US Coins

Bowers: Coin hobby needs to simplify grading system

The Joys of Collecting column from the Feb. 13, 2017, issue of Coin World:

Here is the first of some things I believe that the hobby (or industry) of numismatics would find of benefit in 2017.

1. Fix the coin grading system: 

Most hobbies have a rather informal system of grading. There are parameters, but they are usually understandable. For example, an old book can be as new, or lightly used, or lightly used with some inscriptions or damage, or rebound, with or without original dust jacket, or if in low grade, simply a “reading copy.” Book collectors have no problem with this, and controversies are rare.

I have collected Currier & Ives prints ever since I was a kid. Such prints are usually described as to their size, whether the margins have been trimmed, whether the color has been touched up (OK to do), and other aspects — all adjectival. Print collectors have no problem with this, and controversies are rare.

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With coins we have the Sheldon/American Numismatic Association 1 to 70 grading system. Actually, we have more than that. Within Mint State 60 to 70 we have 11 different grades: MS-60, MS-61, and so on to MS-70. As if that were not enough the certification services have added + marks. Assuming that 70+ (or more than perfect) does not exist, we have 21 grades! 

There’s more. Not only are these grades completely undefined, they can move around.

The hobby needs to simplify. We don’t need 21 grades between MS-60 and MS-70 that move around and no one can understand. Dr. William H. Sheldon in 1949 proposed three Mint State grades: 60, 65, and 70. As 70 was perfection, that left two usable grades. A few decades ago, the ANA Board of Governors added some others to create -60, -63, -65, and -67. Perhaps that is enough? Would the trade in rare books benefit by having instead of New, New 60, New 63, and so on?

The present system is beyond complex. The reality is that if you look up certain coins in a given grade on the Internet you will find that quality is all over the map.

Many MS-63 coins are nicer than those certified as MS-65. Moreover, some coins in the same grades can sell for twice as much as others. For starters, check Mint State 1857 Flying Eagle cents such as those illustrated above.

To get the most value for your money, use grades only as a starting point and think for yourself! More to come.

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