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Practice will help you find those 70s
By F. Michael Fazzari
August 21, 2017

You can tell how backed up my reading and sorting is as this Memorial Day I came across a “Market Analysis” column published in 2015 by Steve Roach.

Roach discussed the high prices being paid for “perfect” modern coins. The ones that are graded MS-70 by the premier third-party grading services. Many of these coins that were originally sold by the Mint for under $30 were selling at five-figure prices.

While I don’t follow coin prices, I expect this is still somewhat true today as 70s bring the big prices and many 69s just cost the price of the slab.

As for very expensive 70s, I say ride the wave. If you can buy a newly issued coin from the Mint, have it slabbed for about what it cost to purchase, and sell it for extreme multiples of that price – go for it, over and over! Then turn your profits into a vintage coin with a past track record of slow and steady growth.

In order to play this game, you’ll need to sharpen your grading skills and the method you use to examine coins. If you are like me, your personal standards should be stricter than the grading services.

AFAIK (a little lingo I’ve learned on the Internet coin forums for “As far as I know” that makes me feel hip), the professionals who grade the modern coins and silver Eagles rarely use any magnification while grading.  Nevertheless, their young eyes make them very proficient and fast-paced. What can give you an advantage is the use of magnification without any constraints due to time.

First, learn to examine your coins properly and under the same conditions we find in a typical grading room. While this cannot be done at a coin show, over time and with practice at home, you’ll learn what to look for when the lighting is bad and the setting is noisy.

Set up a space at a desk/table in a dark room with a 75-100W incandescent lamp.  If you wish to get fancy, a soft, black velvet jeweler’s pad is another thing you can copy for your grading space.

Since you have no restraints on time or magnification, use at least a 10X hand lens and take your time on each coin you view. If you spend several hundred dollars a year on collector coins, your hand lens should be one of the more expensive triplets sold by a brand name company such as B&L and Zeiss.

While looking for a perfect coin to have graded, develop a set pattern or method of examination until it becomes a subconscious habit so you don’t miss anything. I scan both sides of the entire coin quickly with just my eyes. That way, I don’t spend a long time using magnification to determine that one side is perfect and then within one second see a detracting mark on the other before I can even raise my hand lens to my eye.

If the coin passes the eye test on both sides, I use magnification for the next part. I check the obverse first as it is the most important side. While I must subconsciously divide the coin into parts, I’m not aware of it as I circle the legend and then look for hidden marks in the major design. Any flaws in the open fields should have been apparent long before this stage of the exam. Next, I’ll examine the reverse.

The ONLY correct way to examine a coin is to tip it back and forth as much as 45 degrees while at the same time rotating it through at least 190 degrees. This allows the light to reflect off each part of the coin at various angles so that even a tiny hairline will be visible as you slowly rotate the coin into position. There is no rush; but don’t get into the habit of holding a coin steady in one position while staring at it. Not only is this funny to watch, it is usually unproductive as you can stare all day at a coin in one position and see nothing yet a slight tip or rotation will quickly show an obvious defect.

On modern coins, I’ve found hairlines in the field and tiny struck-through’s in the frost to be more common on proofs.  The Mint State coins usually have more impact marks. If the coin is still in a mint sealed container, most of the things that would take it out of “100 percent perfection” happened during striking.

I used that superfluous percentage number as an adjective because most third-party grading services are somewhat lenient when it comes to a very few tiny mint-made imperfections.  You and I don’t need to be lenient as “perfect” means only one thing: No nicks, hairlines, spots, or struck-through lint marks!

Nevertheless, you will need to make a personal decision on these mint imperfections. The tougher you are, there is more of a chance the third-party grading services will agree on a perfect 70 grade.  One trick of the trade I’ll pass on is that the tiny spots and stains found on coins will stand out better using florescent light. Additionally, if the coins are not mint sealed, then anything goes including PMD (post mint damage) and evidence of mishandling or cleaning.

I believe most third-party grading services have voided the guarantee for spots occurring on coins after being slabbed; but you should be watchful for them. A spot is a defect no matter when it occurs. So never send one of these in for grading expecting perfection.

If you do your homework properly, you should get the 70 label and ride the wave and sell that 70 label. I don’t know if you’ll ever get rich doing this since a third-party grading service is not in the business of turning a $35 coin into the $7,000 treasure.

Additionally, as grading standards evolve (getting looser) and more coins are sent in, the number of perfect 70s for each issue can only increase. Perhaps by waiting two decades after the first-day-of-issue, a realistic population will be established and many modern coins will be truly rare in perfect condition.  By then, many of the silver Eagles and commemoratives that were once common will be on the way to becoming vintage coins worth big money to those collectors who only want the best.

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