book cover Introduction
The Grading Process
How To Grade Mint State Coins
Surface Preservation


Determining Grade
Is It Proof Or Business Strike?
Prooflike Coins
Grading Other Series
Why Won't They Grade My Coin?
High End vs. Low End; The Bust-Out Game
Computer Grading
About the Author


Adjustment Marks - Scratches which appear mostly on pre-1807 silver and gold coinage. These scratches were file marks, , made at the mint in order to reduce the weight of a coin so that its metal value wouldn't exceed its face value. As such, adjustment marks do not reduce the value of a coin nearly as much as a series of equally visible scratches which were not "mint-caused."

A.N.A. - Abbreviation for the American Numismatic Association. The A.N.A. is the world's largest organization of coin collectors and dealers.

A.N.E. - Abbreviation for American Numismatic Information Exchange. P.C.G.S. and N.G.C. certified coins trade sight-unseen through this electronic network.

A.N.A.C.S. - Abbreviation for American Numismatic Association Certification Service. A.N.A.C.S. is a service which grades and authenticates coins. A.N.A.C.S. grading tends to be somewhat technical, and is often a bit more conservative than P.C.G.S. or N.G.C. grading. A.N.A.C.S. has recently been acquired by Amos Press, the publisher of Coin World.

Ask - The lowest asking price of a particular coin offered for sale by one dealer to another as reported by the Coin Dealer Newsletter. The "ask" price is usually about 10% higher than the "bid" price. (See "Bid").

Bagmarks - Abrasions which occur on coins that were shipped in mint bags. Most often this term applies to silver dollars, although virtually any coin can have bagmarks. Bagmarks in no way mean that a coin is not mint state. In fact, even a Mint State-67 coin can have some bagmarks.

Bid - The highest price offered to buy a particular coin by one dealer from other dealers, as reported by the Coin Dealer Newsletter. When applied to circulated coins, and other fairly standard items, the bid/ask prices are usually accurate, meaningful and useful. When applied to mint state coins, especially Mint State and Proof 65, they can be somewhat misleading. The implication is that all MS-65's are equal, which is simply not the case. In fact, no two coins are absolutely identical. One buyer's MS-65 is often another buyer's MS-64 + or MS-65 +. The CDN "Bid" prices generally reflect wholesale trading ranges for only the most conservatively graded mint state coins. Sight-unseen bid prices for P.C.G.S. coins are also listed on the A.N.E. network, and in the Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter. Of course, sight-unseen bids are almost always lower than sight-seen prices such as dealer-to-dealer transactions at coin shows. (See "A.N.E." and "C.C.D.N:')

Brilliant - Untoned. Without tarnish or oxidation, and with original cartwheel (i.e. frosty) or prooflike lustre. A copper coin is usually referred to as brilliant if it has full original red. A silver, nickel or gold coin is usually described as brilliant if it has no toning or oxidation (although it may have some spots or light toning hues about the periphery), and its original lustre is more or less intact.

Brilliant Proof - A particular type of proof coin, which boasts a full mirror surface in the fields. (See "Proof," "Matte Proof," and "Roman Finish.")

Business Strike - A coin which was struck for use in general circulation, as opposed to a proof coin produced strictly for collector purposes.

Cameo - A proof, or prooflike coin with exceptional contrast between the fields and the devices. On a cameo coin, the fields are mirrorlike, while the devices give a frosty appearance.

Carbon Spot - A dark discoloration on the surface of a coin. It is possible that this discoloration is caused by a planchet imperfection prior to striking, or it may be caused by improper storage of the coin. Regardless of the cause, carbon spots are difficult, if not impossible, to remove without leaving pits in the coin's surface. If they are large enough, they can significantly lower the grade and value of a coin.

Cartwheel - An effect caused by the natural lustre on most mint state, and on some proof coins. When the coin is tilted back and forth, beams of light seem to circle the central devices of the coin.

C.C.D.N. - Abbreviation for Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter. A weekly newsletter which as of today June, 1990) lists sight-unseen bid prices for coins certified by P.C.G.S., N.G.C., A.N.A.C.S. and N.C.I. Probably the best source of pricing information available to the coin collector or investor. However; the prices listed tend to be on the low side, since the bids are sight-unseen. Address: P.O. Box 11099, Torrance, California. Subscription rate: $99 per year. (See "Bid.")

Choice - An adjective which the A.N.A. applies to coins of MS-65 or Proof-65 grade. Many dealers apply the term to MS/Proof-63 coins, and call MS/Proof-65 coins "Gem."

Cleaned - When a coin has been cleaned with baking soda or other mild abrasives, it may take on a slightly washed out look. Most dealers can tell that the coin has been cleaned. For all practical purposes, however, it is impossible to tell if most silver or gold coins have been judiciously and expertly cleaned just once or twice in Jewel-Lustre(c) or soap and water, or any other basically non-abrasive solution. If the lustre or color of the coin appears even the slightest bit unnatural as a result of past cleaning, the coin is usually described as "cleaned" when catalogued for sale.

Coin Dealer Newsletter - A weekly newsletter that reports the trading ranges of nearly all U.S. coins. Grading differences can cause the reported prices to be somewhat confusing at times. Address: P.O. Box 11099, Torrance, California, 90510. Subscription rate: $89 per year.

Coin World - A leading weekly coin publication. Published by Amos Press, P. 0. Box 150, Sidney, Ohio, 45365. Subscription rate: 52 weeks for $23.95.

Commercial Grade - A synonym for Market Grade.

Conservative Grade - A grade which gives the "benefit of the doubt" to the purchaser rather than to the seller.

Corrosion - Damage which occurs on the surface of some coins, generally due to improper storage. Corrosion is caused when a chemical reaction, such as rust, actually eats into the metal.

Clashed Dies - Extraneous design detail often appears on a die as a result of two dies coming together without a planchet between them during the minting process. Coins struck from such dies are said to be struck from clashed dies, or to have die clashes or clash marks. (See "Die," "Die Scratches!')

Denticles - The toothlike projections which make up the inner rim on some coins. They were discontinued on most United States coins in the early twentieth century.

Devices - The focal figure(s) of a coin, such as Miss Liberty's head and the eagle which appear on the Morgan silver dollar.

Die - The metal mold used to strike a coin.

Die Cracks - Raised lines which appear on a coin as a result of that coin having been struck by a cracked die.

Die Rust - Pitting or roughness appearing on a coin as a result of that coin having been struck by a rusted die.

Die Scratches - Raised lines which appear on a coin as a result of scratches on the die used to strike that coin. Die scratches (and similarly die cracks and die clashes) do not diminish the value of a coin nearly as much as scratches acquired after the coin is struck. In many cases, they do not affect the value of the coin at all.

Die Variety - A coin which has already been attributed by denomination, date, mintmark and major variety (such as Morgan Dollar, 1879-S, Reverse of '78) can often still be broken down by die variety. Research has been done in many series assigning numbers to the various combinations of dies known to have struck coins of each of the various years and mintmarks. A few examples of reference works on die varieties are: Sheldon (large cents), Valentine (half dimes), Browning (early quarters), Overton (bust half dollars), Van- Allen/Mallis (Morgan silver dollars), and Breen (Us. gold coins $1 through $10).

Die Wear - The loss of detail on a coin due to wear on the die used to strike it (rather than wear on the coin itself.

D.M.P.L. - Abbreviation for Deep Mirror Prooflike. An exceptionally deep mirror-like prooflike coin with little if any cartwheel lustre. Synonym: "D.P.L." (See P.L.)

Dipped - A coin which has been cleaned in a soap solution, the most popular of which is called "Jewel Luster"(c), is said to have been dipped. The term "dipped" is not considered necessary in, say, a catalog description of a coin, unless the dipping has caused noticeable dulling of lustre, or an otherwise unnatural appearance (usually on copper coins). The practice of dipping coins is not advisable, except by bonafide experts, and even then only on rare occasions.

Eye-Appeal - The aesthetic effect a coin has on its viewer. Although somewhat subjective, like any form of art, that which constitutes eye-appeal (or the lack of it) is generally agreed upon by most experienced numismatists.

Field - The flat part of a coin's surface which surrounds the devices, date, legend and other parts of the coin's design.

Flip - A clear, flexible plastic holder used to display and store coins. (See "PVC").

Friction - A disturbance which appears either on the high-points of a coin or in the fields, as a result of that coin rubbing against other objects. A coin is said to have friction when only the lustre is disturbed, and no actual wear of the metal is visible to the naked eye. Many strictly uncirculated coins can have some friction, often from storage in old style coin cabinets or albums or from rubbing against other coins in rolls. (See "Rubbing").

Frosty - An adjective used to describe a coin which possesses cartwheel lustre. (See "Cartwheel").

Gem - An adjective which the A.N.A. applies to coins which grade Mint State or Proof-67. Many dealers, however, apply the adjective to any coin which they grade MS/Proof-65.

Grey Sheet - A synonym for the Coin Dealer Newsletter.

Hairline - A thin, shallow scratch on the surface of a coin, usually caused by improper cleaning, or mishandling. Hairlines are found on virtually all proof coins, and are considered the most important single factor in grading high quality proof coins. They sometimes appear on business strikes as well. Hairlines tend to show up more often on prooflike business strikes.

Hallmark - An independent grading service in Woburn, Massachusetts recently formed by Q. David Bowers and Lee Bellisario.

High Relief - A coin with deep concave fields, due to its design. High relief coins required extra pressure to be fully struck, and were difficult to stack. Therefore, the few coins struck in high relief by the U.S. mint (such as the 1921 Peace dollar, and the 1907 Roman Numerals double eagle) were each made for only one year.

Iridescent - Probably the most desirable form of toning on a silver or nickel coin. Iridescent toning covers virtually all of the coin's surface, while still permitting all of the coin's natural lustre to shine through with its full intensity. Some numismatists feel that in order for toning to be called iridescent it must have all the colors of the rainbow, or at the very least, most of them.

Lamination - A form of planchet flaw caused by imperfections in the metal, whereby a thin strip of the metal separates itself from the coin.

Lint Mark - A characteristic which occurs mostly on proof coins as a result of a piece of lint on the die or planchet during the striking process. This lint creates an incused scratch-like mark on the coin. Lint marks are distinguishable from hairlines by their evenness of depth and lack of raised ridges on their borders. They are also identifiable by their interesting thread-like shapes. Since a lint-mark is mint caused, it has a much smaller effect on the grade and value of a coin, than a hairline of equal size and prominence.

Lustre - The brightness of a coin which results from the way in which it reflects light. Many different types of lustre exist, and one of the trickiest parts of the grading process is determining whether the lustre of a coin is artificial (See "whizzed"), natural as made, or diminished through wear, cleaning, friction, temperature, humidity, etc. (Alternate spelling "Luster.")

Market Grade - The grade at which most reputable dealers and auction houses would offer an uncertified coin. Also the standard employed by the N.C.I. (Numismatic Certification Institute) grading service. Often the retail market grade is less conservative than the technical grade. Factors other than the state of preservation are taken into account. Generally, a coin graded by retail market standards trades dealer to dealer at less than the current Coin Dealer Newsletter "bid" price, but often substantially over the "bid" price for the next lowest grade. CDN "bid" prices usually reflect wholesale trading ranges for the most conservatively graded coins on the market. (Synonym: "Commercial Grade").

Matte Proof - A certain type of proof minted in the US. mostly from 1908 to 1916. Gold and silver matte proofs have a dull, granular (i.e.. sandblast) finish without any mirror-like qualities. Copper and nickel matte proofs are really more like Roman finish proofs. (See "Roman Finish').

Milling Mark - A series of two or more small nicks on a coin which result from contact with the reeded edge of another coin, usually in a mint bag. Milling marks are generally more detrimental to the grade than normal bagmarks, because of their severity of depth and greater visual impact. (Synonym: "Reeding Mark").

Mint State - Describes a coin which has never been circulated. Thus, the coin has no wear. A mint state coin may still be weakly struck, and therefore lack the detail of even a lower grade coin. All mint state coins have some imperfections if you study them hard enough. The term "mint state" may also correctly be applied to coins that were struck as proofs.

Mishandled Proof - A proof coin which somehow escaped into circulation or was otherwise significantly abused.

N.C.l. - Abbreviation for Numismatic Certification Institute, Dallas, Texas.

N.G.C. - Abbreviation for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America, Parsippany, New Jersey. The leading coin grading service.

Numismatic News - A leading weekly coin newspaper. Published by Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, Wisc. 54990. Subscription rate: 52 weeks for $23.00.

Obverse - The front, or "heads" side of a coin. Usually the side with the date.

Original - Referring to any aspect of a coin that retains its original state. Original toning means natural, not retoned or cleaned. Original lustre means undisturbed lustre that hasn't been enhanced through artificial means.

Original Roll - A roll of coins, all the same date, denomination, and mint mark, and usually of the same die variety, which seem to have been acquired by the same original owner, probably from the same original mint bag. Generally, all the coins in an original roll will have similar toning and lustre.

P.C.G.S. - Abbreviation for Professional Coin Grading Service, Irvine, California. The second largest independent coin grading service

Patina - See "Toning"

P.L. - Abbreviation for Prooflike. A coin struck for general circulation which has, nonetheless, a somewhat mirror-like surface, similar to a brilliant proof. Prooflike coins are usually among the first coins to have been struck from a newly polished die. Naturally, unlimited degrees of prooflikeness exist. (See "Cameo" and "Semi-Prooflike.")

Planchet - The blank metal disk which becomes a coin when struck under high pressure between two dies.

Planchet Defect - Any defect of a coin which was caused by the planchet being imperfect prior to the coin being struck. (Synonym: "Planchet Flaw").

PQ - An abbreviation devised by Q. David Bowers in November, 1985. It stands for "Premium Quality" a term which describes the very finest coins which fall into the categories of Mint State-65 or Proof-65. For example, an MS-65PQ graded coin is considered more desirable than a coin described simply as MS-65. It should be noted that, as of this writing, the term is not (yet) universally used in this context, although Hallmark grading service employs the term on some coins it grades.

Presentation Piece - A coin which was obviously given special care when being struck. Similar to a proof, but not necessarily formally struck as one.

Proof - A coin which was made with special care, exclusively for collectors or investors and not struck for general circulation. Generally, proof coins are struck on specially selected and polished planchets. They are struck using polished dies. Usually the coins are made on a slower moving press, and/or are struck more than once. Most proof coins are brilliant, with a mirror-like surface. (See "Matte Proof," "Roman Finish," "Brilliant Proof," and "Cameo"). Proof is a method of manufacture, not a grade. However, proof coins are generally graded using the Sheldon scale (for example; Proof-60 or Proof-65).

PVC - Poly-Vinyl Chloride, a somewhat active chemical found in some types of plastic coin flips. PVC will cause some coins to tone or turn green over time. The effect is negligible on silver or gold coins (and removable), but PVC has been known to wreak havoc on copper, and to a lesser extent nickel coins, especially if the coins have been stored in warm or damp places over long periods of time. (See "Flip").

Raw - Refers to any coin which has not been graded by a grading service.

Red & Brown - A term used to describe mint state (and sometimes proof) copper coins which have started to turn brown, but still show some of their original mint red.

Retoned - Coin dealer slang for a coin which has been artificially toned, usually through some sort of chemical means.

Reverse - The back or "tails" side of a coin.

Rip - Coin dealer slang for a coin which was purchased below the market wholesale price and is easily resalable to one or more coin dealers for a good profit.

Roman Finish - A hybrid between a brilliant proof surface and a matte surface. Roman finish proof gold coins were struck by the US. mint in 1909 and 1910, although a few examples exist in other years. Some consider Roman finish proofs to be the most beautiful of all proof coins. (Synonym: "Satin Finish").

Rubbing - The barest trace of wear on the high points of a coin. just a step above "Friction" on the scale of adjectives used to describe degrees of wear. Usually, a coin with rubbing has virtually full mint lustre intact. Still, the wear is just a hair too noticeable for the coin to be called mint state.

Satin Finish - See "Roman Finish"

Select - An adjective which the A.N.A. applies to Mint State or Proof-63 coins.

Semi-Prooflike - A coin which has almost enough mirror-like reflectiveness to be called "prooflike."

Sheldon Scale - A system of grading which was originally introduced by the late Dr. William H. Sheldon, for the purpose of grading large cents. The system was adapted to all coins in the early 1970's. The Sheldon Scale, as used today, incorporates numerical grades I through 70 to correspond with various descriptive grades as follows:

Almost Good-3
Very Good-8, 10
Very Fine-20,25,30,35
Extremely Fine-40,45
Almost Uncirculated-50, 55, 58
Mint State- 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70

Slab - The plastic holder in which the leading grading services will encapsulate a coin which they have graded.

Sleeper - A coin which is undervalued or underpriced.

Slider - A coin which a less scrupulous individual might sell at a higher grade than it really merits. The term usually refers to a nearly mint state coin which is, or could be offered as a full mint state.

Split Grade - A coin whose obverse grade is different from its reverse grade. Examples: MS-63/65 or Proof 63/60.

Strike - The sharpness of detail which the coin had when it was mint state. A full strike is a coin which exhibits the full detail that would appear on the sharpest known examples of that type.

Technical Grading - A system of grading which only takes into account that which has happened to a coin after the minting process (i.e. the state of preservation). Generally, technical grading is ultra critical of post-minting process imperfections affecting surface preservation and lustre. Technical graders often ignore strike and eye-appeal. Although not always as meaningful in the real marketplace, technical grading tends to be more conservative, as a rule, than market grading.

Toned - An adjective which describes a coin with toning.

Toning - The coloring which has formed on the surface of a coin as a result of the metal's interaction with outside elements. (Synonym: "Patina").

Type - A date or group of dates encompassing all of a particular standard design. (Example: Morgan silver dollars). A type collection is a collection of coins formed by one example (usually one of the most common dates) of each type of coin.

Typical Uncirculated or Proof - A term which the A.N.A. suggests using to describe a Mint State-60 or Proof-60 coin. This is not necessarily the way a coin typically comes. (For example, a typical bag-quality 1881-S dollar is actually closer to Mint State-63).

Wear - Visible erosion of metal, usually beginning from the highest points of a coin. Eventually, details, letters, or entire shapes are obliterated. Wear should not be confused with strike. Sometimes a worn coin can have more detail than a weakly struck mint state coin.

Whizzed - An artificial process whereby the surface of a coin is buffed to give it the appearance of having natural cartwheel lustre.

Wire Rim - An effect whereby a thin, wire-like section of the rim of a coin is raised above the rest of the rim along the outside. This effect is usually caused by very high striking pressure, and tends to occur mostly on proof and high relief strikings.

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