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Proof Grading and Hairlines - A Guide

FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 3,022 ✭✭✭✭✭

A recent thread here got me thinking - how many collectors can actually identify hairlines?

I got an idea to try and solve this - here's my attempt to take a proof coin in a mid-grade state and show you every flaw with it. Here's the test subject:

And below will be images of the coin all marked up. Red is for hairlines. Orange is for striations. Green is for spots. Blue is for marks. Yellow is for die polish. Purple will be for spalling.

In areas where I circled a large section of field, it means there are many tiny hairlines in that area that slightly lower the grade from the "perfect" 70.

Some definitions:
Hairlines (red) are marks that appear on a proof coin (or MS coin) that are caused by sliding or contact with something after striking.

Striations (orange) are pre-strike marks, that IMO do not affect grade based on what I've seen from PCGS and NGC. They usually run up to and under the devices.

Spots (green) are something that got onto the surface of the coin and caused a reaction with the metal in a small area.

Marks (blue) are like hairlines, but heavier and more concentrated.

Die polish (yellow) is a mark or series of marks that is on the die and appears on every coin struck from that die. They do not affect grade.

Spalling (purple) is a faint cracking and chipping of the fields due to striking pressure.

Recutting (Cyan) is what mint Engravers did to strengthen details of a die once they wore out or were polished too much. It was generally of low quality in the 36-42 era.

Some of the things I circled will not appear in a picture. They will, however, hopefully show in the video I will include. This is merely a guide for proof grading - the only way to really get what I'm saying is to pull out one of your coins and look for what I mention in this post. Use the video and pictures as a good example of what to look for.

Unedited pictures:

Edited Pictures:

Video (It appears to take the forum a bit to buffer the video, clicking the link might work better):
https://youtu.be/CN-kS8ozpns

I do apologize for the slab scratches this first video (they do look like hairlines unless you know what you're looking for).

Here's a video of the obverse with my 10x loupe, which removes most of the scratches (the slab scratches appear somewhat blurry and above the coin). Due to how the majority of the slab is in the way for the reverse, I couldn't do the same for that side of the coin. However, the obverse is where the majority of things are, and recutting is easy to see in images. THIS BELOW VIDEO IS THE VIDEO TO WATCH! It was shot vertically, so it uploaded as a vertical video which the forum won't support unfortunately. You'll have to click the link.
https://youtube.com/shorts/RM07qo9E-7o

Take those two videos and compare it to the images I marked up above. Look for each of the things circled. Once you see them, you're getting it. The most obvious thing to look for is the right obverse field hairlines.

Each of these marks/hairlines/spots lowers a proof's grade. Since the coin is a 65, it should have some pretty obvious hairlines, which we see in the right obverse field. Those are what dropped the majority of the grade (probably by 4-5 points), with everything else coming together to make up the rest of the grade drop.

Even a 68 will have a few hairlines. The difference is how light they are. The hairlines in the right field are heavy and pop out at you right away. A 68 might have two or three very light, wispy hairlines. It's like bag marks - the more there are and the more severe, the lower the grade.

I do hope this helps!

Coin Photographer.

Comments

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    Shane6596Shane6596 Posts: 759 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very informative, thank you for putting this together.

    Successful BST transactions with....Coinslave87, ChrisH821, Walkerguy21D, SanctionII.......................Received "You Suck" award 02/18/23

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    rickoricko Posts: 98,724 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @FlyingAl ... Thank you for an excellent post... This should help many of our members. Cheers, RickO

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    bagofnickelsbagofnickels Posts: 349 ✭✭✭✭

    Thank you. You have cleared up a few mysteries for me. Out of the many things I am learning the ability to distinguish small surface disturbances is becoming one of the most important.

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    DRUNNERDRUNNER Posts: 3,819 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Extremely well done. I am impressed with the quality and detail of the post.

    Drunner

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    TrampTramp Posts: 682 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very nice job! Thank you!

    USAF (Ret.) 1985 - 2005. E-4B Aircraft Maintenance Crew Chief and Contracting Officer.
    My current Registry sets:
    ✓ Everyman Mint State Carson City Morgan Dollars (1878 – 1893)
    ✓ Everyman Mint State Lincoln Cents (1909 – 1958)
    ✓ Morgan Dollar GSA Hoard (1878 – 1891)

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    silviosisilviosi Posts: 458 ✭✭✭

    @ FlyingAl

    Do you will enlarge the study also for bigger diameter coins? and also smaller? (seem that the standard are not same)

    I congrat you for this article it is a fantastic study.

    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT.FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL.THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE. MARK TWAIN

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    FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 3,022 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @silviosi said:
    @ FlyingAl

    Do you will enlarge the study also for bigger diameter coins? and also smaller? (seem that the standard are not same)

    I congrat you for this article it is a fantastic study.

    I find the standards are somewhat consistent from what I've seen. Halves might get a bit more leniency in the 36-42 era, but the cents - quarters are very very similar.

    Now, I find that there are distinct differences between series and how they are graded. For example, I find that Proof Barbers get more leniency than 36-42 Proof coins (around a point IMO). This is simply my experience and opinion.

    I might add a half dollar to the thread in a future post, but we'll see. It's fairly time intensive to mark up the images (identifying everything is the easy part and takes roughly 30 seconds +/- 5 seconds).

    Coin Photographer.

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    silviosisilviosi Posts: 458 ✭✭✭

    I agree with you for the time. I pass also week long for distinct and analyze a Design variety. I like you catch me: for half dollars and I saw differences between Morgan's and Peace. Excellent piece of artwork.

    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT.FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL.THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE. MARK TWAIN

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    GoldFinger1969GoldFinger1969 Posts: 1,395 ✭✭✭✭

    @silviosi said:
    @ FlyingAl
    Do you will enlarge the study also for bigger diameter coins? and also smaller? (seem that the standard are not same)
    I congrat you for this article it is a fantastic study.

    Totally agree....FlyingAl, thanks for taking the time to post.

    Does the composition of the coin -- gold vs. silver vs. harder metals -- matter ? I'm most interested in Saints/Double Eagles and other larger gold coins ?

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    silviosisilviosi Posts: 458 ✭✭✭

    As specialist in gold, I can confirm that at the purity of the gold GoldFinger1969 has his right concern. My answer it is no do not has same patterns.

    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT.FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL.THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE. MARK TWAIN

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    gumby1234gumby1234 Posts: 5,459 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Nice video and lots of time. Thanks. I have the toughest time with high grade proofs 67 and up. Very hard to tell a 67 from a 69 in most cases. Maybe a comparison between graded proofs would be helpful.

    Successful BST with ad4400, Kccoin, lablover, pointfivezero, koynekwest, jwitten, coin22lover, HalfDimeDude, erwindoc, jyzskowsi, COINS MAKE CENTS, AlanSki, BryceM

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    FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 3,022 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @gumby1234

    Here's an example for you that I did a bit before this post, so it's not quite as detailed. The recutting isn't marked, and the rim mark is in red, but otherwise it's the same. :


    I can't do a video of this coin, since I don't own it (I was merely the photographer), but note how few hairlines there are (five total). Those that are there are so light you really need to know what you're looking for to know they're there. Remember our PR65 probably had upwards of 30 hairlines on the obverse alone, with five or six heavy hairlines. The biggest detractor is a few spots on the reverse buried in the lettering. The eye appeal is exceptional.

    That is exactly what an original PR68 should look like - very close to perfect. Obviously, PCGS and CAC agree with me on that. If I owned a sticker company (I don't :lol:) this is what I would sticker.

    Coin Photographer.

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    FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 3,022 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I also have two PR67 nickels - a 1938 and 1942. The 1938 is a solid 67, the 1942 is a 66. I'd be happy to do a post on those two coins (and explain why the 1942 is graded too high), if there's any interest.

    Coin Photographer.

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    IntueorIntueor Posts: 310 ✭✭✭✭

    Is anyone else amazed that @FlyingAl found a single coin that exhibited the seven different points he was illustrating? You have an exceptional eye for detail. Thank you for the post. I have bookmarked it to keep as a reference.

    unus multorum
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    FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 3,022 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @GoldFinger1969 said:

    @silviosi said:
    @ FlyingAl
    Do you will enlarge the study also for bigger diameter coins? and also smaller? (seem that the standard are not same)
    I congrat you for this article it is a fantastic study.

    Totally agree....FlyingAl, thanks for taking the time to post.

    Does the composition of the coin -- gold vs. silver vs. harder metals -- matter ? I'm most interested in Saints/Double Eagles and other larger gold coins ?

    Sorry, just saw your question today. I'll expand the post later today (I'll make a new one with a few more coins).

    Copper/Nickel/Silver seems to be graded the same. Take that grade and add one or two points for gold (it seems to be graded looser since the metal is softer).

    Coin Photographer.

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    psuman08psuman08 Posts: 258 ✭✭✭

    Excellent post, thanks @FlyingAl

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