morgan silver dollars includes identifying varieties like this one - an 1887/6 overdate Morgan dollar graded Mint State 61.

Image courtesy of PCGS.

The more you rely on a computer to replenish your collection, the more you need to rely on yourself as a grader of coins. The real test of your skills is submitting raw coins to a company that grades and encapsulates coins.

Like many hobbyists, I began my numismatic journey through visiting local coin dealers. Many hobbyists continue that relationship throughout their collecting years, using dealers’ knowledge about grading, condition, and value.

A few decide to go it on their own. Increasingly these days, that means purchasing raw coins from dealer websites or from online auction portals and then submitting those coins to a top-tier grading company.

All this happens in the home. Coins arrive at your door through a carrier. You fill out paperwork to submit coins to a the grading company. You check the status of coins at the company’s website. Finally, graded coins arrive at your door again, completing the cycle.

Sound easy?

Not so much. If you collect Morgan dollars, for instance, you need to know all about varieties, mintages, condition, rarities, cleaning, toning, and so much more.

If you collect Winged Liberty Head dimes, you need to know about full split bands. Jefferson 5-cent coins? Full steps. Franklin half dollars? Full bell lines, and so on.

How do you know when you achieve that knowledge? The first inkling is when you no longer need your dealer or coin club members for routine questions. The second is when you master ordering coins online. Up until that point, perhaps, you relied on your dealer to submit raw coins for you. Most charge a nominal fee to cover mailing and handling. Mine used to charge me between $5 and $10 per coin in addition to the standard submission fee.

To learn about submission policies, visit the websites of Professional Coin Grading Services, Numismatic Guaranty Corp., ANACS or Independent Coin Grading. Each has its own grading standards. PCGS and NGC are typically acknowledged as being the most consistent in their grading.

Your own consistency is your goal in this challenge. You will want to be able to select raw coins, assess them for submission, fill out the paperwork, and receive the desired grades. To be honest, seeing your coins in the same light (literally) as a world-class grader is difficult. It may require dozens of submissions before you learn the skill.

I began the challenge in 2010, submitting two Mint State Morgan dollars, believing they were Gem condition (MS-65). One, an 1880-S dollar, came back MS-65; the second, an 1882-S, MS-64.

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