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How to grade coins: lessons from ANA’s Summer Seminar

12 Jul

Grading coins can be a difficult task. The difference between an AU-58 coin and an MS-62 coin can mean very little in terms of wear but matter greatly in value. If the coin isn’t under the right light or the grader isn’t experienced with the series, money could be left on the table. It’s for this reason that the American Numismatic Association (ANA) provides three grading courses at their annual Summer Seminar.

I recently attended the 2017 Summer Seminar from June 17 to 29 held at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo. The seminar offers a variety of courses on numismatic topics; everything from identifying counterfeits to grading coins. In addition, there are opportunities to meet with fellow numismatists, attend mini-seminars and visit some of Colorado’s sites.

I enrolled in the Grading United States Coins, Part 2 and Advanced United States Coin Grading and Problem Coins courses after testing out of the Coin Grading 1. Coin Grading 2 was held the first week of the seminar. It was taught by Steve Feltner of Americana Rare Coins, John Shuch of NGC, and David McCarthy of Kagin’s. Advanced Coin Grading went on the second week of the seminar and was taught by Charles Browne of Charles Browne Numismatic Consulting, Ken Park of The KMJ Group, Don Ketterling of D.H. Ketterling Consulting, and Bill Shamhart of Numismatic Americana, Inc.

The course involved multiple rounds of grading coins. We would grade a coin while timed and pass it to the next student while receiving another one in turn. Timing, as the instructors stated, is important because you can’t spend all day on one coin and people have a tendency to second guess themselves. We began with a minute per coin in Coin Grading 2 and went down to 30 seconds in Advanced Coin Grading.

The coins we graded were typically US coins and most were Mint State. Why Mint State? Because most people have difficulty with identifying a Mint State coin and the differences between Mint State grades are minute.


The Practical Book of Cobs on sale at the American Numismatic Association headquarters.

When grading a Mint State coin, two of the most helpful pieces of advice I have ever heard were picked up in the classes. The first is “grade down from MS-70 rather than grade up for MS-60.” Graders with minimal experience in a particular coin series have a tendency to focus on marks and award lower grades than expected. As someone who has a tendency to be conservative when grading, this helped me to give coins the MS-64s or -65s they deserved rather than the MS-63s I would award them.

The other piece of advice that matters most to me is to “use light to your advantage.” Lighting while grading is a big factor. A dark room is necessary. Graders should use incandescent bulbs in adjustable lamps that they can get the coin as close to as possible. Rotating the coin all around is necessary to pick up the marks and lines that may affect the grade.

I also learned an interesting technique to use on AU-58 coins that appear to be Mint State. By holding the coin vertically and moving it away from the light source, I could see areas of wear take on a darker tone than the rest of the coin. Bringing it back into the light and taking a closer look revealed the marks and smooth patches that wear leaves.


The author, Connor Falk, holds up a very rare 1943 Lincoln Wheat cent graded PCGS XF45 CAC.

Another helpful technique I learned was to grade based on my first look at the coin. If I looked at a coin for too long or took a second look, I had a tendency to second guess my grade. Marks that seemed minimal before were more serious now that I knew where they were. Graders should also take care not to fall into the trap of “counting” marks.

Lastly, another key phrase I heard in the classes was that the “reverse of a coin never helps and always hurts.” This means that a coin with a MS-67 reverse but an MS-64 obverse is going to get an MS-64 grade. Likewise, a coin with an MS-67 obverse but an MS-64 reverse will trend around MS-65. Almost all of the coin’s grade derives from the obverse since it is the side of the coin that people see first but a bad reverse can bring a grade down.

While most of my time was spent grading, I also got the chance to visit Colorado. Some fellow numismatists and I went to a Rockies-Diamondbacks game in Denver, an arcade in Manitou Springs, and the local coin show in Colorado Springs.

The Colorado Springs coin show was a welcomed respite in between the two weeks of classes. Roughly 50 dealers had booths at the show and offered the range of numismatics. I sold quite a bit of Spanish colonial coinage we had in inventory and bought a little bit. One coin I brought back with me is a nice NGC certified 1853-O Arrows and Rays Seated Liberty half dollar from the SS Republic shipwreck. It has very minimal corrosion and some nice toning throughout. It’ll be up on the Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC online store soon.

I highly recommend attending the ANA’s Summer Seminar and taking the coin grading courses. Quite a few numismatists have taken the grading classes multiple times to hone their grading skills. Even Ken Bressett, editor of the Red Book, stopped by my Coin Grading 2 class to adjust his grading scale. The classes provide a great environment for knowledgeable instructors to teach numismatists the techniques needed to accurately grade coins. Having those skills could pay dividends when it comes to buying a raw coin, sending it in for grading and getting back a coin that you can then resell for a profit.

We’re Baaaaaack!

5 Jun

It’s been a crazy couple of months! Since the end of April, we’ve held our most successful auction to date (Treasure, World & US Auction #17) with prices realized (including buyer’s fees) totaling over $2.4 million, went to a wedding, and attended an IAPN Congress in New Orleans. We’ll be back to full strength next week, and then some, as Dan’s older daughter, Emily, becomes our intern for the summer!

Last week, we jumped on a plane and winged our way to New Orleans for the annual IAPN Congress from May 28-31 (organized by Mike Dunigan Company). You may have noticed the IAPN symbol we include on all our media and catalogs.

IAPN logo

IAPN logo

It stands for International Association of Professional Numismatists and represents some of the most important numismatic dealers in the world. There are thirty-two US dealers with the rest from Europe, the UK, Australia, Venezuela, Egypt, Thailand, and even Japan. Forty-two of the more than 100 member dealers came to New Orleans to discuss important numismatic topics, network, and enjoy the unique ambiance of New Orleans.

The IAPN was founded in 1951 in Geneva. Today more than 114 numismatic firms are in membership, situated in all five continents and twenty-three countries. These professional numismatists will be pleased to help you with any questions you have concerning your collection of coins, medals, tokens, paper-money or decorations.

Agustin Garcia, Cori Sedwick Downing, Lynn and Dan Sedwick at cocktail reception for IAPN

Agustin Garcia, Cori Sedwick Downing, Lynn and Dan Sedwick at cocktail reception for IAPN.

IAPN meeting

IAPN meeting

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It’s quite an honor to be nominated and voted into IAPN, so we are understandably proud to be a part of such a prestigious organization! The annual Congress is held in different parts of the world and this year’s selection of New Orleans gave those outside the US (and some within) an unusual experience. Where else can you take an airboat ride and afterward eat Cajun crawfish at an open-air down-home rustic restaurant?

And how many times do you get the opportunity to take a tour of an antebellum plantation?

Cori Sedwick Downing, Agustin Garcia, Lynn and Dan Sedwick at Destrehan Plantation

Cori Sedwick Downing, Agustin Garcia, Lynn and Dan Sedwick at Destrehan Plantation


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Julio Chico and Jesus Vico

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Joe Lang, Andrew Absil, Augi Garcia, Kyle Ponterio and Mike Barry

It was quite an experience, especially since this August marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the area with flooding in 2005. But, as they say in New Orleans, “laissez les bons temps rouler”!

Going back to the business sessions: Ulrich Kuenker gave a presentation about importing and exporting numismatic items into the European Union under potential and current laws. As for the prize for the best book published in 2014 numismatics, the work chosen was Le Monete Di Milano, by Silvana and Carlo Crippa. We presented the book The 1652 Transitional 8 Reales by Robert Mastalir Divisek, which we had the pleasure to publish. Next year ‘s meeting will be held in the city of Amsterdam under the organization of the Schulman auction house (a presentation was given by Andrew Absil), while in 2017 the game will move to Lucerne, Switzerland and will be organized by Hess-Divo (a presentation was given by Ulf Maria Kuenker). Augi Garcia (for Daniel Frank Sedwick) officially presented the candidacy of Buenos Aires as the venue for 2019 or 2020. The closing dinner gala was at Arnaud’s, one of the highest ranked restaurants of the French Quarter.

Masks of New Orleans

Masks of New Orleans

So now we’re back and open for business! Come and see us on the web or in person next month at the summer FUN show in Orlando from July 9-11.

Note: Florida United Numismatists, Inc., is hosting the 9th Annual Summer FUN Convention in Orlando Florida, July 9 – 11 2015. The convention will be held at the Orange County Convention Center, 9800 International Drive in Hall WA3. This location is across I-Drive from the new facility. The convention opens to the public at 10:00 A.M., July 9th and will run through 5:30 P.M. July 11th. Numismatic dealers from around the country will converge at the Orange County Convention Center to buy, sell and appraise coins, paper currency, tokens, medals and other items. Make sure to mark your calendar for this great numismatic event!

Gala Dinner , representing USA, Germany and Switzerland.

Gala Dinner, representing USA, France, Germany and Switzerland

Luis Doming and wife Nena. With Augi Garcia (Gala Dinner)

Luis Domingo and wife Nena, with Augi Garcia (Gala Dinner)

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Francisca Bernhemer and Antonio Alessandrini

Award given by Arne Kirsch for Mr. Alberto de Falco

Award by IAPN President Arne Kirsch to Alberto de Falco






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