Above is a tantalizing coin, the scarce 1892-CC Morgan dollar–not gem, as the flip states–but not bad, either, perhaps a choice or low mint state coin, worth upwards of $1200 retail. But I’m uncertain that I will bid on this lot. There is a tiny flaw. Can you see it?
It looks like a pin scratch at 12 o’clock near the rim by the “S” on Pluribus.
This is one of those tiny flaws that hobbyists often overlook. Also, that mark may not even be on the coin but on the plastic flip. That’s an optimistic attitude, but still a possibility. I considered bidding on the coin until I saw the reverse.
Can you spot the flaw here?
It’s on the right inner side of the olive branch, second bunch from the top. Look at the “R” in America and then move inward toward the bud.
These types of flaws often render coins ungrade-worthy by the major holdering companies. Their graders consider scratches as damage. That’s why you often see scratched coins slabbed with high grades in bottom-tier holders. So you’ll have to look for this flaw in all raw coins and all holders apart from PCGS, NGC, ANACS and ICG.
How do pin scratches happen? Sometimes they happen when a novice puts a coin in a flip and staples poorly. More frequently they happen when a hobbyist tries to remove a coin from the flip, perhaps to put in an album, and the metal rubs against the staple lodged in the flip.
There are other marks that look like pin scratches.
The 1883 coin above is not grade-worthy. Hairlines may look like pin scratches, but in truth, the harsh cleanings that causes them are easy to spot. A pin scratch usually is a lone mark caused by one staple. Hairlines are multitudinous.
Slide marks are multitudinous, too. They occur when hobbyists use Dansco or similar albums that have plastic protectors over coin holes. To remove a coin, you slide the protector to one side so that the coin is exposed in the hole. However, the friction between the plastic touching the coin causes marks. (Well, actually the microscopic dust on the electro-static plastic causes the slide marks.) While slide marks alone won’t render a coin ungrade-worthy, they can lower the grade a notch or two.
Slide marks are relatively straight. Hairlines resemble them, but usually are found in a wiping or circular pattern. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t bid on the coin above because there appears to be a scratch on the reverse. Can you spot it?
Look at the second “L” in dollar and then go up to the first arrowhead you see. The scratch emanates from the middle of the arrow to the fourth bunch of the right olive branch. (Again I should note that sometimes small scratches like this are overlooked by grading companies; but most hobbyists want the best coins for their money, and any with pin scratches just don’t have the same quality.)
Some marks are caused by rims of coins scraping or striking each other in a bank or Mint bag. They’re called bag marks.
Depending on the severity of the scrape, a coin still may be grade-worthy. This one above on the 1889 Morgan falls on the cheek, a prime area. So the deduction may be steep. The scrape here also is pretty unsightly; so a grader also may see this as damage and not assign a grade.
Notice the rim marks on Lady Liberty’s cheek and next to her eye. These are fairly deep, rendering an otherwise MS-64 to an MS-62 or even 61. As in the previous example, a deep enough rim mark might be evaluated as damage. This comes close.
In the example below, you can see the edge leaving its reeded mark in the left field alongside the eagle’s wing, an inconspicuous place. This type of mark doesn’t have much impact on the grade.
Here’s a closeup so that you can see the reed marks.
In order to spot pin scratches and other flaws, scan each coin before placing a bid or purchasing the lot online. Don’t be swayed by the date, mint mark, luster or other alluring feature. Start at the rim and move your gaze slowly in a clockwise direction, gradually moving in toward the center of the coin. As soon as you spot the flaw, determine whether you can live with it. Place no bid or a low-ball one.
Typically, when I bid, as soon as I determine a pin scratch, I stop bidding. Believe it or not, that takes will power, especially when you really want a coin as I did the 1892-CC Morgan discussed at the beginning of this article.
Unfortunately, the Internet is loaded with pin-scratched coins. On Proxibid and eBay, certain auctions are full of damaged coins like this, often sent to auction by coin dealers who know they cannot get full value of the lots in their stores, where they’d be obliged to note the damage to their customers–one reason, by the way, that you should patronize local dealers who charge retail but usually offer quality coins with accurate descriptions.
Pin scratches are small and easy to miss. But the flaw is one of the major reasons why otherwise desirable coins sometimes don’t grade at the top holdering companies, causing buyer’s remorse when you paid good money for a subpar coin.