Featured Choice Coins in Lower Grades - What to Aim For and Why

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by CircCam, Jun 25, 2019.

  1. CircCam

    CircCam Victory

    While obvious to the seasoned folks, I felt it might be a good topic to touch on.

    It’s easy to see the difference between an MS67 and MS61 Morgan, but once we depart from the high end, the severity of marks and surface quality continue to separate the choice coins from the average.

    It’s easy to think of a Fine-12 and imagine a somewhat dinged up coin with decent surfaces that still retains enough design detail for a Fine grade. There are lots of coins that fall into that category that warrant their straight grade as they haven’t been harshly cleaned and aren’t environmentally or otherwise damaged beyond what is (by most) accepted as the threshold for these imperfections.

    With a discerning eye though, we can aim to select lower grade coins that have the wear to warrant that grade but survived their lifetime of circulation and subsequent downtime more gracefully than a lot of their peers.

    This 1821 Bust quarter is a recent purchase that illustrates this concept perfectly in my opinion:


    At F12, it saw its fair share of circulation. However, on the journey there, it was not dinged on the rims, scratched or hit deeply or substantially anywhere on the coin. There is no evidence of an old cleaning, and the surfaces retain the nice multicolored trace luster that is characteristic of original silver.


    The coin is CAC certified, but plenty of great coins out there with a sticker have more blemishes than the coin above...and of course there are loads of choice raw and certified coins out there like this to be had as well. While the bean is a signal that good things are happening here, nothing replaces our own eyes detecting premium quality within the grade by watching out for issues.

    Here is an 1812 Bust Half, also in F12:
    Original surfaces, pretty trace luster, smooth edges, nice contrast... BUT, toned over obverse scratches:


    Not past the threshold to bodybag it (leaving folks’ personal opinions on that score aside- NGC and ICG both straight graded this coin at F12) but enough to take it out of the “Choice” category we’re talking about. Did that stop me from buying it? Heck no, I love that coin. A few scratches don’t bother me when the other criteria is good to go and the price is right.


    (PCGS F15)

    Again, this is not to suggest that one should expect perfection in circulated pieces or pass entirely. I personally think that would be a quick way to miss out on a lot of great coins- but it doesn’t hurt to aim for the highest quality possible.
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  3. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    Man that is a superb write up. And on a subject we tend to overlook here on CT. Ever since LordM and yourself have made the concept of Circ-cam coins more in the lime light I have found that I too love the flavor of these pieces. And I been a lifetime committed "blast white" sort of fellow. The bust and seated halves that present with the circ-cam look have a beauty all their own that I have come to love.
  4. Noah Finney

    Noah Finney Morgan / Gold Indian Member

    This thread deserves to be featured..........
  5. Inspector43

    Inspector43 72 Year Collector Supporter

    A lot of my Morgan dollar and Barber halves have the character of a working piece. I prefer that to blast white. If they are not banged up or worn smooth, I go for eye appeal.
    Randy Abercrombie likes this.
  6. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Here are a couple of Draped Bust, Small Eagle dollars. If I could buy an entire collection that looked like this 1797 dollar, I'd do it. But if I held to that standard, I would never complete the date set and would pass on some acceptable pieces. This piece has wonderful color and surfaces, but the grade is only EF-45.

    1797 Dol A O.jpg 1797 Dol A R.jpg

    I like the look of this 1795 dollar, but I know it's been dipped and is not original. This one is graded AU-53.

    1795 Dr Bust Dol O.jpg 1795 Dr Bust Dol R.jpg
    Wayman, R_rabbit, Browns Fan and 2 others like this.
  7. Eduard

    Eduard Supporter**

    This is a very interesting post, @CircCam.

    You seem to prefer early dates, bust coins, etc like I do. In this collecting area high grades tend to be quite pricey, to say the least. I fully agree the alternative are 'working-man's' grades with good eye appeal, just like the Bust Quarter you posted. That is a beauty btw!

    Here are two CBQ's from my collection that would fit that description (raw, of course):

    1815 quarter OBV1 N - 1 (1).jpg 1815 quarter rev1 N good - 1.jpg 1820 Quarter smaller OBV1 N - 1.jpg 1820 Quarter smaller REV1 N - 1.jpg
    Murphy45p, buckeye73, NSP and 2 others like this.
  8. buckeye73

    buckeye73 Well-Known Member

    Outstanding Topic!
    Obviously outside the realm of discussion of silver coinage up to now, but within the topic, Early American Coppers are a prime example of the importance of the coin’s surface and color. Copper is much more reactive to environmental conditions than silver, thus the coin surface is found in various conditions described as Choice, Average, and Scudzy, (with some interpolation) in price guides. The common goal for a given grade is a choice coin, one with both choice color and minimal circulation marks for that grade.

    An EAC person generally would opt for a choice VF coin versus an average EF coin of a given date and variety. Also, he/she would be willing to pay a higher price for that VF coin with the chocolate brown surface and with minimal marks for the grade.
    Eduard and Randy Abercrombie like this.
  9. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I agree heartily with the thread. This is a nuance most new collectors do not get. A grade is a REPRESENTATION of the overall desirability of a coin. It was created really for instances where a person could not see the coin in person, to give the reader a GENERAL IDEA of the coin. However, many VFs are worth more and are more desirable than XFs. This point is not taught enough to new collectors, generally because you need to be more advanced to see WHY.

    In ancients, it is even worst, due to the hand struck coins, hand cut dies, terms of preservation, etc. Many XFs will sell for less than good Fines in the ancient world. But even with mass produced coins terms of preservation will make a huge difference in desirability.
    Murphy45p and buckeye73 like this.
  10. Jim Dale

    Jim Dale Well-Known Member

    I really enjoyed this thread. I learned a valuable lesson. I have always tried to get coins that were at least Fine and because of my restrictions, I have passed on several coins that did not meet that limitation. From what I have learned, I plan on going back and looking for coins that will fill my collection. I love those coins in the late 1700's and early 1800's. One coin that I would really like is the 1856 Flying Eagle, however, the mintage is low and the cost is high, so I just have to be satisfied with my 1857 and 1858. This website is a library filled with information with collectors with PhDs in Practical Information from the University of Hard Knocks. Thank you all for your incite and knowledge.
    Trimbit and buckeye73 like this.
  11. John Skelton

    John Skelton Morgan man!

    This is very informative and gives me a different perspective on collecting. For example, I didn't care for WLH coins unless they also had a full head. But now I will look at them differently and start picking them up. Same goes for my favorites, Morgans!
  12. CircCam

    CircCam Victory

    Glad to hear it, Randy!

    Lovely coins, and agreed...sure I wish all my coins were preserved the way the quarter and your 1797 are, but it’s not realistic for someone who enjoys picking up new coins as much as I do.

    That’s partly why I posted this- I’m absolutely a work in progress at being disciplined in my purchases. The CircCam look in classic US type stuff or pretty colors on an MS Indian Cent get me going on a coin sometimes and I get tunnel vision and pull the trigger without taking a second to cool my heels and consider all aspects.
    These are fantastic and exactly the choice type coins I’m talking about. Very nice!

    I just learned recently in my quest for a quality but affordable Draped Bust quarter that there are tons out there in low grades (AG, G) that have big price tags (for a journeyman like me anyway) due to the rarity and retail value ($300-500) but the coins just sit there on the shelf because most at that grade level have issues and/or lack eye appeal. When I find one with eye appeal and choice surfaces down there, I’ll be all over it. Still looking.

    I’m glad some of you found the information helpful- the other side of the coin in my experience is to be careful to still judge coins holistically... micro-grading can take the fun out of things really fast, so if a coin has an issue or two and you still love it, that’s all that matters.
  13. Paul M.

    Paul M. Well-Known Member

    Funny you should mention early Federal coinage. There are a lot of coins in straight graded holders that have really old cleanings (not just dipped), and you should watch out for this, as well. A lot of them were lightly cleaned 100+ years ago and have toned over, but you should still watch out for fully original pieces and prefer them when possible.
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