US Coins

Changes in grading coins

It’s enlightening to read thoughts from senior numismatists and columnists in this publication.

I wish more numismatists with Tom DeLorey’s credentials would take the time to write. Tom, Bill Fivaz and I grew up in this hobby at a time when “Uncirculated” was defined as “No trace of wear.” 

We can each disagree with the major changes in grading that have taken place in the last 40 years, but I don’t believe anyone can stop them. As early as 1973, Eric Newman confided to me that my attempt to popularize strict technical grading reminded him of Don Quixote jousting with a windmill! Being a strong-willed tyro at the time, I didn’t fully comprehend the full meaning of this observation.

Changes in the way coins are graded accelerated in the mid-1980s when a group of influential coin dealers established a commercial grading service. However, the Mint State grade was corrupted long before then. 

Attractive coins with “so-called” cabinet friction have been graded Mint State for over 25 years. It took a numismatist with the stature of a Q. David Bowers to confirm this change many years ago when he wrote in his grading guide that coins formerly graded About Uncirculated are often graded up to Mint State 62 today! 

I saw the latest proof of this “gradeflation” as I viewed an auction catalog featuring one of the Brasher doubloons. The coin was once graded AU. It is now encapsulated as an MS-63, in spite of the flat, off-color, hairlined high points visible (even in a photograph) on the coin due to friction wear. 

Bill’s explanation of grading trends in the March 10th Guest Commentary supports the reason MS-63 may be a more realistic, market-acceptable grade for this rarity.


Community Comments