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Grading ancients can have a lot of wiggle room


Nerosmyfavorite68

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There wasn't an 'ancients' forum, so I stuck this in here, as World and modern coins have a different grading scale than ancients and struck early 'moderns'.

Grading ancients can have a lot of room for ambiguity, as Aaron Berk pointed out in a recent podcast.  While an assigned grade is pretty low down on my list of buying ancients, I thought it would be fun for people to explore the exceptions.

I'm closer to an old-school grader.  While I always thought it was a bit silly for EF to only be close to perfect in every way, if it's almost exactly like it came out of the mint, it's EF to me.

And let's address grade inflation.  While there's indeed wiggle room, many dealers nowadays assign comical grades to coins, two or three grades above what they really are.

 

Here's my interpretation of the scale:

EF.  Well, I struggled to find a photographed example of one of these in my collection.  I suppose even this ex-CNG coin could be argued.  I define EF as pretty darn close to what it came out of the mint as.

 

w1568.jpg.a631cdf32e763e3c1cb0a2620e49252c.jpg

 

VF - My definition of VF is pretty nice, with perhaps a minor problem, such as the small chip on this Macrinus.  It's a pretty attractive coin.MACRINUS(217-218).Denarius_Rome.RIC8020mm2.13glongbeardPROVIDENTIADEORVUM.jpg.7aac06e4988410351f48a7c9c2169890.jpg

VabalathusAurelian-AETetradrachm-Alexandria-21mm_10.82gZurqiehnice.jpg.7c653b9b847e1a672722bec0e263d1c1.jpg

Fine (many modern dealers would call this Nero a VF)

Nero-54-68-ARTetradrachmAntioch-RY9Caesyr111-62-3AD23mm_14.42gRPCI4185.jpg.43344dcebdc27883a50bde456970da0e.jpg

Luciusverus(161-169)-AEDupondius-27mm_11.31g6hRICIII1462nicegreenpatina.jpg.4c4f06635e7992bf98e54c92b226d3ca.jpg

VG

NeroClaudiusDrusus-AESestertius-RICI114-35.17mm24.16garchaVGugly.jpg.5a47d32c05ff866bc3f4ec2716f8143e.jpg

 

Good

2AaNok7Gc9WcMx783xHsS5oz4FCzqX.jpg.edc21fcb2778dc4ba094c23f57ce40e8.jpg

45683q00.jpg.85019c421b0144980d653f42dc29f9e4.jpg

Well, I didn't have any photographed examples (or I didn't come across any) of Fair.  Fair's barely identifiable, perhaps a little bit of a figure.

Poor is a slick.

 

And now for the ambiguities:

12897.jpg.67c6b9b2a0ca09d3eb72dd87c4db5a2e.jpg

The Heraclius is probably EF by wear, but the graffiti would ding it down to VF in my book.  Yes, it has a weak strike, but that's pretty common in Byzantine coins.

Or what about this, something with surface issues?  Anyway, you get the idea.

ValerianI-(253-260)-ARAntoninianus-RICVI5Cologne22_26mm.2.55gDEOVOLKANO.jpg.001f75ae95510428bf140a07528ff80e.jpg

Or this, fairly high in grade (for the type), but it has horn silver deposits and suffers from a crappy cleaning job

Heraclius(610-641)-ARHexagram-Sear798DOC64-25mm.6.56g-Ktoright-Zurqieh120.jpg.f1daa8ba0db2e730605db623554607ed.jpg

Do you have any examples of tough coins to grade?  Also, feel free to post examples of your grading scale, if you feel so inclined.

Edited by Nerosmyfavorite68
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Very good topic. I do not feel competent enough to grade ancient coins. Too many variables - how the strike was, how the dies were, any kind of environmental damage - which is inerent for a 2000 years old coin. I don't think Sheldon scale is appliable on ancient coins. 

Here are some examples of coins in better than average condition that I do not know how to grade 

image.png.aba8cb6830d1b7fecf8fbfc8baf346b2.png

Good amount of luster remaining, good portrait, low amount of circulation wear. Weak strike/worn dies on reverse. XF? AU? or just a good VF?

image.png.aeb02934e6f4085d29579727731d7d66.png

Decent strike on both sides, some circulation wear, no luster. Good VF? XF?

image.png.96e09cabfaf494f40c394f1b8a8ff8b2.png

And one that puzzled me - overall bad condition, possible environmental damage, crystallization (low weight). VG? 

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I think that NGC grading is the most accurate & least ambiguous. By using the Strike & Surface 1-5 system & added comments you get a better evaluation of the coin. The old system of simple verbal descriptions is useless for ancient coins & so is the ANS 1-70 numerical system 😉.

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Grading was designed to refer to wear. For that, it's fine. Trying to shoehorn other elements into it is where it goes wrong, and for ancients that's all the time. A coin with VF wear should be VF, regardless of anything else.

NGC's strike and surfaces ratings are meant to address this, but still struggle as ancient coins are too variable. How much is subtracted for a perfect strike that's a little off centre? Or a lot off centre? What if the bit missing doesn't matter? Or if it's the most important element of the coin? I can tell much, much more simply by looking at a photo than looking at the grades, so what's the point of grading?

All an ancients collector needs from a TPG is to know a) it is real, and b) has it been repaired or tooled. Anything else is unnecessary and will be wrong anyway.

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32 minutes ago, John Conduitt said:

Grading was designed to refer to wear. For that, it's fine. Trying to shoehorn other elements into it is where it goes wrong, and for ancients that's all the time. A coin with VF wear should be VF, regardless of anything else.

NGC's strike and surfaces ratings are meant to address this, but still struggle as ancient coins are too variable. How much is subtracted for a perfect strike that's a little off centre? Or a lot off centre? What if the bit missing doesn't matter? Or if it's the most important element of the coin? I can tell much, much more simply by looking at a photo than looking at the grades, so what's the point of grading?

All an ancients collector needs from a TPG is to know a) it is real, and b) has it been repaired or tooled. Anything else is unnecessary and will be wrong anyway.

"A coin with VF wear should be VF, regardless of anything else." is an excellent point 🤨! Too often striking weakness is confused with actual wear, something NGC is keenly aware of 😉. The NGC system isn't perfect, it is subjective too.

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I pay zero attention to grades, and IMO grading ancients is 100% useless in the internet era where a photo "is worth a thousand words". The old VF, EF system served a purpose back in the days of people buying coins unseen from mail order lists.

Grading ancients in the internet era seems intimately tied to slabbing - an attempt by the slabbing companies to create the same demand for their services that they have done for modern coinage by having people "buy the plastic" (as Aaron Berk says).

Maybe dating sites should adpot a grading system instead of photos too - it would make about as much sense since there too it's all about how attractive the item for sale is, not whether it deserves 1/5 for surfaces and 3/5 for style.

 

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I agree with @Heliodromus - grades are almost meaningless in ancients which need to pass the "eye" test. However this one seems to be pretty good, except maybe a bit of softness on the reverse of Neptune. In mail order catalogs FDC would show up sometimes, Certainly the portrait would rank as good EF to FDC, perhaps.

septsev1.jpg.5414a63cebc874bf47c7ad708bbcd2ec.jpg

septsev2.jpg.c1bae96b3bcf8556c303f51b1d192a3f.jpg

Edited by Ancient Coin Hunter
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10 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Do you have any examples of tough coins to grade? 

Like @Heliodromus, i dont care much for grading. If I like it, and can afford it, its good enough for me. If people do care about grades, thats fine, its of course their choice. I go for rarities, coins that interest me, and tell a good story. I do wonder, if I had all the money in the world, would my choice be any different. Maybe yes, I dont want to be hypocritical, and I would go for these rarities with better eye appeal. 

A grading scale using some of my most interesting coins:

This one is B, bad (cool action reverse):

10.1.png.571c5b887de12ce1c4edaaa39c2da9be.png

This one is graded VB: very bad

7.7.png.777bab26dda9b558e63100a950747805.png

This one is graded UB, unbelievable bad:

18.5.png.c9d0aa025df3be5624bf2fe5d8c46de8.png

And this one is graded WWABT, why would anyone buy that:

30.5.png.5da7e2e4b8c77bbff7bc47e0d51154d8.png

I love these coins!

An addition. Some sellers have the tendency to grade their coins ridicously high. This coins was graded XF. I dont agree. 

7.6.png.0508a44297888c151fe59f3ae72369e8.png

Edited by Limes
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Agree with the others saying grading is outdated in the era of high quality photos. I use my eyes, the actual grade given has no impact on whether I'd buy a coin or not. Comments that mention flaws or other details are still useful as it's not always possible to see from photos but some issues like scratches/brushing still go unmentioned a lot of the time, by both NGC and auction houses.

There's so much that goes into how attractive a coin is compared to another of its type beyond the grade, strike, and surface but it can be easy to get caught up in the grades when starting out. So I think it's better that auction houses use relatively broad grades and rarely go above EF - it makes you focus more on the coin than the grade. Before long you don't even need the grade because you can use your eyes to compare similar coins rather than rely on their NGC grade and scores - where you might otherwise end up wondering how two AU 5/5 5/5 coins of the same type could sell for such different amounts.

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2 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

I pay zero attention to grades, and IMO grading ancients is 100% useless in the internet era where a photo "is worth a thousand words". The old VF, EF system served a purpose back in the days of people buying coins unseen from mail order lists.

Grading ancients in the internet era seems intimately tied to slabbing - an attempt by the slabbing companies to create the same demand for their services that they have done for modern coinage by having people "buy the plastic" (as Aaron Berk says).

Maybe dating sites should adpot a grading system instead of photos too - it would make about as much sense since there too it's all about how attractive the item for sale is, not whether it deserves 1/5 for surfaces and 3/5 for style.

 

Yes, true.  However, this thread isn't meant to be super-serious.  It's supposed to be fun, like find the biggest conundrum to grade.

I never look at the assigned grade when I choose a coin on vcoins.  I look at the picture and if I like it, I buy it.

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Grading of antients is far from perfect, and unlikely to be so in the future. However, it is important - buyers vote for this with their wallets.

  • Two-dimensional photos may not present well three-dimensional objects. Photos can be of poor quality or edited. Quality videos are uncommon.
  • Some bends are easily missed on photos. A few times I ended up with coins that did not look as appealing in hand as on photos.
  • Most importantly, tooling may not be seen on photos.

There is little doubt grading system and processes will develop further.

Some grading attributes relevant to antient coin grading such as flan size and shape, and centring can have objective quantifiable metrics.

1 hour ago, Kaleun96 said:

you might otherwise end up wondering how two AU 5/5 5/5 coins of the same type could sell for such different amounts

- Provenances?

- Varieties within the type?

- Availability of a buyer? The exact same coin may sell for vastly different amounts on repeat sales.

 

Edited by Rand
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12 minutes ago, Rand said:

- Provenances?

- Varieties within the type?

- Availability of a buyer? The exact same coin may sell for vastly different amounts on repeat sales.

None of those actually. I mean attributes that are part of the coin itself, not external factors. So things like toning, style, centering, subtle differences in flaws, location of wear, flan size and shape, etc.

These things all matter much more to me than the actual grade given. And before someone says "centering, flaws, and wear are all factors considered by NGC", what I'm talking about here is the actual rendering of those attributes. For example, let's say two Alexander the Great tetradrachms are identical in every respect except on one the portrait of Herakles is a bit too close to the right-side of the flan, and on the other coin Herakles is a bit too close to the left-side. Even if no detail is left off the coin, I'd much rather a portrait have space in front of the face than behind the head.

Similarly, two coins could have similar flan cracks, test cuts, or cleaning marks but I'm going to be looking at where those flaws are present in relation to what I value most in the coin and how it affects its general appearance. Naturally neither NGC, nor auction houses, can fully capture those subtleties in a grade and that's ok, it just means I personally don't have a need for the grades given when I have a perfectly good photo of the coin. 

The first part of your reply about physical descriptions of a coin are, to me,  a different matter to grade. These are actually useful and I tend to find that auction houses are better on the whole because they have more room to describe the issues. NGC is limited to a small slip of paper so all brushing simply becomes "brushed", all graffiti becomes "graffiti", all test cuts become "test cut", all bent flans become "bent" etc. Then you end up with coins with the same descriptor and surface score yet with different levels of brushing, for example: compare this coin to this one. Die wear, die rust, flan flaws etc don't affect the surface score (only strike), but corrosion does, so how does the Philetairos tetradrachm get the same score when it seemingly has worse brushing in addition to corrosive products, roughness, and pitting? I could find dozens of examples like this so you wonder what the value of the score is.

NGC is better at noticing brushing in general though, if it's very minor auction houses will often ignore it. Though usually because you can't even see it without a loupe.

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@Kaleun96 All good points. I only wanted to say that objective, if not perfect, grading may be helpful for me when reviewing a coin.
I must have misread the comment about 'you might otherwise end up wondering how two AU 5/5 5/5 coins of the same type could sell for such different amounts' and felt appropriate to mention factors that are not part of NGC grading but influence the price. The importance of provenance was mentioned in several threads. Varieties are important for me personally. Apologies if my post read critical.

Edited by Rand
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3 hours ago, Limes said:

7.7.png.777bab26dda9b558e63100a950747805.png

This one is graded UB, unbelievable bad:

 

 

I love these coins!

An addition. Some sellers have the tendency to grade their coins ridicously high. This coins was graded XF. I dont agree. 

7.6.png.0508a44297888c151fe59f3ae72369e8.png

 

The Claudius denarius has some surface issues (is it crystallized?), but is a coin that I'd be very happy with. 

I'd rate the Claudius Sestertius an old school Fine.  That's an attractive coin. It's better than any of my Claudius Sestertii.

Even a VG coin can be very attractive, if it has nice surfaces and a great patina, or pops in some way.

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7 minutes ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

The Claudius denarius has some surface issues (is it crystallized?), but is a coin that I'd be very happy with. 

I'd rate the Claudius Sestertius an old school Fine.  That's an attractive coin. It's better than any of my Claudius Sestertii.

Even a VG coin can be very attractive, if it has nice surfaces and a great patina, or pops in some way.

Some issues is a huge understatement, its terrible 🤣 But yes, Im very, very happy with it. A grail coin / white whale (one of those) for me. 

And thanks, im very fond of the Claudius sesterius is very good looking in hand. Agreed, a 'vg' or 'vf' coin still can have a lot of eye appeal! 

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57 minutes ago, Rand said:

@Kaleun96 All good points. I only wanted to say that objective, if not perfect, grading may be helpful for me when reviewing a coin.
I must have misread the comment about 'you might otherwise end up wondering how two AU 5/5 5/5 coins of the same type could sell for such different amounts' and felt appropriate to mention factors that are not part of NGC grading but influence the price. The importance of provenance was mentioned in several threads. Varieties are important for me personally. Apologies if my post read critical.

I didn't read it as critical, I just took the opportunity to expound further on my opinions 😁

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Here's more condundrums, showing why a letter grade isn't always useful.

Remember the days of no-photograph coin advertisements? Grade was more important then, as it at least told us something  of what the coin would look like.  I fondly remember ordering from Allen Berman's 'cheap ancients' in the Celator.  I remember a Maurice follis, graded Fine.  It was actually quite an attractive coin, because of the large flan and earthen highlighting.

The wear on the Hadrian is probably VF+, but the spalling makes it a lousy coin and really impossible to put a letter grade on it.

 

o65K3LocH6mPEjW2i4XFTr9QF8QnkC.jpg.cb60b0bb6ded6aa6774c7dfc76e569f3.jpg

And then there's uncleaned coins: This one's probably fine by wear. I bought it for the cool hoard patina.

42192q00.jpg.043267cdf71ded744e77a1ef054ff13c.jpg

 

I don't have time to trawl through the pre-2014 coins, where most of the terrible ones are.

 

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