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The Difference Between Grade and Appearance

Tom Becker

It is difficult for some collectors to comprehend that when considering the attributes of many Canadian coins the technical grade may be of secondary importance. It is entirely possible that a coin deserving the Very Fine grade can be more attractive and desirable than one properly graded as Extremely Fine. It is also quite common to find a situation where two coins that are rightly given the same grade can vary greatly when we consider all the attributes of each piece.

Now that I've used the word attributes twice perhaps I should define this term as it applies to coins. Aside from the technical grade, a coin can have many features that influence its appeal. Appraising these features can be a very subjective process. What one collector considers important may be less so to the next. However, within each series of coins there seems to be a general consensus among those that collect them. I should also make it clear that increased or decreased desirability extends beyond flaws such as cleaning, location of marks, rim condition and the like.

While it is relatively easy to develop grading skills that allow one to consistently tell the difference between a Fine and a Very Fine or a VF and EF, it is a far greater challenge to gain the knowledge and experience required to identify a coin that is truly exceptional for the grade. By exceptional I don't mean a coin that is undergraded.

One of the great satisfactions associated with our hobby is locating the “perfect” coin that meets all the requirements on our checklist of attributes along with having the proper technical grade. It is important to create this checklist prior to making significant purchases rather than taking the costly trial and error approach.

Before deciding what you'd like to have in your collection it is necessary to understand what is reasonably available. Sometimes, collectors will set arbitrary and unrealistic requirements. This can lead to lots of frustration and few purchases. As often, others will be too willing to accept whatever makes the technical grade. This lack of discrimination results in building a collection that falls short of its full potential.

While it's possible to learn basic grading skills from books, I've never encountered a book or series of articles that provided comprehensive information about the desirability of certain coins based on their appearance. Even if such a publication were available I'm confident the material it contained would be highly subjective.

If the appearance of coins matters to you then you can increase your knowledge in this area by discussing these attributes with experienced dealers and collectors. What do these folks look for? What attributes do they consider most important?

I once had a collector ask me to describe the “perfect” MS-63 1948 Canadian dollar. I thought this was an excellent question and we spent a good while discussing the topic. I'm sure you'll find many dealers and collectors who are willing to review their preferences with you.


Tom Becker is a regular contributor to the Canadian Coin Reference Site, you can direct your questions directly to Tom easily by or visit Tom's website @


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