The Basics of Coin Grading

In this month’s column I would like to talk about coin grading. Becoming a good coin grader is one of the most difficult aspects of being a proficient buyer or seller of coins. It requires “hands on” experience and not just reading a coin grading book. The fact that coin grading is so difficult and subjective led to the birth of coin grading services that encapsulate coins. Even certified coins are often considered loosely graded and accuracy of grades often varies between different services. PCGS and NGC are the two most recognized grading services due to better accuracy and consistency.

Every series of coins is different and many coins within a series have a multitude of variations of characteristics that is particular to different years and mint marks. For example, in the Morgan Silver Dollar series, the “O” or New Orleans mint marked coins are typically weakly struck. This is due to a policy in that mint to use the dies in excess which resulted in the coins’ high points being flat. The high points such as the hair above Liberty’s ear and the breast feathers of the eagle usually show little detail. The areas of the die that struck the high points would obviously wear down more than the other areas due to more pressure and friction in the striking process.

The three main aspects of coin grading are luster, strike and surface preservation. The following three columns will discuss in detail each of these three grading characteristics.

If you are new to coin collecting, I suggest that you start collecting only one series of coin.  This way you can concentrate your efforts on learning as much as possible about that type of coin. As I have mentioned in earlier articles, studying coins at coin shows and coin shops such as Christopher’s Rare Coins is a great way to handle and compare various coins in the series that you are interested in collecting.

The staff at Christopher’s Rare Coins is always willing to take the time to help you with all of your collecting needs and answer your questions.  I hope you stop in and see us soon.

Chris Seuntjens,
Christopher’s Fine Jewelry and Rare Coins