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The Second Side & Grading

Tom Becker

When the opportunity presents itself, watch someone examine a Canadian coin with the intention of grading it. Based on my experience, the majority of graders will spend more time studying the obverse. From what I've seen, it is rare indeed to find a grader of Canadian coins who will begin the examination by reviewing the coin's reverse side.

At the risk of prompting those who are exceptions to say so, my experience has been that most Canadian coins are graded, collected, bought and sold based primarily on the appearance of the obverse. I'm not suggesting no attention is paid to the backside of the coin but that often its appearance is less important. In other words, a flaw on the back matters less than one on the front.

I find it interesting that because the date usually is found on the reverse, most Canadian coins are displayed with the “date side” showing and yet this was often the portion of the coin that received the least attention when making the purchase. A collector may agonize over whether or not to buy an Edward VII five cent piece with a softly struck obverse. Why is this so important when it's the date side of the coin that will be displayed? I also wonder why certain grading services package their products in such a way that the obverse is displayed on the label side when it is the distinctive reverse that would be most important to the collector. I've yet to sell a 1948 dollar to someone who was willing to make the purchase without taking at least a peek at the coin's backside.

I know of at least one instance where a grading service experimented with assigning a grade to each side of a coin. I'm guessing this didn't catch on because the marketplace wasn't prepared to deal with all the potential combinations. How do you price a coin with a MS-63 obverse and a MS-65 reverse---or the opposite combination? What about a coin that shows strong cameo contrast on the obverse and less on the reverse-or the opposite possibility?

If you'd like to sharpen your grading skills and increase your confidence when making purchases, you might want to experiment with reviewing the reverse side of a coin first. Once this examination is completed, then move to the obverse to determine if a study of that side confirms or refutes your initial opinion. My practice is to always begin with the reverse when grading Canadian coins. After many thousands of attempts, I find that when I don't think both sides deserve the same grade it is most always the reverse I would grade lower. Knowing the majority of coin buyers are most interested in the appearance of the obverse, I will usually bend in the direction of that side's grade.

I hope it doesn't seem I'm trying to make grading more complicated than it needs to be. I'm not suggesting a grade should be assigned to each side of a coin. A coin is properly judged and graded by reaching an overall combined appraisal of each of a coins three sides-we don't want to forget the importance of examining the edge. For me, on those coins where reeding was applied to the coin's third side, “edge grading” is mostly done by touch. There have been countless times when running my fingers around the edge of the coin has helped me to determine if the piece is indeed uncirculated or slightly worn. The coin doctors may have perfected ways to make a used coin look new by playing around with the obverse and reverse sides but at least to my fingers they have not been able to duplicate the distinct difference between the “rough newness” found on the edge of an uncirculted coin when compared to lack of same on an AU or lesser grade piece. I'll readily admit grading coins by using the feel of the edge is best learned by personal experience. I'd encourage you to give it a try. Don't forget to compare the edges of proof and specimen coins with those of business strikes. There really is a consistently noticeable difference.


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


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