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Perfect doesn’t have to be perfect

This past January, a longtime collector wrote that he did not believe there were any perfect coins. My reply to him is: “Yes Edward, there are perfect coins, and it does not take a coin expert to find them. Many are encapsulated by the major grading services.”

What I find harder to believe is how these perfect coins can even exist. For example, consider what a 2014 silver Eagle must go through before being removed from the individual rolls inside the green monster boxes. Think of it. The planchets must be chemically inert and free of defects that will not “strike out” as they are made into coins. The dies must be clean and free from lint, grease, and debris. The coins must be removed from the dies and not come into contact with anything. How they get them in and out of those tight Treasury Department tubes without harm seems impossible to me; yet perfection happens.

A small piece of lint  deposited during the striking process can be seen on this coin, Many major grading companies would still grade it as a perfect coin.

A small piece of lint deposited during the striking process can be seen on this coin, Many major grading companies would still grade it as a perfect coin.

Perfection (MS/PR-70) was a long time coming. The use of that grade was resisted even after “modern” coins became routinely graded by the major services. Looking back many years, I remember a time when MS/PR-65 was the highest grade assigned to coins. It’s a good bet that many of those coins reside in slabs today with much higher grades.

Forget that bet. I guarantee that a large number of those coins have been re-graded higher. It’s simple economics. I’m reminded of a group of Cameo Franklin halves I bought around 1987 for my teaching set graded PR-64 and PR-65 by the top third-party grading service. Those coins  are at least PR-67 by today’s standards.

The expansion of grades into the MS/PR-67-70 ranges was bound to happen eventually for the simple reason that the Mint was producing many perfect coins!  As this expansion was taking place, at least two grading services I worked for were slower to accept the change but for different reasons. In one case, there was the belief that a perfect coin could not exist, thus MS/PR-69 was the maximum grade. Being totally honest as I always am when I write (sometimes to my detriment), it is virtually impossible to have a perfect coin! I’ll bet I can find a tiny nick on the edge reeding of any coin I have personally graded MS/PR-70. I say “Big Deal.” Nevertheless, that alone proves the grading service was correct in their belief that 70’s don’t exist.  The other grading service was reluctant to use any grade over MS/PR-67 to protect themselves from challenge or in cases where stains might develop over time on coins that were slabbed. Believe me when I tell you how frustrating it was for me to grade MS/PR-68 to 70 coins only 67! Nevertheless, as an employee, company policy must be followed no matter how I tried to get it changed.

Okay, there are perfect coins – especially the “modern” issues made since the 1970s by many countries in the world; however, the perfect coin must exist in the eye of the beholder. As with grading, perfection is also subjective. I know a perfect coin when I see it.

This coin was struck through a bit of debris. Some major grading services will ignore these tiny Mint produced defects and still call the coin perfect.

This coin was struck through a bit of debris. Some major grading services will ignore these tiny Mint produced defects and still call the coin perfect.

I can assure Edward and all of you that even when I use a stereo microscope and fluorescent light, there are coins I have graded MS/PR-70 without any flaws on their obverse or reverse. Some major grading services put limits on magnification or will ignore the tiny mint made defects on a coin and still call it perfect. NOTE: This seems to be a concession to the old technical grading standards which of course we all know that the grading experts claim to no longer use!

In summary, you must set your own standards for perfection. Edward’s standards must be much tougher than mine if he has never seen a perfect coin.

Finally, remember that we can find examples of over-graded and under-graded coins encapsulated by the major grading services. That’s because professional graders are human. Have I ever missed a defect on a coin I’ve graded 70? Absolutely.

Consider yourselves warned. Coins can be perfect, but graders can’t.  Nevertheless, it’s reassuring when both you and a major grading service agree that a coin is an MS/PR-70.

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