Q&A with John Albanese: Adjustment Marks

March 22, 2013

One of our collector members, Ankur Jetley, recently sat down with John Albanese with the hope that he could shed some light on a few numismatic topics. This is the first of nine discussion questions in the series. Keep an eye out for the rest of the responses as we post them.

Question # 1: Adjustment marks: approximately what percentage of coins with them pass CAC? How much is too much?

I purposely waited over sixty days before answering this question. Adjustment marks are quite common on early U.S. coinage. CAC has probably viewed over 500 early coins from this period just in the last sixty days and only two weren’t stickered due to problematic adjustment marks. The first coin, an 1802/1 $5 in MS62, only had a few adjustment marks. They weren’t distracting in terms of their pattern as they were basically parallel. However, they were very deep and would be considered bothersome to even the most seasoned collector. The second coin, a 1795 50C in XF45, had about 10-15 much lighter adjustment marks. The biggest issue with the 1795 50C was the pattern of the adjustment marks, which crisscrossed over Miss Liberty’s profile, almost as though there was a tic-tac-toe board on the obverse. The ‘95 50C was a very easy call to not sticker, though the 02/01 $5 was a borderline call due to the coin being “fresh” and nearly MS63 in technical terms.

Most coins with adjustment marks viewed by CAC are barely even considered potentially problematic and it is rare for adjustment marks to be factored into a decision as to whether they merit a sticker. There are currently four CAC graders and all have at least 30 years of coin grading experience. We’ve all been taught that adjustment marks are “mint made” and are rarely a factor in determining the desirability of early U.S. coinage.  I sure hope the current crop of young graders continues this tradition and doesn’t succumb to the pressures of less sophisticated coin marketers.

A few additional points on adjustment marks from Douglas Winter, of Douglas Winter Numismatics:

1. Adjustment marks are far less important on the reverse than on the obverse and less important at the border of a coin than at the center.

2. Adjustment marks are most often seen on coins from the 1790’s and early 1800’s but they are sometimes seen on coins as late as the 1830’s.

3. As you see more and more coins, you will learn that certain issues are prone to adjustment marks, such as 1794 Half Dollars, while others, such as 1807 Quarter Eagles, are not often seen with them.

4. On coins with artificial color or altered surfaces, you will sometimes see this as the result of trying to hide adjustment marks. A “buried” adjustment mark can be a good giveaway for artificial color or enhancement.

5. As a collector, if your first reaction when seeing a coin with adjustment marks is “yuck,” don’t force yourself into buying said coin. Yes, they are mint-made, but everyone reacts differently to them and a coin with heavy lines might be hard to re-sell down the road.


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