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Terms Get in Way of Understanding
September 29, 2011

Remember the old joke asking who is buried in Grant’s tomb?

Yes, I know that the correct word should be interred, because the former President’s body is not resting in the earth, but popular jokes are not dependent upon such formalities.

Anyway, this old joke came to mind as I received a question that would make any hobbyist shake his head.

“I recently purchased your 2012 U.S. Coin Digest and I am confused on determining value. Example, on Page 188 “Jackie Robinson proof gold $5 commemorative, listed as follows:

“1997W MS-65 3,900

“1997W Prf-65 575

“How do I determine which one I have? It was purchased from the U. S. Mint and in its original case with all the paperwork.”

I am grateful that the individual has purchased a reference book. That is a good thing.

Can I infer from this that he knows he has a proof because he has the original paperwork and is somehow confused and not recognizing that MS-65 is a grade designation for the uncirculated coin and Prf-65 is the grade for a proof coin?

This assumption will be the basis for how I respond.

Over the years I have heard many a hobbyist refer to the grade of a proof coin as MS this or that in casual conversation. I have always put it down to a slip of the tongue or a temporary mental glitch.

I sympathize because I do not always use the right word in casual conversation, either, and I have never been one of those purists who corrects people who use the word “penny” instead of “cent.”

Yes, cent is correct. Yes, we should all use it, but I agree with the appeal Mint Director Donna Pope made a generation ago that we should all just all relax a little over the use of “penny.”

Nobody should ever be afraid to ask a question, or to share a hobby enthusiasm with others for fear of an unfriendly correction.

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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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