Coin collecting tips - buy coins like an insider: Part 2
Grading can be a challenge. Mint State alone has eleven possible grades. Did you think there were ten? Count 'em! (60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70) I employ a much simpler system when looking at a coin. I am a big fan of the Good, Better, Best system (as you may have gleaned from my post yesterday about strike quality) when it comes to uncirculated coins.
(Please keep in mind while reading this that the descriptions are for uncirculated coins only.)
This grade includes weakly struck coins with no wear, coins with little of their original luster, and nicely struck coins that have been beat up but show no wear.
This piece is graded MS-61. It has considerable bag marks and the hair
above the ear does not show full detail. Also, it has about 20% of its
original luster. It is uncirculated, but certainly not brilliant.
The reverse shows the same problems as the obverse. The luster has
mostly faded away. Also, the eagle's tail feathers are weakly struck.
Brilliant Uncirculated -
I am not a fan of how often this term is thrown around. Half the coins on Ebay are described as "BU" and it is not always true. In my system, BU refers only to coins that are well struck. They may have some bag marks, about half their original mint luster, or are beat up but have redeeming qualities like beautiful toning.
Graded MS-62, this Morgan has been around the block, in a bag.
It is beat up. However, it has retained a good amount of its
luster and the hair shows decent detail.
The reverse is this coin's saving grace. It is still quite lustrous.
The eagle shows full details and appears almost proof-like.
Gem Uncirculated -
Gem coins are well struck and mostly problem fee. I don't believe a single mark on a coin's surface should prevent it being called a Gem if it is has a nice, strong strike and full luster.
This is an MS-64 Morgan. It has it's fully mint luster and Liberty's
head looks white. The obverse details are fully present. The only defect
are a few contact marks near the nose and some slight, unattractive
toning near the top and bottom of the rim.
As with the BU example, the eagle on the reverse is proof-like and
has full details. The reverse is fully lustrous and its only defects are the
same minor issues as on the obverse.
In the end, grading will always be a matter of opinion. I urge every collector to not be a slave to the 70 point system currently in place. As you can see from the examples above, it is possible to build a very nice collection without ever touching an MS-65 coin. Not that you shouldn't, but if you collect on a budget, like I do, it is good information to know.
I enjoy buying MS-61 & MS-62 Morgans because there are many bargains for well-struck pieces that still have most of their luster.
For more on grading mint state coins, please see the PCGS video here.