Beyond the Grade, the Devil is in the Details

1929 Quarter ObvEver since the advent of third party grading services there has been an ever growing trend toward chasing numbers instead of quality. Worse yet, at some point third party grading became a crutch, an excuse for novices and veterans alike to no longer rely on their own grading skills. As a result, many newcomers to the field of coin collecting rely solely on the grade to direct their buying decisions, never realizing there are so many other aspects to a coin’s value and appeal until they try to sell.

Truth be told, the best way to build a truly exceptional collection, one that immediately distinguishes itself to any viewer that it has been painstakingly selected rather than simply accumulated, is to understand these matters of esoterica and apply them to your collecting habits. One of the most misunderstood and greatly overlooked aspects of a coin’s eye appeal is the strike.

Now if you are a collector of the classical designs of the early 20th century, i.e. Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters and Walking Liberty halves, then you probably have a grasp on this concept already. These coin series are noted for their artistry in the presentation of their subject matter, but are also notorious for the inconsistency of the design strike. The high relief of the designs, the hardness of the metal (in the case of nickel), and the economic considerations of the Depression era mints all contributed to this high variability in strike. Thus, many of the coins of this era look “mushy” and worn though they may still be in uncirculated condition with no real wear from handling.

However, when you wean yourself from chasing just the number on the coin holder and understand that every MS63 isn’t just like every other MS63, with a little perseverance you can find coins in these series that truly stand out! In the case of Buffalo nickels you may be familiar with the Full Horn designation, referring to the fact that this feature is not always present and so differentiates a typical Buffalo nickel from one with an exceptional strike. Mercury dimes have the Full Bands designation, Standing Liberty quarters use Full Head, etc.

But why stop there? These aren’t the only details on these particular designs that didn’t strike up well. Regarding the quarter, what about the rivets on Liberty’s shield or the line of drapery on her right leg? Shouldn’t the Buffalo nickel display the Indian’s braid and hair to its fullest extent, or the line of fur on the buffalo’s left shoulder? These are points that separate the collector from the accumulator. These are things that make the hunt so much more enjoyable. And not all dealers take these matters into consideration. They’re just chasing the numbers. Take advantage of this and see the difference for yourself!


  1. Strike is definitely one of the variables in coin selection. I collect Walking Liberty halves. Their strike varies greatly from one year to the next and even from one mint to the next. Finding well struck coins for the collection can be really challenging sometimes. Great article.

  2. I have been building a collection of mint state Liberty Nickels and pursuing only coins with fully struck details. Even though it is challenging to find the coins, I usually pay about the same as coins with weak strikes and incomplete details. I enjoy the pursuit and feel that I will have a superior collection in the end.

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