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Viewpoint: Too late for 100-point grading scale

 (Image courtesy of

(Image courtesy of

By Bill Fivaz

Wow! I hope my good friend Ron Guth loves to fish, because he has opened up a big can of worms! Dipping his toe into the water and proposing a dramatic change from the current 70-point grading system to that of 100 points has prompted a tremendous and very divisive discussion – which is great! It shows that people are interested in the well-being of the hobby and are taking the time to voice their opinion. This is good for numismatics!

All things being said, a 100-point system makes a lot of sense for all the reasons put forth by its advocates. We’re very familiar with a 100-point concept in our everyday life, and it would be easily understood. However, I feel the promotion of such a system is years and years too late. The ideal time for the adoption of an expanded grading scale would have been decades ago when the American Numismatic Association first set the standards based on Dr. Sheldon’s 70-point system designed for large cents. It’s very easy to reflect now and recognize the wisdom of a more user-friendly 100-point scale, but as they say, “Hindsight is 20/20.”

In Ron’s proposal, the 71-79 spread would be “dead” numbers, as the suggested mint state grades would consist of numbers 80 through 100. Grades 01 through 70 would have to be changed to represent the Poor to AU-58 grades, which, in my opinion, would mean a major readjustment to collectors’ thinking as they are so ingrained in our minds. Not impossible, but I can foresee a lot more bald numismatists as a result, having ripped a lot of hair from their curly locks.

As I see it, the answer is relatively simple but may be difficult to undertake. It may be summed up in three words: Learn to grade! This would take a great deal of dedication and determination on your part, but if the 70-point system is to continue, this would be essential.

I’m afraid it’s true that the majority of collectors pretty much rely on the grades on dealer’s coins, or on the slab, when looking to buy. If you like the coin, and unless the grade is obviously not as represented, you’ll purchase it. However, if you are really serious, and are willing to invest some time and effort by studying any particular series in which you’re interested, learn the various grading nuances involved in that series, avail yourself of various grading books, and especially the ANA Summer Seminar grading courses, you will develop a confidence in your grading skills. Ask anyone who has attended these seminars, and I guarantee you’ll get an enthusiastic “Amen!” More than once I’ve heard, “I thought I knew how to grade a coin, but boy, were my eyes opened!”

A very important feature of learning to grade and developing that confidence is that you will hopefully be able to recognize high-end coins in each grade. Several years ago, I wrote an article for The Numismatist that is currently being used as part of the ANA grading courses, both at the Summer Seminar and in the Grading Correspondence course. In that article, I pointed out that “There is Quality in Every Grade.”

By that, I mean that all coins in any given grade are not alike. Every MS-64, for example, doesn’t conveniently fit into one slot. Each grade really has three tiers, a “low end” MS-64, a “mid-grade” MS-64 and a “high end” MS-64. If you can develop your grading skills to recognize these differences most of the time, what you have done is actually created your own 100-point scale. What you need to try to do is purchase those coins at the high end of the grade.

Further to the above, a “low end” MS-64 is still a legitimate -64, but it could also be seen as a high-end MS-63. Likewise, a high-end MS-64 may be viewed as a legitimate low-end MS-65. The ability to recognize these slight differences within a single grade will take time, however.

My friend Ken Bressett admonishes: “Grading is really very simple – all you need are four things. A good light, a good loupe, 20 years experience and a good memory.

The learning process and your confidence will increase over time and eventually become a tremendous advantage to you. Again, I want to make sure that you realize that the “quality in every grade” concept is true for all grades, not only Mint State coins.

So, although Ron’s 100-point grading system would be ideal, I believe we are pretty much locked in to what we have. As I hope I have pointed out, you can take advantage of the current 70-point scale, but you must take the initiative to develop your grading skills and confidence by learning to grade. I think Ron would echo this sentiment, whether it be a 1-70 or 1-100 system.

Now, will you do it?!

This “Viewpoint” was written by error expert, author and retired ANA governor Bill Fivaz of Dunwoody, Ga.

To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 5225 Joerns Drive, Suite 2, Stevens Point WI, 54481. Send email to

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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