Basics of Coin Grading: Strike

Happy Spring, finally, fellow numismatists. This column is part 3 of my 3 part series on coin grading. I have discussed luster and surface preservation. In part 3, I will be discussing strike. 

It is very interesting how many strike variations there are between coins even in coins of the same year and type. Coins are made by a die striking a blank planchet. Obviously, a new die is free from wear and impresses a nice bold – detailed impression onto the planchet. As the striking process progresses, the die becomes worn and the details of the coin are less distinct. 

The tricky part of grading coins with varying degrees of strike detail is determining if “mushy” details on a coin are from wear or strike. Most coins are graded by looking at the degree of wear on the high points of the coin. However, there are a lot of coins that have little detail on the high points but are in fact uncirculated. You have to look at the entire coin and observe luster and detail on all areas of the coin.

Sometimes coins from a particular mint of a particular series are typically weakly struck. For example, ‘O’ mint Morgan silver dollars are typically weakly struck. Other typically weakly struck coins include early ‘S’ mint Buffalo nickels, ‘S’ mint Walking Liberty halves from 1933 and up and 1922, 1922-D and 1924-D Lincoln cents. Most VF to XF 1922-D and 1924-D Lincoln cents show little hair detail, but have excellent detail in the wheat stalks and other areas of the coin.

Technically a coin should be graded with little regard to its strike as that is the way it came from the mint. In the real world however, a weakly stuck uncirculated coin seldom makes the grade past MS60 except for a few series. 

One of the easiest ways to determine strike vs wear on an uncirculated coin is to look for breaks in the luster. If a coin has full luster even on the weak high points, the coin is still uncirculated. 

There is numismatic literature that shows a lot of differences in pictures about different coin series strike variations. As usual though, the best way to learn is hands-on experience and looking at many, many coins. If you come into our store, we would be glad to show you some of the differences between well struck and poorly struck coins.

Hope to see you at the Des Moines Coin Club Annual Coin Show June 2 & 3 at the Adventureland Inn in Altoona, Iowa. We will have a table for kids, so bring the whole family!

Chris Seuntjens,
Christopher’s Fine Jewelry and Rare Coins