“MS64 – The Catch All Grade” or ”PCGS’s Excuse For Being Unable to Make a Decision”.
I’ve been thinking about this now for at least a month. The dissatisfaction collectors have with grading is wide ranging and seems to touch anyone who is active today. One glaring reality that has my attention are the uneven ranges of each grade. For instance, how large is the range for MS61? Looking at pop reports, it appears to be a very tiny space. The same can be said for MS60. Anomalies like this abound with grading and is something most collectors know well.
Another instance involves MS62 and MS63. Sometimes MS63 appears to be a graveyard for “failed uncirculated coins”. This grade can be populated with ugly coins that can have horrid large spots, scratches everywhere in the fields, dead color, large ripples and numerous splotches. Some show a large ghost of an upside down Lincoln on the reverse or coins minted from dies so overused you can barely make out “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the obverse or “E PLURIBUS UNUM” on the reverse. Sometimes both are smeared beyond legibility. The strange anomaly about this is coins graded MS62 are often actually more attractive than a lot of these “failed gem MS63’s. At other times MS62 and MS63 coins are beautiful, with nice luster and gloss (like those shown in the banner image). It’s almost like the PCGS graders were rushing and didn’t give some lower graded coins the credit they deserved.
So what about MS64? A lot of the time these are “failed gems”, or coins that just don’t quite make it as convincing MS65’s. That aspect I can understand. What has been puzzling me lately though how many coins are thrown into this grade. MS64 can be a gem that didn’t quite make it all the way to a coin that has all the problems of an ugly MS63. In my view, MS64 is the most misused grade of all. It seems to be a product of either laziness or indecision on the part of graders. The population reports bear this out. The 64 tier has by far has the highest population, sometimes exceeding the total of all the other MS grades of a given date combined.
This super-wide “catch all” grade is a failure of PCGS I believe. It almost appears at times that MS64 is some sort of default or “catch-all” grade. I wonder if Instead of putting every coin that has any appeal at all in this grade, if it would be more honest to go back to the 3 basic tiers that collectors lived with for decades before the Sheldon numbering scheme took over. The old idea was this: Uncirculated for all those ugly coins with obvious problems. Choice for all those coins that don’t quite live up to the gem standard. Gem for the attractive coins with no OBVIOUS distractions. Finally, if a coin is without any distractions, Gem Plus is my suggestion for the coins that now exist in 66, 66+, 67 and 67+. Who can really tell a truthful and accurate repeatable explanation for all those incremental little grades. No one!
I can’t be convinced there is a consensus on the difference between a 67 and a 67+. Or even a 66+ and a 67 for that matter. And finally, the price guide jumps for these unexplainable grades put the final nail in this current failed system. A coin can double in price for each “jump” above 65. This is not tenable or defensible. I believe the only reason those grades exist is because of collector ego and the desire to beat out competitors. Registry sets have fueled a lot of this and in the end, collectors without deep pockets end up sitting on the sidelines watching the carnage as people pay four times as much for a 67+ as someone else who just bought a 66+. The real rub is the “difference” between the two coins. My guess is that barely more than half would agree on which one is the 67+ and which one is the 66+! In any event, I don’t see how the slight difference can explain the huge price difference between coins graded this way.
So, what to do. If a coin is really ugly, just call it UNC. period. If it is moderate with flaws, call it CHOICE. I can see CHOICE PLUS as a possible increment to allow for the moderate differences between coins that used to occupy 62, 63 and 64. GEM is gem – GEM PLUS is the cream.
As it stands now, 64 holds too many coins and is too broad a category. I suggest looking through a few sources on the internet and study the coins graded 64. I think you will discover as I did that the range of this grade is HUGE and has become ineffective as a usable descriptor of a coin’s condition.
This is all obviously just my opinion as it stands today. I have been frustrated about this and believe I’m not alone in feeling this. I admit it is easy to poke holes and harder to find better solutions but the way grading is today, I don’t think most collectors are being well served by it — not by a long shot.