Featured Learning to grade

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by GDJMSP, Feb 25, 2014.


    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    A member sent me a PM with the question of what books and web sites I would recommend to help him learn to grade. Now at first glance that would seem a kind of simple and easy request, but it really isn't. That's because there is a whole lot more to it than that. And my response to him prompted me to post this for everybody to read in the hope that it would help several people as opposed to just one. I've discussed all of this many, many times and in many different threads. But with a subject like this I don't know that you can post it often enough. So here we go.

    To learn how to grade coins properly and accurately takes time and a lot of work. It begins by reading everything you can find on the subject, and there's a lot to find. Both in the form of books and on-line resources. Then you have to study what you read, learn it, get to know it, become familiar with it. And that's still just the beginning. Then you have to look at coins, in hand, tens to hundreds of thousands of coins - and apply all of the things you read and studied to those coins as you look at them. You don't learn to grade, you cannot learn to grade, by looking at a hundred or even several hundred coins in hand. And when I say that I'm talking about just 1 type of coin. For example, if you want to learn to grade Morgans then you need to have looked at and studied thousands of Morgans in hand just to begin. Same thing goes for every different type of coin.

    Doing all of this is necessary because each and every coin is unique. No two coins are going to have marks in the same place, or the same number of marks, the same quality of luster, the same quality of strike, the same hairlines, the same eye appeal, be centered the same, have the same quality of planchet, scratches, fingerprints, the degree of severity for all of these - the list goes on. On each and every coin all of these things are going to be different. And it is the combination of all of these things that determines the grade of each coin. There there is the fact that there are many grades within each grade. But as a general rule a good grader only uses 3 - low, good, and high for the grade. In other words if a 100 coins are all graded MS64, they are not all equal to each other. Some will be nicer than the others, some will be roughly the same, some be worse than others - but yet they are all MS64. And that concept applies to all of the different grades from PO1 to MS70.

    Now just getting your head wrapped around that one idea is tough for a lot of people to do. Some can never do it, others grasp it right away. But it must be done or you never learn to grade properly and accurately.

    Now all of this is still just the beginning. Then you also have to learn how to recognize and correctly identify many different things you will see on coins. You have to learn how to identify all of the different kinds of problem coins, that's because problem coins cannot be graded. So if you're trying to grade coins you have to know one when you see it. And there's a lot of different kinds of problem coins. You also have to learn to identify things like die wear, die scratches, tool marks, die polish marks, planchet marks, roller marks, die cracks, die chips, die breaks, and probably a few others that I can't recall off the top of my head.

    All of these things, from top to bottom, have an impact on the grade of a coin. And you have to learn them all.

    Then you have to realize that there are many different sets of grading standards and each one is different from each of the others - no two are the same. And all of the things you read and study are going to be based on one, just one, of those sets of grading standards. And it is also important to realize that all of the grading standards have changed over the years, several times. Sometimes they became tighter, more strict, and sometimes they became looser, more lenient, with the latter being the most common.

    This creates a bit of a problem, especially if you are looking at a slabbed coin and trying to determine if it was graded accurately. For it then becomes necessary to be able to tell when that coin was slabbed, and by whom so that you know what set of grading standards was used, and how they measure up against the grading standards currently in use. And of course it also matters what set of grading standards you yourself adhere to.

    Now some, even many, want to dispute the idea that grading standards have changed. But it's documented fact. All you have to do see that for yourself is to read the books and articles written on grading standards, then it's right there in front of your own eyes in black and white. And you can also look at the coins and their assigned grades, the coins themselves are the very best evidence there is. Of course before you can see that evidence, you need to know how to grade yourself.


    The purpose of this thread is learning to grade, so that is the topic that we should discuss. Anybody can say whatever they want to say, but the goal is to help, to post links that you think are or will be helpful. To mentions books, articles, written on the subject of how to grade, and post links to them when you can. Or even to offer your personal insights on the subject. So please don't sidetrack the thread by posting pics of this coin or that coin and arguing about the grade of that coin. If that's what you want to do, fine do it. But start another thread and discuss it there.

    Anything written on the subject of grading is useful. You can never read enough on the subject. Some information found at the links that some post will be good and some will be bad. But even the bad teaches you something. And some of it will be outdated for as I mentioned grading standards have changed many times. But post it anyway.

    I'll start off by posting links to books that I believe everybody in the hobby should own and study. The books are just the starting point, but that is where you should start. Everything else comes afterwards. I will also post some links to useful articles.








    This is just a start, I have many other links that I can post, and I will probably add some, but I want to see what others have to add. So discuss and post away.
    mlov43, micbraun, RaceBannon and 15 others like this.
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  3. geekpryde

    geekpryde Husband and Father Moderator

    Great post. But why isn't this a sticky / pinned thread? reading your links now.
  4. Silveraholic

    Silveraholic Member

    The ANA also offers classes on how to grade. However they cost $200-$300, but if you're serious about learning to grade it may help to take one of these classes given by expert graders.

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Thanks for the compliment, but why should it be ? There's nothing in my post that I haven't posted literally 100 or more times before. Should all of them be sticky threads too ?

    You can't make every good post or thread a sticky thread, you just can't. If you did there would be twenty pages of sticky threads in every section of the forum that members would have to scroll through just to get to the new threads/posts.

    When you find a particular post or thread that you like - bookmark it - that's what bookmarks are for. Then that post/thread will always be at your fingertips. You can even organize bookmarks in folders by category if you want. That's what I do.
  6. micbraun

    micbraun coindiccted

  7. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    I'd add one meta-observation, one which I hope is true:

    Doug's discussion of learning how to grade may make it seem like an overwhelming challenge. Even if you work hard at it, it will take years to master it. Maybe you never will. Certainly, no matter how far you progress, there's always more to learn.

    But that's no reason not to start! Even if you only practice for a few weeks, and move from 0.1% mastery to 0.3% mastery, you've gained yourself some advantage. That start will make it easier for you to accumulate more knowledge, even if you aren't consciously working at it. It will also help reduce the frequency, severity, and expense of the mistakes you make.

    Of course, there's also a complementary side: even if you're very pleased with your progress, don't get over-confident. You might be pretty sure you're better at grading than the TPG folks -- but if you haven't been at it for many, many years, and tested that skill many, many times, don't bet the house payment on it.

    I've got quite a few coins that I thought were undergraded or undervalued, based on my grading skills at the time. Some were, but others have problems, or exposed problems in my grading skills. I'm still in my house, though. :)
    green18 and aubade21 like this.
  8. carboni7e

    carboni7e aka MonsterCoinz

    Hmmm.. if 3 weeks = 0.2% mastery.... then 28.74 years = 100% Mastery! ;) I have a long way to go haha
    Mike Drop and Soiled like this.
  9. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    My own "posted a 100 times" contribution to this thread would be the suggestion to go out and buy a grading book like Photograde and a bag or two of nickels. Read the section and look at the pictures of Jefferson nickels, and start categorizing by grade. Make one pile G, next VG, etc. Go through every coin. Then go back and look at all of the G nickels. Do they all look correctly graded? Go back through every pile, paying attention to coins you made mistakes on, or are hard to grade.

    Its the best way I know how to teach grading of circulated coins. Effectively all coins are graded the same way. Once you learn how to grade a nickel, all you need to learn on how to grade a washington quarter is what is its high points versus the jeff nickel. Everything else is the same.

    When you get done, either you can go through and keep the best graded coin of each date/mm as a start of a set, or simply deposit back into the bank.

    Now, for uncirculated coins its somewhat harder. Then you have to learn to recognize cleaned coins, etc, but I still believe this is a great start for a new collector. I plan on having my sons do exactly this if they ever become interested in collecting coins.
    -jeffB likes this.
  10. -jeffB

    -jeffB Greshams LEO Supporter

    Yeah, I actually thought about those numbers. I'd had "0.1% to 0.5%" at first, and thought that was too generous.

    The other problem is that I don't think you can ever reach 100%. But, again, the journey is the reward.
  11. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Is learning to grade a daunting task ? You bet it is. But then what in life is not ? All of us go to school for 12 years, and that's just to learn the basics. Then there are 2, 4, 6, or even 8 more years to go to school. And even after that 20 years of schooling and with your PhD - you are still just a beginner in your field. The real learning begins when you are done with school.

    Learning to grade coins is no different. The path along any road all starts with that first step. So take it, and the next, and the next, ....................
    micbraun likes this.
  12. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    PCGS's Photograde is also an app available for many mobile devices.
    Burnside_Q likes this.

    ROLLJUNKIE Active Member

    If I could make a request it would be that maybe you write an article on a specific area of the hobby once a month? I like reading your posts and think you have a lot to teach. Unfortunately, I sometimes have to read through five pages of opinions (to put it nicely) before finding that useful tidbit of information. I think debate is a good thing, but from what I have read on here, you seem more than qualified to do a write up that isn't up for discussion, just a useful informative piece that one could refer back to.
  14. C-B-D

    C-B-D Well-Known Member

    I'll just add this: We have to learn to set our own standards and use those alongside all those resources listed above. Much like EAC will often grade an 1827 large cent VF30 when it's in a PCGS XF40 holder.
    Personally, I am much harsher on grading Indian cents than PCGS, but much easier on Barber halves and quarters. I like my methods of grading those more than the "big boys."
  15. spock1k

    spock1k King of Hearts

    you should rename the thread to still learning to grade :D
  16. statequarterguy

    statequarterguy Love Pucks

    And, since grading is subjective, even after you’ve become an “expert”, another “expert” will disagree with your grade. As a general rule, the seller of a coin believes the grade is higher than the buyer. :rolleyes:
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2014
  17. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    While I understand, appreciate, and am truly flattered by your comments, I've done my share of teaching over the years, and not just about coins. And what I've found is that discussion is without a doubt the best way.

    You see, no matter what I say, somebody always has something else to say, even it's just a question, that adds to and often improves the subject being discussed - as opposed to just being talked about or written about. Now I've never written a book on coins, am currently helping somebody write one though, but I have written quite a few articles in article format, some recently, some long ago. Some have been published in the various coin magazines, some have been published on various web sites. So if articles that I've written is what you want to read, send me a PM and I'll send ya links.

    One last thing, this is a forum. And the purpose of a forum is to allow all members to speak, not just a few, and definitely not just one. So it would be unfair for me to do what you are asking.
  18. gbroke

    gbroke Naturally Toned

    I'll just add another thing to consider when trying to become proficient at grading. That being, weak strikes/worn dies vs wear.
    Being a Jefferson collector, this is a very important thing to consider. Some may see a nickel and right away assume it's circulated, sometimes very circulated. However, the luster is booming and unbroken. this immediately rules it out as being circulated.
    What's my point? Luster plays a HUGE factor in grading. Especially between AU/MS and then the higher grades.
    For example:

    That is all, carry on.
  19. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

  20. SPP Ottawa

    SPP Ottawa Numismatist

    This book is out of print, but it is the best one I know of, for Canadian and Provincial coins, and you can find it relatively cheap and easy.

    Great thread, by the way.

    Charlton_&_Willey_grading guide.JPG
  21. statequarterguy

    statequarterguy Love Pucks

    Very true and I've dealt with this issue many times with Morgan Dollars, the weak strike of the hair over the ear or eagle’s breast feathers making the coin look circulated, even though the luster is not broken. I'm finding in today’s raw coin market, that BU coin with a weak strike will only sell at AU prices because the eye appeal of crisp hair/feathers isn't there. Of course there are years/mints with only weak strikes that do sell for BU prices. This is the kind of grading expertise that can only be had through reading about specific series and EXPERIENCE.

    Edit: Another series requiring much experience is the Seated Liberty Series. The larger the coin, the more likely the word, LIBERTY, at the center of the coin is weakly struck, while the remainder of the coin has more detail, thus the coin could grade higher than simply grading by the amount of LIBERTY showing, yet it’s probably discounted due to the weak LIBERTY.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2014
    gbroke likes this.
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