ANA Summer Seminar Class Notes: Intermediate Coin Grading, 2015

I’ve just returned from my third year in Colorado Springs for the annual ANA Summer Seminar where I took Intermediate Coin Grading.  I had a complete blast, and a full write up on my week away at Coin Camp will be up soon.

Last year, I shared my notes from the class and received such an overwhelmingly positive response I knew I had to do it again this year.  I took the same course as I did last year despite doing well the first time around because I wanted to be sure to have an incredibly strong foundation before moving on to the next level — and the fact that the three instructors, David McCarthy of Kagin’s, John Schuch Jr. of NGC, and Steve Feltner of Americana Rare Coins, are some of my best friends in coin-nerd-land had absolutely nothing to do with my decision.

I brought my trusty iPad along with me, and took down nearly everything the three instructors  said whether it was new information to me or not, in bullet-point form.  Some of the points may lack some context, but there are some real gems of information to be found in these notes and it’s my hope that they may help another fellow coin nerd out.



Summer Seminar Class Notes


  • David likes to think of coins in terms of 60 63 65, and if it’s neither 63 nor 65 it’s a “split grade” of 64.
  • 1864 1c, there are two varieties w or w/o “L” (located on Indian’s headdress tail/band)
  • Fully struck diamonds on the headband tail don’t necessarily make the Indian head cent MS
  • When Buffalo nickels were first designed the designer wanted orange peel / ripples across the fields, and Mr. Barber came around and polished out the fields on most later coins.
  • O Mint Morgans are often weakly struck
  • Sometimes you can grade by color on silver – wear on high points turns gray, XF goes battle ship gray, VF goes a kinda gray-taupe-thing
  • On Barber coinage if there’s stuff going on on the cheek, you get to 64 and then you have to stop
  • 53 is “often an ugly coin”
  • 65 and 66 is the “go to grade” for almost all commems
  • Almost all Texas 50cs are very well struck
  • “That coin is offensive to me as a 6”. – David
  • “This coin is so beautiful it’s like you’re looking off into space” – John, different coin
  • ‘Grading is a lot like life, there are a lot of wrong answers, a few right ones, and no one will agree’
  • “I’m just saying, if that coin were a dessert it would be molten lava cake” about a SLQ – Steve
  • Minimum grade on Iowa commems is generally 66
  • A ton of type 3 gold $1s are clashed
  • “I really like to have something special for a 7” – John
  • “I understand 3, but it’s a 2 coin with makeup on it” – John about a coin with toning
  • BTW 50c are super notorious for having unstruck planchet; so there’s usually quite a number of “ticks” that aren’t really ticks but are unstruck planchet on his cheek
  • Proof coins aren’t going to have contact marks, so you grade them by hairlines.
  • Cameo is basically the difference in the look in the frost of the devices vs the fields. Nice, watery fields and frosty design & devices = cam
  • Die polish goes under/stops at the designs, scratches go over the designs
  • PCGS will basically not PL anything other than Morgans
  • Denticles of proof seated quarters should be razor sharp & squared, reeded edge should be sharp
  • Pioneer / Territory Gold is not as “well made” as a mint made coin, so keep in mind the method of manufacture when grading
  • In general pioneer / Territorial gold they tend to be more lenient with grading
  • $50 slugs are almost all weakly struck, grade a lot off of luster. The dies were also uneven.
  • Most coins from whose date starts with 17 (as in 1797) are weakly struck
  • Wear tends to have dull texture, whereas striking weakness just kinda doesn’t
  • “It might not be attractive toning, but it’s un-messed-with toning.” -John
  • 1921 Morgans, pitting appearance on face is very very common, treat it like a strike issue and ignore it for grading
  • 38-D buffalo nickels are very very common in high grades, go to grade is usually 5 or 6
  • “I really want something special for my 7’s” – Steve
  • 1881-S Morgans can often come proof like, and are generally known as the best struck of all the Morgan dollars and are a common date.
  • 1881-S Morgans, for gem they have to be VERY gemmy because like a kid who knows he’s gotten in trouble, “this coin should know better.” – Steve
  • When a coin tones, quite often it’s sitting on something that’s off-gassing and the points that are in contact with the material don’t tone / don’t tone as darkly; it’s the opposite side of the coin that will get the toning as the gas collects on the surface facing up; the gas is slightly heavier than the air. In that same vein, to an extent some of the high points may not tone up as well because the gas tends to collect in the recess of the coin meaning high points tone last
  • On a coin with substantial hair lining, 2 is about as high as they can get
  • When you get to AU, AU58 = dull metal on very high points. AU coins always have luster on them. AU 50 has luster only on protected areas. XF has full details but no luster. 45’s sometimes have a hint of luster in protected areas and really really good details. 40 can have tiny bit of flatness on very highest points. VF is where you start to get real flatness on the design.
  • “This coin is a hot mess” – David
  • MS 60 & AU 53 are “ugly coin” grades, sometimes can mean the coin has an issue
  • 26-S & 27-S buffalo nickels tend to be a little proof like; heavily die eroded ones are a little suspicious
  • Proof buffalo 5c diagnostics: Where the field meets the rim, it’s razor sharp and they tend to have a very pebbly texture.
  • Hawaii 50c commem: diagnostic characteristic: must have a die crack in the arm pit
  • Most Stone Mountains are MS64
  • How to threaten a coin nerd: “I’ll take back my Zeiss” – John, who let me borrow his loupe all week.
  • SMS 5c tend to be proof like
  • $2.5 & $5 Indians are most commonly counterfeited gold coins
  • Pine tree shillings come in large planchet and small planchet varieties. Large planchets were struck on rocker press; small planchets were struck on a screw press. Earlier types (large planchet) can come in high grade fairly frequently. Small planchet pine tree shillings, there’s only a few in MS holders.
  • Steve: “Eye Appeal — aka toning in this case — adds a little and forgives a lot.”
  • 06 and 07 bust halves are notoriously weakly struck, very flat
  • For coins where an understanding of strike is needed, two of the teachers thinks that NGC grades coins better (like the early bust halves and earlier coins)
  • haze in only one location on a coin over marks = giant red flag
  • Dahlonega & Charlotte Gold … most mint state examples (of which there aren’t many), the actual surface and strike tend to “just look a little off”, like a little mushy.
  • $2.50 Indians can look really shiny in an unnatural way when they’re cleaned
  • Matte Proofs for gold were started in the teen’s
  • Might find a wax residue on gold coins; visible when coin is held almost perpendicular (gold), someone was putting wax on coins to fill in hairlines and as it mellowed it turned kinda white and diminishes luster, in bulk.
  • Remember to consider the overall look of the coins and not to hyper-focus on one area, ie stacking friction is still an unc coin
  • Student: “I thought we should go with our gut”  John: “You should, but I have to teach your gut before you can trust your gut.”
  • Hairlines show as bright lines when the part of the coin you’re looking at is dark
  • For $2.50 & $5 Indians start at 62 as that’s average grade. He can have stacking friction on his cheek and be okay in 2-3-4 the same way that the breast of a Saint may. Higher grades need less to no stacking friction. To see if it’s unc or not flip it to the reverse and check the eagle’s shoulder for the first signs of wear.
  • “You have just the barest hint of what may be construed to be luster in the far devices, and full detail” – David on 45 coins
  • Bechtler coins can naturally turn crazy blues/purples/reds like a Morgan because of the silver content in the native gold they used at the time.
  • “It’s a 2, but a nice 2 … the sort of 2 you’d want to bring home to meet your mom.” – David
  • Strong DMPLS vs proofs … DMPLs frost tends to look a little “chalkier”; it’s more of a texture difference in the fields. There are Morgan Proofs that have come out of MS holders that were proofs, but more have come out of PL holders that were proofs than from DMPL holders. The fields also tend to be flatter for proofs. The rim, generally speaking is very very sharp
  • Bechtler’s have no real design to protect the surfaces so they tend to be very “hairy” (hair lined).
  • Luster on hand-hammered coins is very different than screw press or struck coins.
  • “You NEVER throw a coin like a Chinese star.” – John  “Especially when they’re mine” -Steve


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