Grading inflation - is it a recent phenomenon?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by nerosmyfavorite68, May 15, 2022.

  1. nerosmyfavorite68

    nerosmyfavorite68 Well-Known Member

    I've noticed this phenomenon lately on vcoins (and I'm sure other places) of rampant grading inflation. Since there's a picture I can grade it myself, and I don't buy coins because of dealers' grades, but it is rather annoying.

    For example; something which is by-the-books VG+ or Fine is graded in the description Very Fine or even good very fine!

    Some dealers also won't mention bronze disease or tooling in the descriptions.

    Have you noticed this? I had taken a hiatus from active buying from 2014-20, so I don't know exactly when it started. I don't seem to remember grading inflation being so pronounced before 2010.

    Here would be my old school (1990) definition of grading, using my coins:
    (for simple straight wear examples, not things like porosity,bad strike, corrosion, scratches or other nebulous things)

    EF (aka XF)


    Gordian III Sestertius glossy Green patina RIC 298a.JPG
    (although I guess very old school grading might grade the Gordian a good fine - it was the most convenient coin I could come up with).


    Below Fine is a bit more nebulous:






    Fair (obverse)


    Poor: I don't have any pictured examples:
    A slick.
    Last edited: May 15, 2022
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  3. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    I feel like your VG bronze would probably be advertised as VF these days
  4. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    For ancient coins, there is no need to read or list grades in today's modern world where nearly every lot is photographed. As the old adage goes, a picture says a thousand words: why attempt to distill down to two letters? Some dealers call everything Mint State; just avoid reading their descriptions if the picture disagrees.

    Modern coins don't have as much variability so people take out their microscopes and squabble about whether someone sneezed near the coin 200 years ago, inducing an unacceptable amount of wear.
  5. nerosmyfavorite68

    nerosmyfavorite68 Well-Known Member

    Lol, yeah!

    I wonder what happened? Even dealers whom I like and buy often from are inflating grades.

    I guess this could be graded EF by Byzantine standards. It's not in-hand yet, but I grabbed it because it was really nice - and huge. IIRC, the dealer graded it VF.
    Last edited: May 15, 2022
  6. nerosmyfavorite68

    nerosmyfavorite68 Well-Known Member

    Very true and LOL! :woot:

    Do you have any worn coins in your collection, AncientJoe? :wacky: You have some pretty nice ones.. :joyful:
  7. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    There are only 2 grades when it comes to ancients...
    1.....I don't like it.
    2.....I like it.
  8. nerosmyfavorite68

    nerosmyfavorite68 Well-Known Member

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  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Like others here, I pretty much ignore the dealers' grade opinions -- even when an ancient coin is slabbed and the grade comes from NGC! -- and make my purchase decisions based on the photos. Grade inflation? I think European dealers, especially certain dealers in France, are noticeably worse in that regard than US and UK dealers., as much as I like them and have bought quite a few coins from them, seems never to have met a coin that's less than "VF," and their absolute favorite grade seems to be "AU." I've seen it applied to coins that I would rate, by the traditional illustrated standards set forth in the introductions to guidebooks like those from Seaby/Spink, as Fine at best.
  10. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    The grade inflation, while real, does not bother me because I have the picture of the coin to go by and I can judge for myself. But what annoys me to no end is a coin that has been tooled that is not properly labeled so by the dealer( and I dislike the term "enhanced"! ). I imagine all dealers regard themselves as professional and reputable, but if they know a coin has been tooled and do not state so, I must disagree with their opinion of themselves.
    Tooling is often very difficult to discern from a photo, and not all collectors are skilled enough to discover it. I feel that if a dealer is aware of it , he should certainly make it known. This is my pet peeve!
  11. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    This is why I generally stay away from ancient bronzes unless they come from a highly reputable dealer whom I trust not only to be capable of detecting tooling and/or smoothing, but also of disclosing its presence. I don't have confidence in my own ability to see it unless it's truly obvious.
  12. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    There are 2 things that I never bother with when following an auction: grading and estimate.
  13. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    ...Yes I completely agree, frustratingly I really like the big bronzes and I'm always concerned about tooling!...Luckily I do have a few sellers that I regularly buy from who are completely honest !
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  14. ambr0zie

    ambr0zie Dacian Taraboste

    I do not have the skills to contest the grading provided by professional grading companies. And I do not buy them - mostly because I am a budget collector and buying a slabbed coin makes no sense.

    But I can tell you that many auction houses provide funny grades.
    Some houses I know only use 3 grades: very fine (usually a F), nearly very fine (very low grade F), and fine (G-VG).
    I agree with @nerosmyfavorite68's grades.
    But I can bet in many auctions, the XF example would be advertised as "virtually as struck", the VF would most likely be an XF and the Fine, of course, a VF.

    Now the question is, do we as collectors care about this (not the grade, I mean the description). The description is marketing, the houses and dealers want to sell their coins. With a high price.

    Personally I ignore the advertised grade. And I always double check the info provided by dealer/auction house as it happened too many times for the coin to have an incorrect description (wrong catalogue entry, wrong legend, even wrong ruler)
    My list of priorities is
    1. is the coin from a ruler/city/period I am interested in?
    2. Does the coin have an interesting design? I am a general collector and even if I basically like every ancient coin I look at, I started to get a little bored of the designs with portrait (usually facing right) / someone seated and standing.
    3. Is the coin appealing? (good details, nice toning...)
    4. Is the coin in my price range?
    If answer to all these is yes, and of course if I like the coin, I try to get it.
    I don't care too much about the grade (real grade or advertised grade, if different - but this doesn't mean I buy slugs) and on a different subject, I don't care about "only x specimens known". Of course, if a coin in my area is very rare, I try to get it, but buying a coin that tells nothing to me just because RPC only has 2 examples is not going to happen.

    And this is just a personal preference, but often I prefer buying a "nearly VF" instead of a "good VF" (realistic grades). For me, in many cases the "nearly VF" is more attractive.... and it will be much cheaper.
    DonnaML and nerosmyfavorite68 like this.
  15. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    nero., As Ancient Joe & others suggest a good photo is better than a numerical or letter grade ;). If you can't live without a letter grade use an NGC graded coin for comparison. For example see the photos below of your coin graded VF buy the dealer compared to a VF slab in my collection. Your coin looks like a VF :p.

    6060319-003 Al Kowsky Collection.jpg

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  16. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    When I think of grade for ancient coins, I think of wear. Of course it is often hard to differentiate between wear and worn dies. So, a provincial Roman drachm from Alexandria might have a lot of flatness from an over-used die, but, for the type grade VF or EF. Ditto for Byzantine bronze coinage.

    Of course other factors are present, such corrosion, poor strike, doubling, overstirke, tooling and smoothing, flan flaws, etc. but I think of these factors as being separate from grade being in the realm of surface condition, so, for example, a Byzantine follis could be an EF for wear but also have flan flaws and an uneven strike, which need to be included in the coin's description.
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  17. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    I don't see much consistency out there. Therefore I stick with photos. I have been burned only once when some green encrustation on an Alexandrian tet was photoshopped or smoothed out of the seller's image so I was shocked when I received the coin. I have never bought from that dealer again.

    Edit: it was not a cheap coin!
    Last edited: May 15, 2022
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  18. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    We have no idea as to what a coin looked like fresh from the mint!...So there is no basis to grade!....We use modern type grades from pre determined coins that are produced from modern dies to try and assimilate the quality of a coin...
    DonnaML and Roman Collector like this.
  19. nerosmyfavorite68

    nerosmyfavorite68 Well-Known Member

    The dealer's grade doesn't mean all that much to me; it's just one of those slightly annoyings things, like Andy Rooney used to point out, "Did you ever notice...?"

    More important to me is bronze disease and tooling. I get the omission of BD if it's a bargain basement coin and they're listing 10 billion coins. But for a better coin, I want to know. Super obvious BD is easy to spot, but sometimes it's also hard to tell whether it's old verdigris or active. I lost out on a higher grade (by wear) Heraclius Seleucia that way. By the time I had sent off an enquiry to the dealer, the coin was gone.

    If you want to see something funny, search Abydos Apollo lyre with $50 as the top cutoff. If I see that face in the window, I'm calling a paranormal show.
  20. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Generally speaking when I look at a coin the first question that I ask is... Do I like this coin? Most ancient coins are something of a medley. I have to consider a huge number of factors including centering, surface, style, damage, price and a host of other factors. If I decide I still like it, then I might look at the grade ascribed to it by a vendor. Most of the time I may agree. I would hazard to say that I have only two grades. Either 1. I like it or 2. I don't.
    Philip I Ae 8 assarion 247-249 AD Obv. Bust right laureate and draped seen from back . Rv Head of Tyche right draped wearing veiled turreted crown. McAlee 977var 15.39 grms 28 mm Photo by W. Hansen antaephilsnr1.jpg When I saw this coin it was in a bag with a number of other specimens. Thus it had no written grade. I thought it was more or less complete and reasonably well centered though with some damage on the obverse just below the bust. Probably a flan flaw. To me the damage was very localized and therefore not that distracting. I thought this coin was a better example than most and his price point was slightly less than I had anticipated so I bought it.
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  21. kirispupis

    kirispupis Well-Known Member

    Personally, I don't agree with your EF designation for the first coin. I would expect the lettering to be near perfect for an EF and the reverse too isn't sharp enough.

    From what I've noticed, it isn't the case that sellers have grown more optimistic in their gradings, and more that there's wild inconsistency between sellers. Personally, I still think CNG leads in their gradings. Like you, I use my own eyes for the grade, though I've noticed coins I consider misgraded selling for more than they should based on the auction house's grade.

    Here's an example of how widely sellers differ in grades. This one was given a VF by Leu.


    Here's a different denomination, but the same basic design. It was also given a VF.


    In my opinion, the first is closer to an EF. For many other coins, it would be either VF or gF, but for a Eupolemos specimen it's rare to find one in such condition. For the second, I would agree with the VF designation, as most examples are very crude.

    Still, I expect few would agree that both coins should have the same grade.
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