US Coins

The Investment Column: Shifting grades and quality

This gorgeous 1652 Oak Tree shilling will always be coveted by collectors, regardless of any numerical grade it may carry.

Image courtesy Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

While grades may change over time, basic standards of quality in numismatics are, thankfully, much more stable. 

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation Collection, offered by Stack’s Bowers Galleries on March 26 as part of the Whitman Expo in Baltimore, realized more than $9.5 million. Many of the coins in the collection tell individual stories of twists and turns in how quality and value can be perceived. 

One coin that caught my eye in preparing the Market Analysis that appeared in the April 27 weekly issue of Coin World was a 1652 Oak Tree shilling graded About Uncirculated 58+ by Professional Coin Grading Service, with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade, that brought $85,187.50. 

As a coin, it’s stunning, with a long ownership history, a bold strike, hints of luster and with great surface quality. Its quality is such that it was used as a plate coin in Sylvester S. Crosby’s seminal work Early Coins of America and in Sydney Noe’s standard reference on the series. 

In a 1973 offering, Stack’s wrote that the piece was “the finest Oak Tree Shilling that it has ever been our privilege to offer, and one of the finest extant, if not the finest. Original mint luster toning to a lovely blue iridescence. As perfectly centered as these pieces come, with sharp striking and a full sharp tree. Another true prize. UNCIRCULATED.”

It’s long been considered among the finest of all Oak Tree shillings, and the current catalog entry notes that it has also historically been considered Choice Uncirculated. The entry states, “Grades can be argued about, but quality cannot,” describing it as “an essentially perfect coin.” 

How does the PCGS assessment of AU-58+ impact our perception of the coin?  

Does a non-Mint State grade affect its value when historically its quality has been validated by the experts in the series? 

Coins like this provide a reminder that numerical grades are a single number meant to encapsulate numerous elements of a coin’s appeal in the marketplace. While the grade may be debated for generations to come, standards of quality tend to remain universal

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