During my previous two posts viewers have asked about grading either because they have had difficulty with it or because they want to know how to select PCGS- or NGC-gradeworthy coins. Each denomination requires different skills. The Morgan dollar ranks among the easiest to grade because of its generous fields. However, because five mints manufactured Morgans (Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carson City, San Francisco, and Denver ), strikes vary from strong to weak, depending on the year and mint. That’s a bit too complex to get into here, as any Morgan aficionado knows.
Today we’re presenting a basic tutorial based on the Sheldon scale. We’re also only going to take into account the head’s side of the Morgan dollar.
Before delving into that, though, we should emphasize that any coin under consideration for purchase should be gradeable and thus lack any of the 12 common flaws as discussed in my last post.
Let’s add two more flaws less common than ones described in that post–professional dipping and and alternation.
This coin truly looks like a gem, MS65 or even MS66, until you expand the photo and see the dipping–in this case, one that would render the coin cleaned by PCGS or NGC. Let’s expand part of the coin that reveals the dip.
The surface of a gem coin should be reflective and smooth. This one shows signs of dipping, which strips away a microscopic layer of the coin and often leaves granular fields as in the surface above.
Here the surface of the fields are shiny but the cheek, which should be rounded and smooth, has tiny pricks from alteration. Never bid on any coin like this. In addition to suspect alteration, Chinese counterfeits routinely have similar surfaces from inferior minting processes.
Also, if buying or bidding online, you should avoid any seller whose photography is subpar. Her are four examples:
You cannot see hairlines or bag marks clearly enough to bid when photos are overexposed (too much light).
2. Low Resolution
The resolution here is too low to pick up high and low points. For instance, the cheek, which should be rounded, appears as flat as the fields around the portrait.
3. Slant Photos
Photos of coins on the slant highlight luster and conceal bag marks, hairlines and flaws.
4. Out of Focus
The photo here is not sharp enough to discern possible flaws on the coin.
Let’s briefly review the Sheldon scale before showing coins at each major grade level:
G-4-6, Good: The coin is heavily worn, although major devices–liberty, legend, profile, etc.–are discernible. Rim is discernible, too, but incomplete.
VG-8-10, Very Good: The coin is heavily worn, although devices are distinct and rim somewhat complete.
F-12-15, Fine: All devices are distinct with some detail, including Lady Liberty’s hair. Coin has solid gray metal color. Rim is complete.
VF-20-35, Very Fine: Coin exhibits even wear with no luster. Devices contain more detail, although high points (cheek, hair) are clearly worn.
EF-40-45, Extra (or Extremely) Fine: All devices and mottoes are clearly defined with some wear on the high points and no luster on the surface.
AU-50-58: About [or Almost] Uncirculated: All devices are sharply defined with only slight wear on the high points. Coin must have some luster on the surfaces.
Mint State 60-70: No trace of wear, although coin may contain bag marks from mishandling or jostling in a canvas bag. Of these, MS63 and 64 are most common in Morgan dollars. MS65 is considered gem.
Let’s illustrate each grade:
All devices are heavily worn, but the even color of gray silver indicates this is a gradeworthy coin.
This coin grades very good because some detail in the hair is obvious with rim somewhat more complete.
More detail is obvious here, especially in the hair. Rim is complete. This particular coin has a slight rim bump under the 8 of the date, but I think the coin is still gradeable based on the even surfaces and uniform wear.
Once again, wear is even and more detail is obvious than in the fine example above. (View the area around the bolls in Lady Liberty’s hair.)
Devices are clearly defined with detail. The coin shows some wear on the high points and no luster.
Although the flip states “Unc.,” this is a slider at AU58. There is obvious traces of wear on the cheek and fields. Coin does have ample luster.
Mint State 60-62
This coin is obviously uncirculated but jostled in a bag so that marks from other coins are obvious on the cheek and fields. This is why some believe AU58 coins are more attractive than heavily bag-marked uncirculated coins such as this.
This coin has one too many marks on the field by Lady Liberty’s nose, a carbon spot under her chin and some minor marks on the lower neck of the profile. This is the most common mint state for Morgan dollars.
Almost every seller on eBay or Proxibid will call this MS65 Gem, but there is a significant bag mark by the chin and two rim marks where the cheek meets the neck by the curl of Lady Liberty’s hair. This is why it takes a fine eye to eliminate flaws and detect marks because world-class graders at PCGS and NGC will be sure to see them.
Insignificant minor marks in the field. A clean cheek. Sharp devices. And this happens to be a Redfield Morgan, which always sell at a premium because of provenance.
Although I did this post using raw coins on eBay and Proxibid, you can easily assemble a photo grading set of PCGS or NGC coins by copying photos of each grade and storing them on your computer for later consultation. Or you can use PCGS Photograde Online, a terrific resource.
Let us know if you found this guide helpful. Also share with us some of your purchases that graded … or didn’t … and why.