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Tumble into the dark of grading
August 03, 2007

When I was 12 or 13 I found myself late getting home for supper one late autumn day. I was running. My parents frowned on being tardy. I decided to cut through a backyard. Once off the street it was pitch black. I couldn't see anything.

But did I stop? Oh, no. I was young and in a hurry. My foot caught a wire fence. I don't know if it was around a bush or part of a garden perimeter fence. Whatever it was, I went flying. Fortunately for me, my bad judgment didn't lead to anything more severe than a tumble. Kids are young and resilient and tumbles don't amount to much.

But I know I could have hit a tree or a wall or something else that is very hard. The outcome of my story would have been different.

New collectors can be like that young kid I was. They are so anxious to get to buying all the exciting coins they are reading about that they skip the critical things like knowing how to tell a fake coin from genuine, or knowing how to grade.

I have the sixth edition of the Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins on my desk. It is 350 pages. Every new collector should read the current edition. How many actually do? My guess is not too many.

Sure, grading can be picked up from friends. It can be learned at coin club meetings or seminars. However, it is learned, it is not a five-minute, "I'm in a hurry" process.

In recognition of this tendency to cut corners, the hobby has come up with phrases like, "Know your coins or know your dealer." There is truth in the phrase, but a collector that does not learn how to grade properly is like a kid running in the dark. Somewhere along the way, he is going to trip.

Where he lands and how he reacts to the spill is the critical event in every collector's life. Resolving to slow down and learn makes for a lifelong collector. Blaming the hobby for the spill makes for disgruntled ex-collectors.

However, the hobby is like life. Every collector won't really confront the kind of hobbyist he is until he takes that tumble. How did you react, or how will you react?

I made it home for supper. I never ran in the dark again.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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