nEF, 8 pearls (see below for details) ...
King Edward VII's 1910 Australian coins:
Checking the obverse first, look at the horizontal bands at the bottom of the King's Crown. To be UNC they must contain 8 dots (known as pearls), the centre diamond and the horizontal bands of the two rectangular blocks must have rounded surfaces without any signs of wear, as must the King's eybrow, nose tip, beard and moustache. The robes, regalia lettering and rims nust not exhibit any signs of wear.
On the reverse, check the Emu's feathers, the Kangaroo's shoulder and haunch, the ribbon and lettering of Advance Australia. Even under magnification, no wear should be visible. Check also the rim and legends. The star should be sharp but sometimes it is 'Softly Struck' due to filled dies. To be uncirculated, all of these highpoints must be free of wear. They may have knicks, dings, dents and scratches but these must be mentioned and unless they occurred in the minting/shipping process, the coin should be down priced.
Coins of 1910 will probably show toning which is a patina of age above the underlying lustre. An attractive toning will add a premium to coin pricing for experienced collectors, while many novices will shy away, not understanding this natural protection to coins.
'Near', 'About' and 'Virtually' UNC (nUNC, aUNC & vUNC) all mean that the coin shows minute signs of wear only on the high points mentioned above. The wear should be so little that magnification is necessary to detect it. For nUNC and aUNC coins, the percentage scale would be 98% while Virtually UNC coins would grade slightly better at 99% - ie. only the faintest hint of wear shows up under magnification.
For an EF coin, wear is still minute but slightly more apparent. The Crown's 'jewels' remain intact, the portrait high points show slight wear. The Emu's feathers remain clearly defined and the Kangaroo's limbs remain rounded. EF score is 95%, EF+ scores 96% or better while nEF scores 92% to 94%.
Wear becomes easily visible on VF graded coins in the design areas and also, frequently, in the open areas (fields). The pair of pearls to the right of the diamond (known on 1910 coins as the 'Second Set of Pearls') are usually, but not always, smudged flat, leaving the other 'jewels' intact but slightly flattened (the 'Second Set of Pearls on George V coins are immediately to the left of the centre diamond). The obverse highpoints of eyebrow, beard, nose, moustache tip and parts of the regalia are also slightly flattened. On the reverse, the Emu feathers are rounded and individual feather groupings are generally not visible while the Kangaroo's limbs and Advance Australia ribbons show some wear. VF rates a minumum of 70%, VF+ at least 85% and nVF from 65% upwards.
Fine coins show considerable wear with much of the detail obliterated. The centre diamond has usually disappeared and all the high points are worn. The Emu's feathers have moulted and the Kangaroo is nearly flat. Score F as 45% while F+ rates 55% minimum and nF at least 40%.
VG and G coins show continued wear resulting in the Crown's two horizontal bands displaying only at the ends, with the centre diamond long gone. Advance Australia on the reverse is readable on VG coins but mostly obliterated on G coins. VG rates 25% with adjustments for Plus and near. Good rate 10% with plus and minus adjustments not really adding much information to a bleak looking coin.
The condition of the Star on the reverse rates a special mention as this part of the design is often not fully 'Struck-Up' - especially on 3p and 6p pieces due to filled dies. Sometimes the die steel was of inferior quality resulting in poor quality strikings. In other cases, incorrect die pressure settings resulted in a 'Soft Strike'. Where this occurs, split gradings are used. The grade EF/UNC is a common one on 1910 coins because the obverse side is often not struck up.
King George V 1911-1936 Australian coins:
On George V coins, the layout of the bands on the crown is similar to that on Edward VII coins. Again, this is the first point of inspection. Once again there are 8 dots or pearls , a centre diamond and two rectangular blocks inside two horizontal, parallel perimeter lines. The first signs of wear appear on the two pearls to the left of the diamond ( strangely called the 'two front pearls'). With more use, wear continues onto the diamond and parallel lines, then onto the pearls to the right of the diamond and onto the two rectangular blocks until eventually all design is worn away. Attention must also be paid to the eyebrow, nose, moustache, beard, ear and robes.
Take notice also of wear on the rim and in the lettering (legend). The gradings and percentages used remain constant with those described earlier for Edward VII's coins.
1937-1938 Australian Crowns:
On the reverse of these coins at the very top of the crown is a cross with a circle (or 'Orb') below it. On this circle is one vertical and one horizontal band which form another, very light, cross. This light cross should be checked for wear.
The next point to check are the nine pearls lined up vertically below the Orb. Are they rounded or do they show any sign of flattening ? On each side of the pearls is a vertical line known unofficially as a 'Spire'. Each has a raised line running down the centre referred to as a 'Flute'. Check the Flutes for wear. Look also at the rims and denticles for any wear, rim ricks, chips, bumps or bruises.
If there is absolutely no wear on any of these high points - a magnifying glass should be used to check - then the obverse side may be graded UNC. Before assigning that grade, check the fields and designs for scratches, wear, abrasions and porosity of the surface. Circulation coins drop from the minting presses into containers which may cause indentations to occur. 1937 and 1938 Crowns were distributed throughout Australia to banks by ship and rail. During transportation, particularly because of the large size of the crowns, it was common for 'Bag Marks' to occur . The grading is still UNC if only bag marks and no other wear is found - the coins description would be something like - UNC with bag marks or UNC with rim nicks. However, unless the coin still has full lustre (even under surface patina or toning), it should be graded downwards.
On the obverse, the highpoints to check include the King's hair, top of ear, eyebrow, nose, jaw line and neck, plus the rims and legends. Do the combing lines in the hair stand out clearly ? Has the eyebrow been flattened ? Is the lobe of the ear worn or damaged ? Are their marks in the field ?
Once you have mastered the art of these examinations, grading the coin should become less of a black art and more of a science. You will be in a much better position to negotiate a reasonable price based on the evidence of wear displayed by the coin, not on the seller's powers of persuasion with an eye towards a fast buck.
Proofs, Patterns and Specimens.
Proof coins represent the very best of the minter's art. Today, they are manufactured from hand-polished dies, are virtually flawless and are superby presented in customised packaging, with strict limits on production.
Originally they were trial coins, hand struck at the start of a mintage, in order that any flaws could be detected and rectified. Then they became a special sample, kept as an example of each mintage. Today, they are considered numismatic coins - of interest to coin collectors - and are sold at fixed prices consistent with their quality and rarity.
For most Australian pre-decimal proof and pattern issues (particularly gold sovereigns and half sovereigns), mint records were poorly kept. Confusion has resulted from references to Proof, Pattern and sometimes Specimen coin strikes, all of which seem to have similar qualities. To overcome these description difficulties, a proof or specimen coin is now defined as a specially prepared coin which also has normal circulating coins issued with the same date and die types. On the other hand, a Pattern is an issue of a particular date and die types for which no circulating coins were issued. Patterns may, and often do, show slight differences from circulation issues as they were usually intended as examples of a change in proposed design, manufacturing process or composition.
Modern proof coins are minted from highly polished dies using specially prepared blanks with a bright surface. Extra pressure is used to strike the coin and often the blank is struck more than once. They are the result of a number of labourous processes. Firstly, the die surface is sand blasted and hand polished using diamond lapping paste applied with soft wooden sticks. A final polish to produce a brilliant mirror finish is achieved with a dental drill covered with a soft pad. Next, the surface of the die is covered with clear tape and a scalpel is used to expose the design areas. Again the die is sand blasted resulting in a frosted finish on exposed design areas. The final process is for the die to be crome plated before being used to strike coins.
The blanks intended to become proof coins are also given special treatment. Prior to striking, they are immersed in a weak acid bath to remove any surface impurities. From that point on, they are only ever handled with gloved hands or special tongs to ensure that the surfaces remain pristine.
Five characteristics are examined to accurately determine the state of preservation of a banknote. They are the state of cleanliness, the severity of folding, the state of the surface, the state of the edges and the severity and number of any punctures or pinholes on the note.
A points system is used where each characteristic is scored out of 20 - the maximum score for an absolutely pristine note being 100. Grading points are as follows:
|Crisp, Flat, Uncirculated (CFU)||100|
|Extremely Fine (EF)||90|
|Very Fine (VF)||75|
|Very Good (VG)||30|
The following table describes scoring process used for each characteristic:
||As printed - clean and bright
Slight soiling - just noticeable
Considerable soiling and/or banker's marks
Very dirty, legibility is reduced
||As printed - flat and unfolded
One or two folds leaving a very faint crease
Several prominent folds
Many folds and heavy creasing
||As printed - crisp with no damage
Slight, just detectable abrasions or damage
Readily detectible damage in several places
||As printed - perfectly straight and even
Slightly rough or with very minor indentations
Considerable indentation and/or with tears in the margins
Badly damages edges and/or tears extending into the design
||As printed - no holes
One or two pin holes only
Several pin holes or a slightly larger puncture
Several larger holes
Grading Services and the 'Slab'
In the laste 1980's, a new innovation, the so-called slab, was introduced in an attempt to remove the subjectivity surrounding grading. Used particularly by investors, high value coins and other numismatic pieces are forwarded to a recognised, independent grading agency for evaluation. Along with a grading certification, each item is then sealed within a 'slab' of inert plastic.
Officially known as 'Encapsulated Numismatic Products', slabs were intended to promote investor confidence and enable the purchase and sale of numismatic items, sight unseen. In the U.S.A., the practice has enabled Wall Street companies to confidently trade in numismatic items through the investment market, with the actual item being traded remaining locked away in a bank vault.
The practice has its critics. Many believe that the entry of large scale investors into the numismatic market has pushed up prices to the point where genuine collectors are being pushed out.
Further, controversy of grading continues. Dealers and investors have been known to send a piece to several different grading services, seeking that slightly higher grading which will add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the value of the piece.
One advantage of the slab is that market forces have helped to reduce the gap between the buying and selling price of items - the dealer's margin. This, however, is more than offset by the increased volitility of investment market driven valuations. Alongside the more established benchmarks of valuation - rarity and condition - the criteria of market forces has made numismatics a much more complex hobby.
NUMI$NEWS Magazines - Sept, Oct, Nov, 1996 - M. R. Roberts, Wynyard Coin Centre,
'Rigby's Coin and Banknote Guide' by Greg McDonald - 1983,
Renniks Australian Coin and Banknote Guide by Dion H. Skinner - 1980.
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Last modified: 05 December, 2007