Build Your Own Grading Set of Coins
By Ginger Rapsus
your Buffalo nickel collection is shaping up.
Each coin was selected for its condition, eye
appeal and a strong strike whenever possible.
With each new addition, you became more
interested in Buffalo nickels, and you enjoy
your set to the point where you are purchasing
detailed books and guides to the series.
Specialists in the Buffalo nickel series know
how tricky grading can be. Why not expand your
set to include a grading set, one specimen in
each grade? Building such a set can be fun and
challenging, as well as helpful to the
collector. Photos in a book are fine, but there
is nothing like seeing the real coins in front
of you. In fact, seeing real coins is critically
Collectors from the circulation finds era tended
to build grading sets of their own from the many
coins they took from circulation. It was not
their intent. They were simply searching to fill
holes in their albums, but every collector of
the time noticed the wear patterns on the
various series still in circulation.
Silver coins were particularly susceptible to
wear (more on that in a bit) and it was easy to
mentally note 10 years’ wear, 20 years’ wear, 30
years’ wear, etc. Collectors on limited budgets
simply worked with what they had.
Building a grading set for your favorite series
may be tougher than it seems. Finding the right
coin in perfect Fine-12 condition, or Very
Fine-20, can take some looking. Sharpness of
strike is an issue with many specimens,
especially certain San Francisco issues of
the1920s. Finding well struck coins is always a
challenge, but a collector may want to acquire a
softly struck, or “average,” specimen for
Studying these coins can teach a lesson that
cannot be learned by reading a reference book.
Look at your coins with the naked eye and
through a magnifier. Check out the details on
the sharp coin that are flat, or entirely
missing, on the average coin. You can learn a
lot about striking this way. This kind of study
can also enable you to quickly spot the high
points on a sharply struck coin.
You will know to check the buffalo’s head, its
horn, its shoulder, and the details on the
Indian’s braid. If you can do this, you will be
ahead of the game, and have an advantage over
collectors who don’t know, or don’t care, about
sharply struck coins. A personal, hands-on
grading set will be helpful in ways that photos
in a book cannot.
Any series, not just Buffalo nickels, can be
collected as a grading set. After you have
completed your set of beautiful, Mint State
Morgan silver dollars, a grading set showing the
coins in lesser grades can be interesting to
see. Building such a set may be fun; ask your
favorite dealer for a few Morgans in Fine-12 or
Very Fine-20 condition, following a search for a
high grade Carson City issue. Looking through
junk boxes can help you find common coins in
each grade for your grading set.
Fans of the Standing Liberty quarter series can
keep busy for a long time, as this coin came in
Type I and Type II varieties. There were also
different grading standards for the Type II
coins of 1917-1924 and 1925-1930. The dates wore
off quickly in the early years of this quarter,
resulting in the date being recessed in 1925. If
you should decide to build a grading set or sets
for this series, you may find coins that would
otherwise grade Fine-12, or even a little
better, with the dates completely worn off!
Mercury dimes can form an interesting grading
set. The reverse design, with the bundle of
sticks, or fasces, showed wear, and some coins
were not fully struck, resulting in “split
bands” and “full split bands” distinctions made
for these coins to denote the best possible
strikes. This is a favorite coin with
collectors, in all grades, from worn Good-4 to
Mint State and proof. One Mercury dime in each
state of preservation can be a great addition to
a date and mintmark set.
The Washington quarter, a coin used today, can
form a grading set. Save one of each grade,
maybe even including an “About Good-3” specimen,
from the silver years of 1932-1964. Just finding
one is such a grade can be a challenge because
certainly there was no financial incentive to
keep such a low-grade coin. To find you you
probably have to look at bags of coins that are
sold simply for their silver value.
Compare these silver Washington coins with the
clad quarters made from 1965 to date.
Copper-nickel is harder than silver and wears
better in consequence. See how well the early
clad coins have held up over 40-45 years in
circulation. You probably will not find a clad
coin graded “About Good-3,” with the lettering
worn into the rim.
Some coin types are graded by “Liberty” on a
headband can be saved as a grading set. If you
like Indian cents, you can pick coins that show
no letters, a few letters, or all letters; all
are different grades, and all can be saved as
part of a grading set. The same is true of its
contemporary, the Liberty nickel. Barber coins,
too, are graded by the number of letters on Miss
Liberty’s headband, and can be hard to find in
higher grade circulated grades. Finding the
right coins in the right condition may take as
long as it took you to build most of your date
and mintmark set.
Specialists in almost any series can collect
their favorite coins as a grading set. Fans of
early coins can do so, too. Many Seated Liberty
coins were struck from 1837-1891, and they have
their own specialty club of devotees. Any one of
the denominations can be saved as a grading set,
and can prove quite helpful to the serious
Seated Liberty collector, whether he specializes
in one denomination, any, or all of them.
The John Reich Collectors Society is composed of
collectors who enjoy the early Capped Bust coins
designed by John Reich. These coins, in any
denomination, would form a good grading set. The
large- sized quarters of the Capped Bust design
are tough to grade, with great differences in
value for each higher grade. It’s always
interesting to study early coins, their wear
patterns, and look at the old coins that went
out into circulation and did the job they were
made to do.
Large cent collectors can do this, too, saving
grading sets for middle or later years; the
early years would prove too challenging to find.
Large cents of the “fillet head” design were
made from inferior copper, and show the wear
more quickly. Wouldn’t that make an interesting
grading set, worthy of study? These cents, also,
show great differences in value with each higher
grade, so a grading set of these coins can be
financially rewarding as well as interesting.
A grading set, one of each grade coin in your
favorite series, can prove to be challenging,
fun, and helpful to the serious specialist.