Describing Grade and Condition

Many Proxibid auctioneers disavow knowledge of coin grading and condition. Better to claim ignorance than to exaggerate worth, as a few houses do. Increasingly, however, expert numismatists are writing lot descriptions with their best estimates of grade and condition.

Silver Trades, which schedules regular coin auctions on Proxibid, provides detailed lot descriptions replete with information about history, grade and condition of lots. On certain quality coins, the company also backs up descriptions with buyback guarantees.

Conversely, Silver Trades knows how harshly some top-tier grading companies can be when evaluating coins. Even though he provides limited guarantees on a few select lots, he is wise to post this disclaimer on coin grade and condition:

    I do my best to estimate the grade/condition of the coins, but please note, unless specifically mentioned in the description, I do not guarantee grade or condition. I DO ALWAYS GUARANTEE 100% AUTHENTICITY, on an immediate buyback including any premium paid. But please understand, if you win a coin and receive it and send it out to one of the grading companies and it comes back graded less than I estimated or “genuine but Ungradeable”, we will not buy back that coin. … I do my best to give you my best estimate and your repeat attendance at my auctions is what I strive for, so I always attempt to give my best description/estimate of the coins being auctioned.

Silver Trades is known for numismatic information. We featured that once in this post.

On some coins, however, Sliver Trades owner Corey does offer buyback guarantees and recently enhanced that to buybacks within 1 point of any major slabbing company’s grade.

Silver Trades augments lot descriptions with fine photography. We applaud him and encourage bidders reading this to view one of his auctions live to hear expert salesmanship as well as numismatic data.

However, to illustrate how difficult it is to anticipate grades of the most rigorous company, PCGS, you should read this article in Coin Update News.

Our advice on lot descriptions is commonsensical:

  1. If you don’t know numismatics, don’t hype coins as rare.
  2. Provide the very best pictures possible of obverse and reverse and ensure that they expand sufficiently for finer details.
  3. Don’t use the online PCGS or NGC databases to describe a coin’s retail worth unless that coin is holdered by that company.
  4. Treat as raw all coins holdered by lower-tier and self-slabbing companies. (Note: Top-tier companies, in addition to PCGS and NGC, are ANACS and ICG).
  5. If you know numismatics, or have hired someone to help with lot descriptions, include a disclaimer as Silver Trades does that you are providing your best estimate on grade and condition and cannot accept buybacks when grading companies assign lower grades.
  6. If you want to showcase your numismatic knowledge, see how Corey does it on select lots in his auctions, which typically bring him added premiums often above retail–a credit to him as one of our favorite auctioneers.
  7. If bidders complain after the fact about a grade, and you did not exaggerate or misrepresent the coin, do as dealers might, and remind him or her about your disclaimer. If the person is a regular customer, a dealer might make an exception and take back the coin; however, this is a gray area that you must decide.

Indeed, grading is subjective to a large degree. To learn how to write better lot descriptions of grade and condition, study our posts in the Boos and Booyahs section of Proxiblog. Once you establish a reputation for good lot descriptions, you can count on more bidders frequenting your Proxibid sessions.

Proxiblog is an independent entity with no connection to the auction portal Proxibid. Our intent is to uphold basic numismatic standards as established by the American Numismatic Association and the National Auctioneer Association and to ensure a pleasurable bidding experience not only on Proxibid but also on similar portals such as iCollector and AuctionZip.

Use the Term “Gem” Properly

Proxiblog has been viewing dozens of auctions in which the word “gem” is used to describe a coin, even though the photos of those coins often reveal that the lot is significantly below “gem” to the point of being almost uncirculated or even extra fine. This post describes how to designate uncirculated coins on Proxibid. (Note: Watch for a future post in which we describe grading in more detail.)

Numismatists use a scale of 1-70 to describe coins, with designations 50-70 covering almost uncirculated and uncirculated coins.

Here are descriptions:

  • Almost Uncirculated: There are three basic grades: MS50 for coins with a trace of luster and lots of contact marks to the point of being almost “extra fine,” showing significant wear but with all the devices (designs) still showing strongly. MS53 has fewer contact marks and more luster. MS55, even fewer with at least half the coin containing luster. And MS58, often called a “slider” grade, because the coin might have bright luster like an uncirculated coin but shows wear on the high points of the design.
  • Uncirculated: Technically, all grades from 60-70 are uncirculated. But special terms are used to describe various stages of mint state. MS60 might have as many if not more contact marks as a slider, but shows no wear on the devices. MS63 might have bag marks caused by coins bumping against each other in a bank container. Grades 60-63 can be described as “uncirculated” or “brilliant uncirculated.” (NOTE: Do not use the latter term if a coin has tone.)
  • Choice Uncirculated. Use this designation for coins MS64, or one notch below MS65 “Gem.” Such a coin might have a contact mark in an obvious place, such as the cheek of a Morgan dollar, detracting from the lot’s overall beauty. Again, these can be “Choice Brilliant Uncirculated” for a coin with plenty of luster or just plain “Choice Uncirculated” for a coin with tone.
  • Gem: This means MS65, one of the highest designations, meaning the coin will appear almost flawless with perhaps a stray bag mark in an unimportant place, such as near the rim.
  • Super or Superb Gem: This is any designation over MS65+, typically MS66 or 67. These coins are very near flawless so that any small mark can be seen usually only with a loop or magnification.

The 1934 Peace Dollar pictured above, which sold for $88 on Proxibid, was described as “gem brilliant uncirculated beautiful quality rare date silver dollar.” The coin is not gradable, worth only a small premium above its silver melt. Note the rim damage, which excludes a grade right off, as well as hairlines, rust-colored tone or residue, and bag marks. The lot description should read: “AU50 almost uncirculated rim-damaged Peace dollar.”

Thankfully, the auction mentioned here has excellent photography, so buyers can see what they are purchasing despite the lot description. And it is our opinion that the auctioneer, one of our favorites, by the way, is using the term “gem” generically rather than numismatically. Nonetheless, more than 21% of his lots used the word “gem” when we believe only a half-dozen merited that designation.

Using correct numismatic terms will enhance your credibility as a coin seller. Add sharp, expandable pictures, and you’ll be living up to our best standards.

Proxiblog is an independent entity with no connection to the auction portal Proxibid. Our intent is to uphold basic numismatic standards as established by the American Numismatic Association and the National Auctioneer Association and to ensure a pleasurable bidding experience not only on Proxibid but also on similar portals such as iCollector and AuctionZip.