Coin Grading Capriciousness



The coin grading services, even the most reputable ones such as PCGS and NGC, are not immune to subjectivity. This in part falls into the realm of "nobody's perfect," though lack of consistency does promote repeat submissions.

With five separate submissions, NGC refused to grade any of my Bust dollars, even coins graded previously by PCGS. Yet NGC graded the below 1799 Bust dollar VF-30.















Grading services typically bodybag coins damaged by cleaning. The presence of visible hairline scratches from rubbing is the main criteria used. Yet the above coin has very visible hairlines and is artificially white and shiny as well. It also has a rim problem at 1:30 on the reverse. In short, it's an ugly coin. Finally, despite the VF-30 grade that NGC put on the slab's label, it has the wear of VF-20 or VF-25, with little hair detail left on the obverse and an incomplete motto on the reverse.

This coin is an excellent example of why you should follow the maxim, "Buy the coin, not the slab." In other words, don't let someone else put a value on a coin for you. The grading services do provide a measure of security, and the slabs themselves protect coins and can be attractive. But the grading services practice market grading, which factors in "eye appeal," an important determination of a coin's market value. Market grading is necessarily highly subjective. You may not even notice something that offends a grader's eyes (old scratches, for instance, a common example). What you find terribly offensive may mean nothing to a grader (an ugly black rubber-band stain right through the obverse portrait, for instance, another common example).

Here's an example of an 1800 Bust dollar graded VF-30 by NGC.















This is another ugly coin. The worst impairment, of course, is the large black streak right across the center of the obverse. Liberty's face is also defiled with smaller black spots. The coin was struck off center. The reverse is weakly and unevenly struck, with detail missing from the "OF" in the legend and the clouds and stars. Finally, technically the coin likely isn't VF-30 but closer to VF-25--there's too much wear on Liberty's hair and bust and the eagle wing feathers for VF-30.

The grading services seem to have a bias toward originality. If a coin looks as if it hasn't been cleaned, they let other things slide. They're especially forgiving of anything that looks like dirt, including streaks, stains, and spots. But the grading services holder "cleaned" coins. The test they use is whether or not the coin looks cleaned -- if it has been damaged by cleaning.

Another bias of the grading services is toward provenance. If a rich, well-known collector once owned the coin, they tend to grade it more leniently. Here's an example of another 1800 Bust dollar graded VF-30 by NGC.















Usually the grading services are very hard on scratches, gouges, and dings. This coin was described by Heritage Numismatic Auctions as having a "deep scratch in the left obverse field," which you can't see in the photo, as well as other marks over its surfaces, including a gouge in Liberty's neck and scratches below and to the right of it, which you can see in the photo. The coin also has the wear of VF-25, with little upper hair detail left, no cleavage left, and the motto and eagle wing feathers also heavily worn. Yet apparently because the coin was recently part of a $30 million collection owned by John Jay Pittman, NGC graded it VF-30.

All part of the game...



















Draped Bust


Anne's Life

Anne's Death

1804 Dollar


Dollar Set






Other Images

More Info

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.