CWTS Article of the Month!

August 1999

"Grading Isn't Really a Monster"

by Dale Cade

Extracted from The Civil War Token Journal, Volume 16 Number 3.

    Whether we like it or not, any time you collect anything, you attach a grade to it.  This may be a conscious effort or a totally automatic action you are unaware of doing.  What you are doing is putting the various pieces you have collected into a quality grading or ranking.  You have a yardstick, real or imagined, and the grading of your pieces represent how well they measure up to the standards represented by your yardstick.  What constitutes a good yardstick?

    Most knowledgeable collectors and experts in the coin and token field agree that the grade of a coin or token is a comparison of the quality/extent of wear experienced by the coin or token when compared to its newly minted state.  Restating this from a different viewpoint; cosmetic effects on the coin or token (i.e. dirt, die irregularities, discoloration, damage, etc.) are NOT a factor in the grading of the coin or token.  (When you're talking price of the coin or token, that's another story!)  A notable exception to this statement is the Sheldon System which designates grade by mint state (MS) number, wherein a perfect coin is designated as mint state 70 (MS-70).  Within this system, mint states up to and including MS-60 (uncirculated) address coin wear only, while MS-61 through MS-70 address cosmetic factors (i.e. bag marks, blemishes, etc.) on the uncirculated coin.  The American Numismatic Association "Official Grading Standard for U.S. Coins" is patterned after the Sheldon System.

    How can this system, or any other system, help the collector of civil war tokens who has literally thousands of different dies to evaluate?  The ANA grading system is a composite of the older letter grade system and the newer numerical (Sheldon) scale (i.e. VF-20, XF-45, AU-55, etc.)  Using the illustrations in the ANA grading standard, Brown and Dunn's grading guide, Bowers and Ruddy's Photograde, or similar sources for the Indian Head cent of the Civil War years, a reasonable correlation can be made of letter grades Vs amount and location of token wear.  In establishing this correlation, it is extremely important to be able to look beyond the token cosmetics and to evaluate the token wear only.

    After you have a firm grasp on the Indian Head cent image in its various states (degrees of wear), the analogy process may be used to identify these images to non-Indian Head tokens and make comparisons.  I would suggest starting with the Indian Head CWT dies first, since they will afford the best match to the Indian Head cent standards you have obtained.  Look for the wear on the high spots of the design.  Is it reasonably evenly distributed?  Can any of the "wear" be attributed to the manufacturing process (i.e. worn die, filling die, foreign object on the die, excessive grease on the die, uneven strike, etc.)?  When you are satisfied that you have as much information as the token can impart, make your grading decision.  Compare your decision to your standards source, and either accept your decision or revise it.  With practice, most of the evaluation and decision process will become automatic.

    A word of caution.  Come CWT manufacturing practices resulted in conditions easily mistaken for wear.  Some examples of these practices and their results are:

    Again, with practice, you will be able to spot these peculiarities and make allowances for them in the grading of your CWT.

    Grading really isn't a monster, but is a communications tool between collectors.  To be effective, it must be fairly restrictive in interpretation; but most importantly, it must be understood by the people using it, otherwise communication is lost.  In grading, there is no substitute for experience.  When you find that one of your grading decisions appears to be wrong, chalk it up to the learning experience and move on.  Don't become hostile toward someone who arrives at a different grade for a given piece that you did.  Try to understand his/her reasoning, and he/she yours, and arrive at a mutually acceptable grading.  When this occurs, you are really communicating, which is why you wanted to be knowledgeable in grading in the first place.

CWTS Article Archive
Winter 2016 A Reminiscence
Winter 2016 My First Sulter Token
Spring 2016 Protesting Union Civil War Policies
Winter 2015 Slave Owner Issued Civil War Tokens
Fall 2014 Hill the Barber & African American Store Card Issuers
Fall 2014 Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery
Apr. 2004 Henry Varwig - OH165GD
Mar. 2004 Dating Mr. Sayre's Tokens
Feb. 2000 Knowledge of Civil War Tokens
Jan. 2000 Ohio 710A
Dec. 1999 Speculations About Yankee Robinson
Nov. 1999 Hussey's Private Message Post
Oct. 1999 The Great Central Fair
Sep. 1999 Wm. S. Wilcox of Adrian, Michigan
Aug. 1999 Grading Isn't Really a Monster
July 1999 The 1860 Presidential Campaign Medalets
June 1999 The Other Store Cards of Central New York
May 1999 George McClellan - The Peace Maker?
Apr. 1999 Sutler Tokens at Gettysburg
Mar. 1999 More on the Monitor and Merrimac
Feb. 1999 Civil War Token Mini-Set -- General Franz Sigel
Jan. 1999 Die Sinker Errors on Civil War Tokens
Dec. 1998 The Abraham Lincoln Mini-set
Nov. 1998 Civil War Token Errors
Articles reprinted with permission of The Civil War Token Society.
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