Major Distracting Marks

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by Bman33, Jan 15, 2018.

  1. Bman33

    Bman33 Well-Known Member

    Ok, I have been looking at a lot of Morgans on the HA website. Trying to hone in my grading skills and buy some coins at the same time. I am going through the ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins and I am focusing on MS-65. The description goes"Light and scattered without major distracting marks in prime focal areas". Can we get a consensus here on what is a major distracting mark and what is not? I know this is subjective but maybe we can all come up with something for a major distracting mark guide. Post photos or describe what you have.
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  3. IBetASilverDollar

    IBetASilverDollar Well-Known Member

    It's definitely a "you know it when you see it" type thing and even then some people are more sensitive to what they see.

    The important thing, in my opinion, is if there is a major distracting mark to YOU no matter what the grade is do you really want to own that coin? A mark may not disqualify a coin from 65 but if it's all you see when looking at a coin it's probably not the coin for you.

    Also a lot of times coins look like they have awful distracting marks in images then in hand you barely notice them. Here is one of my favorite coins. The mark by her ear kept this from reaching 65 it looks prominent in photos, I don't even see it in hand.


    I was happy to save a ton of money from missing 65 for a coin that is every bit of a 65 in every other way.
    JPeace$, asheland, Mainebill and 4 others like this.
  4. Bman33

    Bman33 Well-Known Member

    Yeah, at the end of the day it's what marks I can live with and still love the coin. Good point!
  5. amorris

    amorris Member

    Same situation with this Seated Half. There's a gouge right on liberty's face that I didn't even notice until a few days ago, though I've owned it for years. That's perhaps because Liberty's face for me isn't a prime focal area, though I would guess it is for most other collectors. IMG_3017.jpg
    IBetASilverDollar likes this.
  6. eddiespin

    eddiespin Fast Eddie

    When a mark throws off your eye-movement through the coin, it's a distracting mark.
    longnine009 and TypeCoin971793 like this.
  7. Bman33

    Bman33 Well-Known Member

    I agree. I am trying to address major distracting marks in the Prime focal area. What would get a coin down to a 63.
  8. eddiespin

    eddiespin Fast Eddie

    As a general proposition, in the prime focal areas, they're going to be more distracting, because that's where your focus keeps coming back to, while, in the fields, they have to be more prominent to take down the grade. Does that make sense?

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Your post kind of addresses two different subjects. One would be the grading aspect and the second would be what qualifies as a major distracting mark.

    Regarding the grading aspect, you may already know this Bman, but I'm going to explain for those who may read this that do not know it. First of all you mentioned prime focal areas. And when it comes to grading that's something we need to understand if we wish to learn to grade correctly. So what exactly is a prime focal area ? For some, they probably their own ideas about what part of a coin is a prime focal area and what parts are not. But for grading it's already predetermined, and it's different for each and every coin type. For example, look in your ANA grading book at the section for Morgans and you'll see the prime focal areas plainly marked, as well as secondary areas. Now look at the next section, for Peace dollars, they are marked as well - but they are different than those for the Morgans on both the obverses and the reverses.

    This is how it is for each and every coin type, each one has different areas that are prime focal areas, secondary focal areas, and the rest of the coin. And contact marks and their number, regardless of their size, count more against the grade in one than they do in the others. And it is only after first determining that part of it that you address the size of the marks and account for that.

    There is also one other aspect that differs with each coin type - the size of the coin itself - and this is a very important part of the grading process that some either don't know or simply forget about it when they are grading. You see, when it comes to grading the number of the marks and the size of the marks are relative to the size of the coin, as well as their location on the coin. And when it comes to size there is more than one dimension to consider, you have to consider all 3 dimensions - length, width, and depth. And as the size of the coin diminishes so do all of those dimensions, as well as their number.

    For example, a Morgan or Peace might have 12 or 13 marks of varying sizes but no larger than average scattered across the coin. (And bear in mind I'm using these numbers as arbitrary numbers, not as actual numbers that you need to know.) And those marks may only drop the grade 1 point depending on exactly where they are - prime, secondary, or other focal areas. But on a dime, that same number of marks in the exact same sizes, in the prime, secondary, or other focal areas for that specific coin may drop the grade 2 or even 3 points. (Also bear in mind we're talking about MS coins here - things are different with circ coins.)

    So do you see what I mean ? The larger the coin the more marks of larger sizes you can have before it affects the grade too much.The smaller the coin the fewer the marks of smaller sizes you can have before it affects the grade too much. And you have to know all of this just to deal with the grading aspect. And this entire concept is spelled out in the grading book.

    When it comes to determining what exactly is a large, medium, or small mark that's when things become more subjective, a little more iffy you would for there are no designated dimensions for determining sizes. And the same thing goes for scratches, rim dings, gouges, dents, basically anything and every thing that impact the grade of a coin - not just contact marks. All of it is subjective, iffy. So how do you learn what is and what isn't ? Experience is the best answer, as most who have commented in the thread - you know it when you see it. And yes, some are going to have different opinions, what is large to one may well be medium to another. But with time and practice experience can be and is gained resulting in your opinion often changing. What you used to think was large has now become medium, or visa versa.

    All of this, every bit of it, and a whole lot more besides, is why it is so important that when trying to learn how to grade accurately and correctly one must look at and closely examine hundreds of thousands of coins. And no, that number is not too large. If anything it is too small when you consider the number of coin types and the all of the different denominations combined. To learn how to grade correctly you have to examine tens of thousands of coins for just 1 type of just 1 denomination. Do that and you'll understand everything I've written above and the subjectivity aspect of it all just kind of disappears.

    Yeah, it'll still exist for others who have not done it. But for those who have, for the most part, it just doesn't exist any more. It is this concept which explains, more than anything else, the differences in opinions on grade that are oh so often expressed.
    JPeace$, Bman33 and Mainebill like this.
  10. Bman33

    Bman33 Well-Known Member


    Thanks for the in depth response, very helpful. Here is a link to the thread that got me on this train of thought. I don't know if you can zoom in but there is a distracting mark under the eye:

    It was graded 64 in an old PCGS holder. Now adays it may grade 65 is what I and many others were thinking. I personally at this point would not even want this coin at anything more than 64 pricing. Maybe only 63 pricing because of the Major Distracting Mark. By the book it shouldn't be there in the primary focal area. can a 64 grade on a Morgan have a Major Distracting mark?
  11. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Looking at the coin in question, even when I blow it up 400%, I can't tell for sure what that mark is, but it's definitely not a contact mark. My guess is it's a stain of some kind, but there is no denying that it is there. And that it is major and detracting. Given that, according to ANA standards that coin can grade no higher than a 63. And that's the answer to your question - a Morgan, with a mark like that and in that location cannot be graded 64.

    So how is it justified that the TPGs thought otherwise, let alone that in today's world they would probably, I think almost certainly, grade it 65 ? Easy answer, they don't and never have followed ANA grading standards. TPG grading standards were, even back then, much more lenient than ANA standards. And in today's world, they are even more lenient than they ever have been.

    Me, I grade coins based on ANA standards, always have and always will. And to resolve the mess with grading that we find ourselves in today, I think we need to do the same thing I wrote about almost 20 years ago - adopt a single and static grading standard for everybody, all of the TPGs, and all collectors, based on and following ANA grading standards.
    Bman33 likes this.
  12. baseball21

    baseball21 Well-Known Member

    You won’t be able to buy any coins if you want coins like that at a 63. The dark cheek spot is likely a frost break, or it may not even be there at all in hand and just a product of the picture which does happen.

    But yes a 64 can have a major mark. Anyone who tries to say there’s hard rules of grading needs to brush up on the skills. A coin which would have otherwise been a 65 or 66 except for one mark can easily be a 64 with that mark.
    TypeCoin971793 likes this.
  13. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    TypeCoin971793 and baseball21 like this.
  14. Bman33

    Bman33 Well-Known Member

    Revisiting this thread. After looking at several more coins in holders online and in hand I totally agree with you when you say the TPG's don't follow the ANA grading standards. I'm almost to the point where I grade and add 1 point to find what it would grade by a TPG. Even then that can be too conservative. This makes buying and selling in the current market difficult. While I don't think I want to sell coins, I always think what the appeal would be of this coin to other collectors. If I buy a Morgan at a 65, would the Majority of collectors feel the same. I don't know. I will continue to keep learning.
  15. baseball21

    baseball21 Well-Known Member

    The ANA doesn’t make grading standards as @V. Kurt Bellman Has addressed in another thread before.

    The TPGs have never pretended to follow those books either.
    V. Kurt Bellman likes this.
  16. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    DING! DING! DING! Winnah, winnah, chicken dinnah! The ANA attempts MERELY to REPORT what goes on in the market, not to set standards. This is perhaps the single biggest misconception about that wretched book, despite the fact that its intended purpose is right there within it in black and white. The most misused numismatic book EVER.

    As @baseball21 has intimated, @GDJMSP ’s views on grading (specifically those stated in post #10 above) are so hopelessly out of date that they should be written down on high quality parchment and preserved in a nitrogen-filled case and kept for posterity as a historical relic and curiosity. I mean, the guy even ADMITS he hasn’t even READ the most recent edition, which should disqualify him right there. "Single and static"? Give me a break.

    The hardest, and most valuable, thing that “fossils” like Doug and I can do is to constantly remain self-aware enough to realize when we’ve achieved irrelevance. It’s really really difficult! It requires CONSTANT re-education and the application of new resources.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2018
    Lehigh96 and baseball21 like this.
  17. baseball21

    baseball21 Well-Known Member

    With how much the “ANA Grading Standards” keeps getting mentioned in threads you really should make a thread explaining all this which needs to be perpetually bumped to the first page.
  18. Bman33

    Bman33 Well-Known Member

    @V. Kurt Bellman

    So Kurt, in your opinion are you suggesting learning to grade now in market conditions is a matter of studying a gazillion coins to get it down?
  19. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    Yeah, like that'll happen. I'm the ultimate persona non grata among site management. Too snarky, too irreverent.
  20. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    Maybe several gazillion. And PERHAPS even MORE important than that is taking a formal grading course or seven. Nothing beats being able to discuss the finer points with a true expert in the field. No need to assume the whys, just ask.
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