By Connor Falk – Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC ……
Grading coins can be a difficult task. The difference between an AU-58 coin and an MS-62 coin can mean very little in terms of wear but matter greatly in value. If the coin isn’t under the right light or the grader isn’t experienced with the series, money could be left on the table. It’s for this reason that the American Numismatic Association (ANA) provides three grading courses at their annual Summer Seminar.
I recently attended the 2017 Summer Seminar from June 17 to 29 held at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The seminar offers a variety of courses on numismatic topics, everything from identifying counterfeits to grading coins. In addition, there are opportunities to meet with fellow numismatists, attend mini-seminars and visit some of Colorado’s sites.
I enrolled in the Grading United States Coins, Part 2 and Advanced United States Coin Grading and Problem Coins courses after testing out of Coin Grading 1. Coin Grading 2 was held the first week of the seminar. It was taught by Steve Feltner of Americana Rare Coins, John Shuch of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), and David McCarthy of Kagin’s. Advanced Coin Grading went on the second week of the seminar and was taught by Charles Browne of Charles Browne Numismatic Consulting, Ken Park of The KMJ Group, Don Ketterling of D.H. Ketterling Consulting, and Bill Shamhart of Numismatic Americana, Inc.
The course involved multiple rounds of grading coins. We would grade a coin while timed and pass it to the next student while receiving another one in turn. Timing, as the instructors stated, is important because you can’t spend all day on one coin and people have a tendency to second guess themselves. We began with a minute per coin in Coin Grading 2 and went down to 30 seconds in Advanced Coin Grading.
The coins we graded were typically US coins and most were Mint State. Why Mint State? Because most people have difficulty with identifying a Mint State coin and the differences between Mint State grades are minute.
When grading a Mint State coin, two of the most helpful pieces of advice I have ever heard were picked up in the classes. The first is “grade down from MS-70 rather than grade up from MS-60.” Graders with minimal experience in a particular coin series have a tendency to focus on marks and award lower grades than expected. As someone who has a tendency to be conservative when grading, this helped me to give coins the MS-64s or -65s they deserved rather than the MS-63s I would award them.
The other piece of advice that matters most to me is to “use light to your advantage.” Lighting while grading is a big factor. A dark room is necessary. Graders should use incandescent bulbs in adjustable lamps that they can get the coin as close to as possible. Rotating the coin all around is necessary to pick up the marks and lines that may affect the grade.
I also learned an interesting technique to use on AU-58 coins that appear to be Mint State. By holding the coin vertically and moving it away from the light source, I could see areas of wear take on a darker tone than the rest of the coin. Bringing it back into the light and taking a closer look revealed the marks and smooth patches that wear leaves.
Another helpful technique I learned was to grade based on my first look at the coin. If I looked at a coin for too long or took a second look, I had a tendency to second guess my grade. Marks that seemed minimal before were more serious now that I knew where they were. Graders should also take care not to fall into the trap of “counting” marks.
Lastly, another key phrase I heard in the classes was that the “reverse of a coin never helps and always hurts.” This means that a coin with a MS-67 reverse but an MS-64 obverse is going to get an MS-64 grade. Likewise, a coin with an MS-67 obverse but an MS-64 reverse will trend around MS-65. Almost all of the coin’s grade derives from the obverse since it is the side of the coin that people see first but a bad reverse can bring a grade down.
While most of my time was spent grading, I also got the chance to visit Colorado. Some fellow numismatists and I went to a Rockies-Diamondbacks game in Denver, an arcade in Manitou Springs, and the local coin show in Colorado Springs.
The Colorado Springs coin show was a welcomed respite in between the two weeks of classes. Roughly 50 dealers had booths at the show and offered the range of numismatics. I sold quite a bit of Spanish colonial coinage we had in inventory and bought a little bit. One coin I brought back with me is a nice NGC-certified 1853-O Arrows and Rays Seated Liberty half dollar from the SS Republic shipwreck. It has very minimal corrosion and some nice toning throughout. It’ll be up on the Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC online store soon.
I highly recommend attending the ANA’s Summer Seminar and taking the coin grading courses. Quite a few numismatists have taken the grading classes multiple times to hone their grading skills. Even Ken Bressett, editor of the Red Book, stopped by my Coin Grading 2 class to adjust his grading scale. The classes provide a great environment for knowledgeable instructors to teach numismatists the techniques needed to accurately grade coins. Having those skills could pay dividends when it comes to buying a raw coin, sending it in for grading and getting back a coin that you can then resell for a profit.
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