Copyright © 1990 Scott A. Travers
Imagine yourself trying to assemble the pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle of a map of a land foreign to you. You could try to find the four corners; then proceed from there. Or you could spread out sections of matching parts across the living-room floor and go through the rest of the puzzle's pieces, hoping to find some part - any part! - that would fit neatly into the assemblage.
The puzzle would be difficult to solve if you didn't have any idea of what it should look like put together: your best guesses as to which piece goes where might be hopelessly wrong. Think what it would be like trying to assemble that jigsaw puzzle if some of the pieces were missing! Imagine how you would feel if you found out that whole sections of fitting pieces didn't pertain to the puzzle you were assembling! Try grading an uncirculated coin!
For the newcomer, the process of grading coins can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle. No one book holds all the pieces to the puzzle. Rather, each participant in the marketplace holds his or her own secret, magical piece. But James L. Halperin holds an incredible number of those valuable pieces. In this book, he is willing to boldly share with you his opinions and grading insights (" . . . no guts, no glory!").
How to Grade U.S. Coins is an important and necessary piece required to solve the great grading puzzle. Before this book was published, if you were looking for a grading standard, you had a choice of three books, each one of which was - and still is - a necessary piece of the puzzle: A Guide to the Grading of U.S. Coins, by Martin R. Brown and John W Dunn (Western Publishing, Inc. 1958); Photograde, by James E Ruddy (Bowers & Merena Galleries, Inc., 1972); and Official A. N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins, by the American Numismatic Association (Western Publishing, Inc., 1981). How to Grade U.S. Coins (Ivy Press, 1990) has to be added to this list.
If you're comparing books which consist of only grading standards, you'll probably reach the conclusion that, as of this writing, this book is the best for the grading of Mint State coins. It's the only grading standards book which defines a precise formulated standard for the grading of Mint State coins.
The 7th edition of the Brown and Dunn work doesn't recognize that there are
differences among Mint State coins: Only "Uncirculated" is recognized. Ruddy's work
is substantial and important if you're grading circulated coins. But there are no standards for Mint State. And although the A.N.A.'s grading guide has line drawings for every major United States coin type, the standards for grading Mint State coins are
not clearly defined. In a public statement, the A.N.A. admitted that "The grading
standards enumerated in (its) book were and are not precise, with the descriptions
lending themselves to different interpretations."
In this book Jim Halperin is straightforward. He tells you that N.C.I. is not as conservative as A.N.A.C.S. Jim admits to making money (six-figures on one coin after he dipped it). He concedes that you might be able to find N.C.I. certified coins at considerably below what a price guide might indicate for that grade. And he makes clear that The N.C.I. Grading Guide, the predecessor to this book, defined only The Numismatic Certification Institute's own standards.
A great professor could write a persuasive work on the grading of coins. He could use a formula similar to Jim Halperin's. But the professor would only be able to express theoretical concepts. The fact that this book was written by someone with the awesome real-world experience that Jim has is testimony to the significance of this book.
Jim Halperin invented "spot" decision-making when he headed New England Rare Coin Galleries in the 1970's. If a multi-thousand dollar deal was offered to him at a specific price, he'd accept, decline, or counter-offer in a matter of seconds. If he made a mistake, he'd live with it and go on to the next deal. Although quick dealing had always been part of the coin industry, Jim institutionalized the practice. An he did it just in time for the coin boom of 1979-1980. You'd go to a coin convention during that boom, and there were dealers trying to emulate Halperin: no magnifying glass; a quick glance at the coins; and an offer.
Jim hired a large number of numismatists, many of whom quickly picked up spot decision making. Most of them now have their own successful companies. A staggering percentage of today's most successful coin dealers have worked for Jim at one time or another.
I remember a coin convention in early 1981. 1 was sitting and discussing coin grading with David Hall, not yet the founder of P.C.G.S., but even then one of America's leading dealers. Jim Halperin walked by briskly, on his way to price a deal; or sell a coin; or buy a coin; but, in any event, to act quickly. "Don't you ever wonder what it must be like to be the best person in the entire world at pricing coins?" Hall asked, referring to Halperin. "The man is just amazing!" he exclaimed, displaying his characteristic enthusiasm over someone or something he believes in. "At least right now, there is nobody who is his equal at quick pricing and knowing values," he continued. "It must be just an incredible feeling to know that you're at the top of your industry and the best in the entire world at doing something."
Despite any criticism that anyone might ever have about Jim Halperin, or his spot decision making, the fact remains that the man helped to revolutionize the way coins are bought and sold; and he has phenomenal experience at grading coins.
So as you ponder the complexities of coin grading and try to solve the great grading puzzle, remember to give this book your most serious consideration. The Rare Coin Grading Guide might well be the single missing piece that you've been looking for.
Scott A. Travers is author of Rare Coin Investment Strategy and The Coin Collector's Survival Manual, the Numismatic Literary Guild's 1985 "Book of the Year." Mr. Travers is an award-winning contributor to numismatic publications and contributing editor at COINage magazine. He is a frequent speaker on television and radio talk shows. Mr. Travers holds a B.A. from Brandeis University.