Proposed New Grading System

Oh great…just what we need: more numbers to further complicate grading. I’ve got a proposal that doesn’t entail expanding the current Sheldon scale or creating new adjectives. But I think it could be very beneficial to collectors. Let me run it by you and see what you think. Back in the early to mid 1980’s, before the creation of PCGS and NGC, I knew a few reputable dealers who employed an expanded numerical grading system. This system never really caught on but the more I think about it, the more I like it.

A sample grade using this system would be as follows:

1886 $2.50 MS65 A/B/A/B/B

Basically what this means is that an 1886 quarter eagle has been graded MS65 and it is rated as an A for strike, B for luster, A for color, B for surface quality and B for overall eye appeal. This system was used, in a form somewhat similar to this, by ANACS back when they were the only game in town and graded coins using photo-certificates. What if PCGS and NGC decided to use this system and these expanded ratings appeared on their holders?

There are, of course, good things and bad things about this system. The good things are that these expanded grades tell a potential buyer more about a coin that just the simple grade of “MS65.” The negative aspect is that it potentially adds more subjectivity to a system that has already been accused of being too subjective.

But I don’t think this system is a negative. I think if standards are created within each series, than a system with expanded grade modifiers could be very helpful to the collector.

As an example, rating a coin from “A” to “F” based on strike is really not all that difficult. In the case of an 1886 quarter eagle—an issue that is generally seen very well struck—most examples will garner either an “A” or a “B.” What would be more difficult is an issue like an 1844-O eagle which shows a wide variation in strike. My answer for this is that only a few 1844-O eagles will be given an “A” for strike; most will be called a “B” or even a “C.”

Luster is not difficult to categorize. A coin either has superior luster (which means it will be given an “A”) or it has inferior luster (it will, in this case, probably be given a “C”).

Coloration on gold coins does not presently carry the weight that it does on silver so it should not prove to be as controversial to call a coin an “A” when it comes to this factor. However, there are certainly some subjective areas here, especially when it comes to circulated coins. As an example, I tend to not like coins which have what I call a “Euro Grime” look. These are coins that have been stored in European bank vaults for 50-100 years and they have developed a dark golden color with blackish highlights. Other people do like this color and think coins with this look are “original.”

Surface preservation is also reasonably easy to categorize. A coin with very clean surfaces for the grade and issue is clearly easy to identify as is a coin with heavily marked surfaces. Certain issues, like Type Two double eagles from San Francisco, are almost never seen with choice surfaces so an example that was given an “A” for its surfaces might be more desirable than one given a “C.”

The really difficult category would be the fifth and final one: eye appeal. This is clearly the most subjective of these categories. A coin that one person finds appealing might be looked at as unappealing by others. However, I think that experts can reach a very high level of consensus on eye appeal. If you show a certain Dahlonega half eagle to ten experts, I think that nine or ten of these people would consistently agree that this coin has “A” level eye appeal.

If all coins were given these five categories, it would be interesting to see the effect on pricing. Obviously, an 1886 quarter eagle in MS65 that was rated as A/A/A/B/A would sell for more money than a similarly graded coin that was rated as B/B/B/A/B.

I’ve read about possible changes to the Sheldon system which include expanding to a 100 point system. I hate this idea. But changing the current 70 point system to a system with five ranked categories just might make sense.