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
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
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
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.