I believe that once you learn how to recognize friction wear, rubbing, cabinet friction, etc., whatever the current term for loss of mint luster on the highest point of a coin’s design is; you can grade anything.
Let me suggest some universal aspects of grading that come into play even while examining unusual numismatic items. These ideas should be obvious to anyone who has given much thought to grading.
Think about these points:
Smaller coins are harder to grade than larger coins because they are harder to see. While it’s true that some sort of magnification aids your examination, the actual parts of the coin you are looking at are small to begin with.
The contact marks on smaller coins are generally less severe than the marks on larger coins. That’s because smaller coins are lighter. Light coins do less damage when they come into contact with each other while circulating.
With all coins, the contact marks become more detrimental the easier they are to see. Marks in a prime focal area are the most important to consider.
The amount of wear on a coin is relative to its size. Take for example an Indian Peace medal with a diameter of 75mm (slightly bigger than three Washington quarters placed end-to-end). A tiny amount of cabinet friction – enough to change the color of the medal’s highest point – would hardly lower the commercial grade of the medal into the AU range; yet that same amount of friction might lower the grade of a small coin one point.
As you grade a coin, no mater what its configuration, you are looking for a changes of color (independent of toning) indicating the loss of originality at that point. Coins these days come in all shapes and sizes. Have you seen the coins from the Somali Democratic Republic in the shape of motorcycles and guitars? Even unusual coins such as this have certain points that will show the first signs of wear.
It is very helpful to know what design details are present on a fully struck example of a coin you are grading but an experienced numismatist who knows the difference between a weak strike and actual friction wear can get around this requirement.
Keeping these points in mind, all the usual criteria used to arrive at a grade remain the same no matter what the coin looks like. These include strike and the number, severity, and location of marks. Eye appeal is always most important. Now let’s take a look at some unusual coins you may encounter and discuss how they might be graded.
I believe any unusual coin can be graded the same as a normal specimen. Fig. 1 shows one part of a double struck silver medal at 10 power magnification. In the micrograph, the fields are dark and the raised portions of the design are white. In the center, you can make out parts of the letters on the first strike that have been flattened by the second strike. Since the fields of this medal are mirror-like and free from marks or blemishes, this error coin has very high eye appeal. It would grade PR-68 or higher as an error or as a normal piece.
An allowance is made for off-center error coins that show an unstruck portion of the planchet remaining. While the originality of the unstruck portion should be judged, original planchet surface marks on this part of the piece should not be factored into the grade unless they are severe.
Figure 2 shows a waffled state quarter at 15 power magnification. Its golden color is due to the lighting conditions in the location where it was photographed. Let’s grade it assuming that the rest of the coin looks the same as the micrograph.
The piece has full, blazing, mint luster with no rub. That gets us into the uncirculated range. There are virtually no perceptible marks on the piece and it has high eye appeal. That gets us into the gem grade.
There are some stress cracks from the cancel die used to disfigure the coin but one could argue that the cracks are part of the cancelling process rather than defects. Wouldn’t you agree that this is a beautiful example of a waffled coin?