|Grading has always been central to numismatics, but decades ago, the standards employed to grade coins were somewhat vague and applied inconsistently. Over the last 20 years, great strides have been made to bring more standardization to grading practices. Throughout it all, the magnifying lens has earned a reputation as one of the most important tools the coin collector should invest in.|
Going back to the 1950s and before, coin grading was limited to a few adjectival terms, such as Good, Fine, Uncirculated, and Proof. Accordingly, numismatic references of those times conformed to the same set of adjectives to approximate retail coin values.
Varying distinctions of Uncirculated (today's equivalent of MS-60, MS-63, etc.) and Proof were recognized in some advertisements and auction bills by employing modifying descriptors such as "Gem Uncirculated" or "Choice Proof", for example. However, with no clear point of reference or consistency on how the modifying descriptors were invoked, most publishers resorted to listing values for only one "Uncirculated" grade and one "Proof" grade.
In the late 1970s, as coin prices escalated dramatically, most notably for pristine, high quality specimens, varying distinctions of "Uncirculated" and "Proof" became evermore critical. Descriptors "Choice" and "Gem" were replaced by numerically assigned grades, utilizing the newly developed 70 point ANA scale, based on a numeric system introduced by Dr. William Sheldon in the 1940s. Uncirculated coins were differentiated as MS-60, MS-65, or MS-70. A few years later, grades MS-63 and MS-67 joined the fray. Although not applied consistently (a situation that gave the coin business a black eye), the practice of assigning a numerical grade to indicate quality was universal by the mid-1980s, and eventually brought some consistency to coin collecting that was absent as the hobby passed through its formative years.
The Coin Value Tables reflect the historic availability of numeric grades to describe coins. Thus, for 1950 through 1975, the values appearing in the MS-60 column should be viewed as the "Uncirculated" listings of those years, since numeric grades largely did not exist. Likewise, PF-65 corresponds to simple "Proof" figures of the same time period, while G-4 corresponds to the "Good", VG-8 to "Very Good", and so forth. By 1980, when numeric grades were in widespread use, the MS-60 column should be interpreted to indicate precisely that. Other grades, MS-63 for example, made their debut on the Coin Value Tables in 1980 or later, and are carried forward from that time to the present. As more intermittent grades and qualifiers (e.g. "Dimpled" Morgan silver dollars) became commonplace, they too were added to the Coin Value Tables.
One Caveat: In February 1986, the ANA changed its grading interpretations to match the tightening standards demanded by the marketplace. This meant that many coins correctly graded as MS-65 in the early 1980s became MS-63 or less, so as to be consistent with the newly revised interpretation. Conversely, a coin graded after 1986 as MS-63 was about equal in quality to an MS-65 before 1986. Thus, the Mint State prices published in numismatic periodicals prior to 1986 are not directly comparable to those published later. The Coin Value Tables of this website relied heavily on periodicals from before 1986, but we did not attempt to compensate for the revised grading standards of 1986; we reported what we found. One must take this into account when studying trends for an MS-65 coin from, say, 1980 to the present. On the other hand, because of the dearth of Mint State price estimates published prior to 1986, more than 98% of the Coin Value Table data is not affected by anything mentioned in this paragraph!
More in-depth knowledge on grading is presented on our Grading Coins section. There, you'll find a few thoughts on the importance of coin grading, a look at the ANA grading scale, plus more.
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