US Coins

Dave Bowers: Why can't we all agree on coin grades?

Ftom the Sept. 19, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

Decades ago, there were no grading standards. Then, in 1970, Jim Ruddy published Photograde, which gave images of coins in circulated grades, but did not address variations in Mint State. 

The American Numismatic Association Board of Governors decided to take action.

Standards were compiled for all series, half cents to double eagles, adapted from W.H. Sheldon’s system of 1949 (that applied only to early large cents). 

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The Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins book was released in 1977. Sim­ilar to the Sheldon work, Mint State 60, 65, and 70 were used for Uncirculated coins and also adapted for Proofs. As 70 meant perfection, this gave just two num­bers, 60 and 65, that were useful.

In the marketplace this did not work. The board of governors then added two more categories, 63 and 67. This did not seem to satisfy many people. Finally, 11 different numbers from 60 to 70 were adopted and are still used today.

There was and still is a problem. Grading is a matter of opinion, an art, not a science. If it were a science, a written description of, for example, Morgan silver dollars, or even images of 11 different grades of them, could be used with certainty by anyone in any location using that reference.

Resubmissions to grading services would end, as would continuing gradeflation. 

Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. now add a plus mark. Assuming that MS-70+ does not exist, this gives 10 more possibilities, for a total of 21.

If a group of 50 1908 double eagles or another group of coins were sent to a third-party grading service on Monday and assigned numbers, then removed from their holders and graded again on Tuesday, many coins would have different grades.

Some years ago at an ANA program sponsored by the Professional Numismatists Guild and the Industry Council for Tangible Assets, Barry Cutler of the Federal Trade Commission blind-tested a group of experts who earned their living by grading coins. He gave them each the same “raw” 1908 double eagle, an example of the coin mentioned above. Expert opinions ranged from AU-58 to MS-64.

How much does this matter, and can an intelligent coin buyer spend money wisely in the marketplace?

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