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

Surface Preservation

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, surface preservation includes the presence of bagmarks, hairlines from cleaning or mishandling, and any other imperfections of planchet, whether mint caused or man made. An analysis of surface preservation attempts to evaluate the Visual Impact of these imperfections based on their degree of severity and their location on the coin.

As you look at lots of coins, you will notice that bagmarks tend to be the most common detracting surface problem on most business strikes. Hairlines, on the other hand, are usually the most prevalent detractor of the surfaces of proof coins. This results from the physical differences between business strikes and proof coins, and the different way each type of coin tends to have been handled.

Most business strikes, at one time or another, were shipped in bags. Therefore, nearly all business strikes have some marks caused either by banging against other coins, or by some other form of mishandling after being removed from the bag.

Proof coins were handled much more carefully. Unfortunately, proof surfaces tend to magnify even the lightest mishandling into hairline scratches. Indeed, prooflike uncirculated coins generally have bagmarks and hairlines. Therefore, prooflike Morgan dollars tend to be quite a bit rarer in MS-65 grade than frosty Morgan dollars. This is one of the reasons why prooflike gems command higher prices than frosty gem Morgans.

Whenever we analyze the severity of an imperfection of a coin, we try to figure out what visual impact that imperfection will have on the eye of a trained numismatist. Obviously, the more severe the imperfection, which is measured by the amount of displaced metal, the worse the imperfection.

Of course, this statement is only true if we are comparing examples of the same type of imperfection. For example, a hairline is generally far worse than a bagmark of equal metal displacement and location, because hairlines create a lot of visual impact with very little metal displacement.

However, a mint caused planchet defect is usually not as detracting as a bagmark. This is mainly because any mint-caused imperfection is not regarded to be as detrimental as if it were man-made (i.e. post minting process.) Also, very often the lustre will run unbroken through a mint caused planchet defect. This applies to planchet laminations, lint marks, die rust, die wear, or practically any other mint caused defect. (Note: Minor die scratches and clashed dies are not usually considered to be serious defects, and hardly affect the grade, if at all. In many cases, they don't even affect the value of the coin). Of course if a mint-caused defect is huge and ugly, it is still far worse than one that's tiny and unobtrusive - just like bagmarks and hairlines. A good rule of thumb is that a mint-caused defect will affect the grade about half as much as a bagmark or hairline of equal visual impact.

Spots, fingerprints and other discoloration, other than on copper coins, usually fall into the eye-appeal category (which will be covered a few chapters later). Most Spots are at least partially removable, unless the coin is copper or nickel. However, if the discoloration begins eating into the metal (i.e. corrosion), then this, too, falls under surface preservation. Any corrosion of metal must be rated on visual impact, similar to a hairline or bagmark. NOTE: Major surface impairments such as harsh cleaning, blatantly artificial toning or repairs will prevent most services (including P.C.G.S. and N.G.C.) from issuing a grading opinion at all. Once you have determined the severity of an imperfection, this information must be measured in combination with the location of the imperfection. Below is a photograph of a Morgan dollar, color coded as follows:

RED - Worst (Average x 4)
ORANGE - Bad (Average x 2)
YELLOW - Average
GREEN -Better (Average x 1/2)
BLUE - Best (Average x 1/4)

NOTE: These quantifications are approximate. For example, a mark in the red area is about 8 times as serious than if the same mark were in the green area, as illustrated on the photograph below. Notice that the very worst place is the middle of Miss Liberty's cheek. This area is the focal point of the coin, and the one place where experienced numismatists will invariably look first.

Also keep in mind that direction of the mark can increase or decrease its effect. For example, a vertical bagmark might be more obvious in Miss Liberty's hair than a horizontal bagmark. A horizontal bagmark would be less noticeable since it would be somewhat hidden and appear to be part of the design at first glance.

The least detrimental area to have an imperfection is on the rim. Rim imperfections tend to be less detracting and less noticeable, because the rim is the least important part of the coin's total design.

Now, the next step is to rate the surface preservation of five mint state and five proof Morgan dollars.

These examples show the worst representations of surface preservation I could find, that could still merit an unqualified MS-60 or Proof-60 grade. Anything worse, and I would have to mention the most prominent defect in my grade description of that coin. (For example, a mint state coin slightly worse than the one pictured here could be described as "MS-60, scratches" or "MS-60, heavy milling marks.")

Try to compare any Morgan dollars you wish to grade to these photographs. If you think the surface preservation grades somewhere in between, feel free to use in-between grades like 2-1/2 or 4-1/4, or even 3.79 if you wish to try to be that exact. Remember, at first your grading will involve a lot of guessing. It will take much time and practice before your grading becomes really meaningful. So try to get started practicing as soon as possible.

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