Sharing some thoughts on the state of U.S. coin grading today
Although they are from different generations, John and Dave both became numismatists at very young ages. Each is a talented researcher and cataloger, and they know a thing or two about grading. Beth, on the other hand, came to Coin World as an editor in 1981 with no knowledge of coins but a keen instinct for reporting the news.
In his column this issue, John examines the concept of grading as a specialist in early American coinage — those issues of the Colonial and Confederation periods that predate the 1792 founding of the federal Mint.
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“If you’d like to build a collection full of lustrous gems, each perfect and beautiful, Colonial coins may not be for you,” John begins, adding, “Various Colonial coin series, or even individual varieties, appear with their own typical, endemic flaws that help explain how they were made.”
Because of these natural flaws, “Problems inherent in the production of Colonial coins used to be judged more leniently [by] specialist collectors. Today, however, “in the era of certification, ... coins are now judged by an uncomfortable standard,” which he explains in his column, lamenting that “many die varieties are lumped under an identical heading.
While perfection may be elusive in early American coinage, that is no longer the case with coins struck by the United States Mint, “With literally millions of coins encased in plastic holders today bearing the grades MS-70 and Proof 70,” as Beth writes. Perfection was not reached among even modern coinage until 30 years ago, when “Page 1 of the July 30, 1986, issue of Coin World announced the earthshattering news” — that the first coins to ever be awarded a Proof 70 or Mint State 70 grade were revealed, though to “say that the perfect grade raised some eyebrows is an understatement,” she adds.
Even today, with “perfect 70” coins commonplace, some collectors still “raise their eyebrows” when they point to examples of “perfect 70” coins with noticeable flaws, wondering how these coins can still receive 70 grades.
Finally, in his column, in which he has been writing about the evolution of grading for the past month or so, Dave writes, “The seeming precision of numbers as compared to adjectives in coin grading has opened the gates for countless thousands of coin buyers. Many, if not most, hope for quick investment profits, then leave when such do not materialize.
For many of the readers who correspond with me, grading remains an area of great concern, whether it be the specter of “gradeflation,” in which long-established standards are ignored by third-party grading firms, or the high prices charged for coins with lofty grades.
They are looking for answers where there may be none, at least for now.