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Second Edition of Popular Guide Available
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
October 04, 2012

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine
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Back when I started collecting, in the mid-1950s, grading/certification services didn’t exist. Slabs had not been invented. If you wanted to know what your coins were worth, you had to learn how to grade them, and the main publication that helped you learn consisted of line drawings of coins in different circulated grades (Brown and Dunn’s A Guide to the Grading of United States Coins).

Since James Ruddy’s Photograde, grading guides have generally relied on photographs of coins in different grades. In addition, for the last 30-plus years certification/grading services have been on the scene to determine whether or not a coin is genuine and to assign a grade to the coin.

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For many of those years, you still had to know how to grade, as some grading services did a better job than others. If you bought a certified coin from an inferior service, it might or might not have the appropriate grade.

In recent years, a new service has appeared. For a fee, the Certified Acceptance Corp. will examine a certified and graded coin and if it agrees that the grade on the holder is accurate, it will apply a green CAC label.

So, with the major grading services such as Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and the Professional Coin Grading Service, as well as CAC, do you still need to learn how to grade? In my opinion, it depends on what you collect.

If you collect only modern commemoratives, proof coins made in the last 20 years or so, or bullion coin series, then learning how to grade will be of little use to you. After all, virtually all of the specially produced coins minted in the last few decades will grade between MS-68 (or PR-68) and MS-70 (PR-70).

However, if you collect earlier coins, then I think it’s still important to know how to grade. And that brings me to the topic of this column: a new edition of a major grading guide.

The new book is the second edition of David Bowers’ Grading Coins by Photographs: An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor. Because it’s the second edition, I need to ask the question: Should you buy this new book if you have the first edition?

The answer, in my opinion, is no. There’s not enough new material in this book to warrant purchasing it if you have the previous edition.

That said, here are the changes I found: First, most of the coins used to illustrate uncirculated and proof coins have been changed. Some of the changes improve the book, but many have the opposite effect in my opinion. For example, in the first edition the coin used for the first coin type in the book, a 1793 Liberty Cap half cent, is an MS-63 specimen described as “One of the finest seen.”

The coin is a light color, which allows its detail to be clearly seen. In the new edition, the corresponding coin is graded MS-60 BN (brown). It’s so dark that details can only be guessed at. Similarly, for the Classic Head half cent type, the illustrative coin in the first edition was a lovely MS-65 RD 1833. The example in the second edition is a nice-looking, but much darker MS-63 BN 1835.

Occasionally, the change is for the better. As one example, in the first edition the coin used to illustrate an uncirculated Indian Head cent is an 1859 that grades MS-65. Because the 1859 copper-nickel cent is a one-year type coin, its use in this fashion begs for replacement. In the new edition, the replacement is an 1894 cent graded MS-66+ RD and described as “one of the highest-certified circulation-strike 1894 cents known.”

Second, other than the text used to describe illustrative coins that have been replaced, the book’s text appears to be unchanged from the previous edition. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the writing was excellent in the first edition. It does mean, however, that the new edition is unnecessary if you have the previous one.

Third, the pagination has been increased by three pages. As far as I could tell, the new pages are used to cover coin types not covered in the first edition. Thus, there are two pages on Lincoln cents of 2009 and 2010. Also, the recent modifications of Jefferson nickels are now covered.

Fourth, typos have been carried over from the first edition. For example, the 1858 Flying Eagle cent used to illustrate the grades of VF-20, -30 is labeled an 1838 in the accompanying text, as it was in the first edition. Similarly, the Liberty Head nickel used to illustrate the grade of AG-3 is dated 1891, not 1886, as it says in the book.

Fifth, in my opinion, some of the coins used to illustrate particular grades are not correctly graded. For example, the coin used in both editions to illustrate an AG-3 Seated Liberty dime, no stars, is a Fair-2 at best. Compare it with any other Seated Liberty dime type, and you’ll see what I mean.

Last, but not least, I still contend that there should be three different Standing Liberty quarter types: 1916-1917 bare breast, 1917-1924 covered breast, and 1925-1930 recessed date. In terms of grading, it makes little sense to me to lump coins with elevated dates together with coins with recessed dates.

Although I’ve been pretty critical of the second edition of Grading Coins by Photographs, it’s mainly because I think a good opportunity was missed to improve an excellent grading guide. The bottom line: If you have the first edition, you don’t need this one. If you don’t have it, by all means get a copy of this book.

It’s available from the publisher, Whitman Publishing, LLC ( for its list price of $19.95.

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