US Coins

Current State of Certified Grading Q David Bowers

The Joys of Collecting column from the Feb. 22, 2016, issue of Coin World:

My column for last week discussed the current situation in which certified coin grades on modern slabs (but not on ones from 25 years ago) often disagree with the Official ANA Grading Standards, Photograde, and other printed guides. This is due to gradeflation.

Bill Eckberg, one of the guiding lights of Early American Coppers, has written much on grading, taking a conservative stance. After reading my column about recently certified “Fine 12” Indian Head cents not having full letters in LIBERTY or even close, this being the ANA standard, he wrote, in part:

“I totally agree that this is a conundrum. I could write a long essay on the subject. Come to think of it, I and my co-authors have, in the EAC Grading Guide.”

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He pointed out that one service has standards for F-12 and Very Fine 20 Indian Head cents illustrated online, but its recent coins, or at least some of them, do not match at all.

“I don’t think the services willfully ignore the ANA standards. In practice, however, they do. Maybe it’s because their graders take so little time? Maybe it’s because their graders aren’t very good? Or they aren’t consistent from grader to grader? All of the above?”

Bill went on to say. “Someday the services are going to have to correct their sliding grade scales.”

Very few people go beyond what is printed on a slab. They don’t care if it matches traditional standards or, for that matter, if it is as ugly as a toad. An ugly and poorly struck Mint State 65 coin will sell for much more and attract more people’s interest than a sharp MS-63 coin with great eye appeal will. 

If a coin is resubmitted five times to a grading service it makes five times more profit than if it is sent only once. I have told the story of a well-known dealer who submitted an MS-64 1916-D Winged Liberty Head dime 23 times, then on the 24th try it came back MS-65 and was worth many thousands of dollars more. The grading service won. The dealer won. Both big time. The buyer neither won nor lost, for he was content with his treasure.

I published my first catalog in 1955. Back then, and continuing into the 1980s, I was always “fussy.” I graded coins with my own eyes and tried to buy good quality. I still do. Most dealers did not care.

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