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The Flipside with Robert R. Van Ryzin

A 'wretchedly poor' coin - yawn!
July 27, 2007

And the award for overly conservative and wretchedly honest coin grading goes to...

Of course, everyone knows that coin grading is subjective. All attempts to standardize coin grading have left something to be desired. Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder and for some the matter of a coin's grade is not a matter of beauty, it's the opposite.

One of my favorite lot descriptions in a coin auction included a prediction by an overzealous cataloger (prone to misusing words) that the given coin would no doubt bring a wave of "somnolence" over the auction floor. Thus, according to the auction company, everyone would likely fall asleep as soon as this coin was put up for sale. They can't really have meant this!

More brutally honest were the listings of Bangs, Merwin & Co., who took a unique marketing approach in grading coins for their Dec. 17, 1869, sale of the J.M. Wilbur collection. This nearly 2,000-lot auction featured 60 large cents dated 1847. The highest grade for any of the coins was "barely fair," while other were described by the cataloger, Edward Cogan, as "poor," "poorer," "worse," "extremely poor," "unusually poor," "wretchedly poor," "still worse," "exceedingly poor," and "poorer still."

Now these were coins that could have and should have brought a wave of sleepiness over the auction floor.

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About the Author
Robert R. Van Ryzin has been a coin collector for 30 years. He has served as editor of Krause Publications Coins and Coin Prices magazines since 1994. He joined the firm in 1986 after obtaining a master of fine arts degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Prior to becoming a magazine editor, he worked on World Coin News as a staff member and later served as managing editor of Numismatic News. Van Ryzin, whose specialty is U.S. coinage history, is also the award-winning author of the book Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection (Krause Publications, 2001), as well as two earlier titles, Twisted Tails: Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction from U.S. Coin History (Krause Publications, 1995) and Striking Impressions: A Visual Guide to Collecting U.S. Coins (Krause Publications, 1992).

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