How to Evaluate a Coin’s Quality
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How to Evaluate a Coin’s Quality

By Gainesville Coins
Published October 16, 2019

The price of a coin is primarily determined by four factors: rarity, demand, bullion price, and quality. Only thelast, quality, can be controlled by the collector. Because quality so greatly impactsa coin’s value, collectors strive to keep their coins in pristine condition. Maintainingnumismatic quality is the best way to protect a coin’s value and make it a worthwhileinvestment.

When numismatists evaluate a coin’s quality (or grade), they assign it a numberon the Sheldon scale, from 1 to 70. A coin in perfect condition would earn a 70on this scale. To determine a coin’s grade, numismatists consider five components:

  • Luster: This applies to how light reflects from a coin’s surface.It is impacted by microscopic lines in the design. Luster diminishes as the surfaceof the coin wears away.
  • Color: Both the natural hue of the metal and the vibrancy ofany colorization in the coin’s design are important, like for the Toned Morgan Dollar. Chemicalcleaning can alter both of these, lowering a coin’s quality.
  • Detracting marks: Obviously detrimental to a coin’s value,detracting marks come from improper handling or packaging. Fingerprints are considereddetracting marks. To protect coins from these, it is important to avoid handlingcoins and using tight plastic holders.
  • Cleaning or mishandling marks: These occur when a coin’s surfaceis actually damaged due to cleaning, rubbing, or polishing. They can also be causedby “cabinet friction,” the faint rubbing away of a coin’s high points, caused bycontact with an envelope or tray.
  • Eye Appeal: While this category sounds extremely subjective,it actually refers to the absence of carbon streaks, striking defects, vinyl damage,and a myriad of other factors that detract from a coin’s overall appearance.

Being able to estimate a coin’s value independently is a useful skill for seriouscollectors, and can be learned through practice. Both luster and color can generallybe evaluated with the naked eye. Coins that appear white, or too shiny, may havebeen dipped in an abrasive cleaner to remove grime and restore shine.

Along with determining the coloring for “original” coins, collectors will want tofamiliarize themselves with the natural coloring and patinas for coins struck fromdifferent metals. This is an important step to take before purchasing a coin. Somecoins, like 19th century US Silver dollars, develop a natural violet tint as theyage. These specimens are often more valuable than those that have been cleaned andremain bright silver.

Discerning marks and wear, especially on coins in excellent condition, usually requiresspecial equipment. A magnifying glass or microscope is generally the best way todetect fine lines and damage on a coin’s surface.

Evaluating the quality of coins is an important skill for collectors and investorsalike. With practice and patience, anyone can develop the ability to determine acoin’s quality.

This information is provided for general reference purposes and does notconstitute professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information,please consult with a professional expert.

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