9th National Silver Dollar Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
November 10 – 13, 1988
Visual Grading Reports
ANACS employs a technical grading system. This philosophy assumes that when a coin’s details are impressed upon the planchet, at that point the coin’s state of preservation may be graded as MS-70. Once the coin is removed form the collar and is exposed to contact with other coins and surfaces, mishandling and eventually circulation, its grade diminishes numerically.
For uncirculated coins, the technical grader weighs the degree of diminishment against numerical standard lines based solely on the criteria or originality of luster and the quality, location and severity of contact marks. Because of the number of factors involved, this cannot be analyzed quantitatively to match the numerical standards. Rather, these standards are represented by “visual perceptions,” the overall “look” of a coin.
Experience has shown that these standards cannot be adequately described by written definition and that many numismatists do not see enough examples of uncirculated coins to become proficient through repetition. In offering Visual Grading Reports, ANACS hopes to provide ready examples that will accelerate the user’s self-education and reduce the number of “mistake” purchases normally made in the process.
Luster may be defined as the way light reflects from a coin’s microscopic die-flow lines. Because of variances in die preparation, this can range from a dull, satiny look to a flashy, frosty appearance. For ANACS’ purposes, the key requirement is “original” luster – meaning simply that the luster is essentially the same as when the coin was struck and that it has not been impaired.
Original luster is a requirement for grades MS-64 and above. Uncirculated coins with impaired luster will grade between MS-60 and MS-63, depending on the degree of the impairment and presence of contact marks.
Cleaning – The use of an abrasive substance on a coin’s surface, resulting in microscopic abrasions or hairlines on part or all of the surface.
Overdipping – overuse of a mild acid solution (dip) to the point where a coin’s flow lines are destroyed and part or all of the original luster is lost.
Polishing – rubbing or buffing a coin’s surface with jeweler’s rouge or other substance to produce a “high gloss” appearance.
Whizzing – mechanically abrading a coin with a stiff wire brush in a circular motion, causing minute, parallel scratches that, to the untrained eye, may resemble mint luster.
Thumbing – sometimes used in conjunction with a chemical, a technique by which the thumb is rubbed over a coin to dull a portion of its surface, usually in an attempt to conceal contact marks.
Artificial toning – intentional use of chemicals to enhance a coin’s appearance or hide problems.
Excessive Toning – a chemical reaction that eventually damages a coin’s flow lines. Such toning is considered an impairment when luster is no longer reflected.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) Damage – the chemical “softeners” contained in some commercial coin holders react with a coin’s surface causing pits or corrosion.
Marks represent the movement of metal on a coin’s surface from contact with other coins or foreign objects. It is the subjective analysis of the effect of their quantity, location and severity on the overall “look” of the coin that determines grade.
Quantity – the number of marks should be considered in conjunction with location and severity. However, in situations where the location and severity of marks are comparable, the coin with fewer marks will probably grade higher.
Location – location is important in regard to how distracting a mark is to a coin’s overall “look.”
- Distraction Area – basically, any smooth area on a coin’s surface. A mark is more obvious if located in a coin’s field or on a flat surface of a deep device than if “hidden” in a deep-relief area of the design.
- Prime Focal Area – in any work of art, the balance of the design tends to draw the viewer’s eye away from the center of the design. For example, designs with a bust of Liberty direct the focus from the center toward whatever direction the bust is facing. Marks found in this focal area are more distracting than those elsewhere. This is an unbalanced design. With a balanced design (most reverses), the focus moves equally from the center outward in all directions but loses emphasis the farther it gets from the center. Hence, marks closer to the center of the design are more distracting than those on the periphery.
- Prime Distraction Area – the most critical location on a coin’s surface for marks (the smooth surface is the prime focal area).
Severity – marks range from light scuffs that barely break the frost to deep gouges. Obviously, the deeper, longer or wider the mark, the more distracting it is.
Pre-strike characteristics include any positive or negative factors present on the coin at the time it was struck. ANACS does not consider pre-strike characteristics when evaluating grade because they do not involve the preservation of the coin’s original state. Defects in the planchet, die or strike are described separately, for example, “MS-65/65 – Weakly Struck.” Buyers would do well to remember that technical grades do not consider value or price. The average price associated with a particular grade often is heavily discounted for pieces with pre-strike defects.
Conversely, coins with tremendous “flash,” originality, attractive toning or eye appeal may trade at significant premiums over their average price. In rare instances, the premium may reach multiples of the average price.
At times, a seller may assign a higher grade to justify the price. The ANA Certification Service does not support this grading practice but can not necessarily dispute the price. We would, however, state that this area may prove dangerously subjective for those who are not intimately familiar with the market.
The Peace dollar design is fairly simple and is struck in low relief. With no intricate design or protected areas, it is extremely vulnerable to marks – virtually any mark of consequence is distracting. A more deceptive problem is quantities of light marks, most of which barely scuff the surface. These may be difficult to see straight on but can be discerned by rotating the coin under incandescent light.
On the Visual Grading Reports, such marks appear lighter than the coin’s surface, while more severe marks are darker. Because they are so vulnerable, Peace dollars in strict MS-65 grade or above are quite scarce, and even the most common dates command substantial prices. Regarding eye appeal, exceptional luster is the most common criterion. Proof-like dollars are virtually nonexistent, and coins with extremely attractive toning are found far less frequently than in the Morgan dollar series.