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What’s happened to Buffalo grades?

2014 U.S. Coin Digest

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By Richard Giedroyc

Many firms these days advertise that they follow American Numismatic Association grading standards. However, as a collector of Buffalo nickels I know that the ANA has not updated their standards in quite some time; and many of these same firms sell very fine Buffaloes with less than full horns. Some will actually say 7/8th full horn or 3/4th full horn, but sell them as VF-20 and above. What gives? How do I as a collector know what grade I am purchasing these days with these apparent discrepancies?
The most recent edition of the ANA grading guide has noted for Very Fine-20 that the “point of horn is not always visible,” basically throwing the horn out as a key grading factor. When a dealer says he is using ANA grading standards, but is not selling you a coin encapsulated by a third-party certification service whose published standards agree with the ANA definition for a grade you are back to the same old game of subjective grading that was the reason for the creation of these certification services. In other words, there is no consistency in coin grading when it comes to raw coins.
Grading has been a problem for as long as coin collecting has existed. The Buffalo nickel is particularly problematic since the bison’s horn has been determined by experts in the past to be a key factor in assigning a grade, yet some dates also were acknowledged as being generally either weakly or unevenly struck.

Third-party grading services use people to grade coins, not machines. Can I expect a third-party grading service to be consistent with its grading?
Such services strive for consistency, but they are human. This is why they offer an opinion rather than an absolute. The problem is not if a coin is raw or slabbed, but if the coin was purchased seen or unseen. Anytime you purchase a coin unseen, such as through the mail or online, you are taking a chance. You take the same chance when you buy a coin slabbed and over the counter, but don’t bother to examine the coin to ensure you are in agreement with the assigned grade.

Is it more practical to purchase coins over the counter exclusively, rather than sight unseen?
Buying coins is not practical, no matter how you purchase them, unless you first learn how to grade. I am always amazed when I encounter people with a price guide, money, but no knowledge of grading. There are several excellent books on grading, but how many collectors buy and read them? That has always been the challenge.

When is it practical to submit a coin to a third-party certification service?
Any coin can be submitted to a third- party certification service, but it is only practical to do so when either the coin is well known to be counterfeited/altered, or when the difference between grades is so significant financially that you want to ensure you are purchasing a coin in the grade for which you are paying.

Why are so many recently issued commemorative and bullion U.S. coins offered slabbed by third-party grading services when the value of the coins may not justify such grading?
This is a marketing tool used by many dealers to encourage collectors to purchase extremely high grade coins, regardless of whether grade rarity matters for that issue or not. You need to be careful when paying a significant premium for such coins as you may find their pricing to be a one-way street when you prepare to liquidate the same coins later.

How many different varieties, examples were minted of the 1909 Lincoln cent, i.e., ’09-S VDB, 09 VDB and so on?
The year 1909 was quite a year for the cent denomination. The coins to be collected are the 1909 and 1909-S Indian cents, and the 1909, 1909 VDB, 1909-S and 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents. Regarding major varieties to consider are the 1909 VDB Obverse Doubled Die and the 1909-S “S Over Horizontal S” Lincoln cents.

I’ve seen various rarity rating scales. Just when did someone first propose such a scale?
The earliest rarity rating scale I could find was in a July 1858 pamphlet titled “Dates of United States Coins, and Their Degrees of Rarity” by renowned collector Joseph J. Mickley. His scale consisted of C for common, R for rare and VR for Very Rare.

I tried unsuccessfully to sell my error Lincoln cent collection on which the coins had filled design elements or lacked details. Don’t dealers like to handle these coins?
There are a few dealers who specialize in error coins. These are the dealers you likely need to seek. From the description you gave it appears the errors on your coins may be the result of some foreign object momentarily getting into a die, blocking the striking of part of the design. There is more collector interest in errors caused by a problem with the die itself, rather than errors resulting from manufacturing problems. This, too, could be why you are having problems selling this collection.

I also tried to sell my repunched mintmark coins unsuccessfully. Certainly there must be someone who buys these?
Once again, there are a few dealers who specialize in such varieties. There isn’t a lot of consistency in the value placed on repunched mintmarks, legend letters and date digits. In general, if the repunched variety is listed in popular coin catalogs, then it is usually recognized as a mainstream variety of a specific date. If the repunched variety is not listed in the same catalog it is considered minor, with much less collector interest.

E-mail inquiries only. Do not send letters in the mail. Send to Giedroyc@Bright.net. Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions.

 

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