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Ancient Coins and Grade Vs. Condition posted by RAM-VT

2 posts in this topic

  • Member: Seasoned Veteran

When I started to collect ancient coins I found I had to change my approach to selecting coins.


First let me say season's greetings and happy New Year to one and all.


Those of you that have looked at my custom set of ancient coins and read my "Set Description" have seen my stated personal opinion regard the grading of ancient coins. It is here that I put forth my argument that when selecting ancient coins for a collection one must look beyond the coin's stated grade.


Before I go one step further let me be perfectly clear about the meaning of the word "Grade." A coin's grade does one thing and only one thing and that is to define (using standardized terms e.g., F, VF, XF, etc.) how much wear a coin's surface has experienced since it was minted.


So what exactly is my point here?


Today (and for some time now) technology has permitted us to replicate virtually identical copies of the same type coin billions of times over. With strikes, design features, weight, planchet shape & size and centering being perfect controlled every coin produced is virtually an identical copies of a given type of coin except for the occasional striking error. However with ancient coins it is possible to find coins from the same die pair but you may never find virtually identical strikes. Why, because the production of each coin was a one off event. Ancient coins were produced using planchets that were all difference yet relatively "close" to one another, each die was hand cut and varied in quality, and each strike was unique based on die alignment, planchet placement between the dies, how perfectly parallel the dies were to one another and the actual striking of coin. Obviously efforts were taken to get all these factors right but very few ancient coins give the appearance that all these were as they should be at the moment the coin was struck. But none of these factors have anything to do with the coins grade. These are in fact condition issues which greatly influence a coin's appearance but not the coin's grade. However, quite often weakness in the design features on ancient coins is attributed to wear and not to the condition of the dies or the minting process itself.


Ancient coins stopped circulating as currency at least 1500 years ago (the Medieval Period is defined as starting at AD 500) and their grades have remained the same as they were the day they stopped circulating whether that was 1500 or 2500 years ago. But their condition most likely continued to deteriorate due environmental factors such as moisture and chemicals in the air or soil surrounding the coins. Over time copper based coins may have developed terribly corroded surfaces while silver coins many have developed "thick" black coatings or horrible patinas while gold may not have been as adversely attacked as the copper based coins or silver coins. If the coin was buried in addition to the above conditions issues they can have deposits attached to the coin's surface. Other condition issues not related to minting issues included scratches, test cuts, banker's marks, graffiti, bronze decease, retooled surfaces, etc.


So what does all this mean? It means you can have an ancient coin in a very desirable grade (XF, AU or even MS) based on wear that is in fact a real dog of a coin. Design features and all or part of its legends might be missing; it could have horrible surfaces, etc., again these and many more condition factors do not influence grade.


I once tried to explain my approach selecting ancient coins for my collection as follows:


I want coins that speak for themselves. That is if I was to show one of my ancient coins to friends who knew nothing about ancient coins they would all find the coin pleasing to look at and have a good idea of what the design features looked like and be able to read most of the letters in the legends. They may not understand everything on the coin but they could describe it. The last thing I would want is a coin that when I presented it friends I also had to show them a book with a photo of that type coin and say this is my coin and here is a photo so you can see what it actually looks like.


Thus I say in my opinion when it comes to ancient coins, condition is a more critical issue than grade and I have rejected many more ancient coins for condition reasons than for grade.


What is great about NGC's ancient service is that not only does it grade ancient coins it also scores the condition of the coin's strike and surface. In addition they will list both good (style & eye appeal) and bad condition issues on the label. The bad issues are factored into the scores. The scores run from 1 to 5. A typical or average strike or surface is a "3" with a "2" being below average and a "1" being inferior. Conversely a "4" is above average and a "5" is superior. However, as pleased as I am with NGC Ancients Department I will not purchase an NGC graded and scored coin sight unseen because I do not accept NGC's scoring of Surface (I have actually told David and we agree to disagree). Please remember although I have been collecting coins for 60 years, I have only been collecting ancient coins 5 years so let's face it David's opinion carries a lot more weight than mine.


So does the ancient coin collecting community feel the same way I do regarding a coin's condition, in my opinion no! Condition appears to almost never be address whether it is when describing ones coins to a fellow collector or in sales listings. Don't get me wrong both good and bad condition issues are occasionally mentioned, but when it comes to selling ancient coins every coin should have a statement related to the coins condition. A statement such as "this coin has no condition issues" would be perfectly acceptable to me and I would expect such a coin to receive an NGC score of at least "3" for both strike and surface. Coins having any condition issue should have them listed in the coins description. To date I have purchased at least dozen ancient coins from dealers around the world including America's largest coin auction house and all were determined by NGC to have experienced smoothing or light smoothing and not a single one of these coins had this condition listed in their description and it can not be seen in a photo. To bring up negative condition issues is like waving a red flag, you are telling the collector the coin has a problem(s) and the price needs to be adjusted downward.


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