Basics of Coin Grading: Luster

Dear fellow numismatists, this is Part II of my 3 part column on coin grading. In this column I will be talking about luster.

Luster is the amount of brilliance a coin exhibits and is derived from microscopic flow lines when a coin is struck at the mint. Just imagine the die engaging the coin planchet with a high degree of pressure and the metal flowing outward from the center of the coin.

Normally coins with the highest degree of luster were stuck from new, highly polished dies. It is interesting to note that different mints had different practices and methods of polishing their dies so some coins of the same year and type have varying degrees of luster depending on their mint origin.

For example, 1879, 1881 and 1882 “S” mint silver dollars commonly have superb luster while the P, O and CC minted coins for the same years typically have a more frosty luster.

Years ago, it was common to hear the term “do you have any cartwheels?” which was the same as asking do you have any Morgan silver dollars. Many times, a Morgan dollar that was an early strike exhibits a wagon wheel affect when it is moved in a wobbly oscillating motion.

Luster is probably the most important factor of determining a coin grade. Whether you are talking about real estate, cars or coins, overall eye appeal is key in determining a grade and/or value and luster is the most visible eye appeal factor.

Chris Seuntjens,
Christopher’s Fine Jewelry and Rare Coins