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Counting Machine Damage Scuffs Moderns
By F. Michael Fazzari

How often have you bought a coin only to discover something on it that you missed after you gave it a more thorough exam? I’ll bet it has happened to all of you at some time. Later in this column, I’ll remind you of one important place to look.

When examining a coin, the lighting is very important. You have probably heard how difficult it can be to examine coins at most shows because of the terrible lighting. Everything looks bright and shiny. The high points of a coin that we must be able to see in order to detect traces of wear become all washed out and blend with the surrounding surface. That is one reason the professionals at major grading services choose to work in darkened rooms with incandescent lighting from one source.

Many professionals also use a specific technique to examine the coins they grade. Even then, something may slip past unnoticed. You too can develop a pattern to use when looking at a potential purchase. Start with the coin’s obverse as that is the most important side. A colleague of mine likes to say that the condition of a coin’s reverse can bring down its overall grade but it cannot raise it.

Many graders like to partition a coin into quarters or halves and examine each part separately so they will be sure not to miss a section. Don’t forget to tip the coin back and forth in the light while at the same time rotating it between your thumb and fingers. This is the only way to bring out all of its characteristics. Examine the coin’s edge and rim as that is where many defects may slip by unnoticed.

Don’t rush your exam. That’s when mistakes can happen. Sometimes there is a reason that a particular coin has a bargain price. Look for it. Often it can be found on the edge or along the rim.

Once, while checking coins sent in for review at a major grading service, I showed a finalizer a blazing uncirculated Liberty nickel that was in our MS-64 slab. Unfortunately, there was counting wheel damage all through many of the letters on its reverse. I guess the coin’s beautiful eye appeal and perhaps a quicker than usual exam had allowed this specimen to slip out as an MS-64 rather than a “No Grade – Damaged Coin” the first time it was seen.

Counting machine damage is scarce on early type coins, but any series of coins that is commonly melted when the price of silver rises is subject to this type of damage.

Coins in the Presidential series of dollars are counted by machine, so let’s take a look at several Washington Presidential dollars I’ve pulled from uncirculated rolls.

The scrape across Washington’s jaw (Figure 1) is the first mark you see when you pick up this coin. This damage is visible without moving the coin in the light but as any damage gets closer to the rim, it can blend into the design.

Figure 2 is a dollar with a circular trace of wheel damage near its rim. In this case, the damage is also fairly easy to detect because it is just to the left of a prime focal area – the field in front of Washington’s face.

Additionally, the damage has affected the coin’s field, leaving an easy-to-see trace right up to the damage on the bottom of “1st PR.” Without this trace, the damage to the letters would be difficult to detect without rotating and tipping the coin.

Figure 3 is a high power micrograph of another damaged coin that also has some damage into the field between the letters.

For the next coin (Figure 4) without a scrape in the field, the same degree of “counting wheel damage” visible on the “UNI’ of UNITED may slip by on an attractive, fully lustrous coin given just a quick exam.

Teach yourself to be vigilant as this type of damage will certainly ruin the desirability of a coin once it is detected.


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