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Let's Talk Originality

My focus here is circulated early silver coins: Flowing Hair, Draped Bust, & Capped Bust series.

I will assume that an "original" early coin is one that has 1. Not been dipped, 2. Not wiped with a silver polish cloth. 3. Has not been abrasively, or otherwise, cleaned. 4. All toning occurred naturally. Please add other attributes if I've missed any.

What specific things do you look for to determine if, say, an EF40 coin is "original". For example, must there be underlying luster around the devices? Does the absence of any luster imply that the surfaces are not original? What other criteria might be important? Your thoughts and observations?

My specific concern is how to identify coins that have been certified by PCGS/NGC that do not have original surfaces. I think is common knowledge that the grading services cut some slack to the earliest coins in assigning a grade as opposed to a "genuine - no grade" designation. What criteria does CAC use to establish originality. Do all early coins with a CAC sticker imply that CAC's opinion is that the coin is "original".

Looking forward to an informative discussion.



  • edited December 2021

    I'm not sure about CAC, but the big thing for me is the consistency of surfaces. Silver that old should have that nice gunmetal grey color, consistently across most of the coin, only shifting gradients around the devices/peripheral.

    I won't touch classic stuff that has that whitish color, or that is too dark. Give me my gunmetal grey or bust.

    I had an 1802 dollar I thought was pretty nice, but a slight spot of discoloration behind the head caused CAC to not bean it, saying it had been "cleaned long ago". Still a nice coin, just not CAC-able.

  • edited December 2021


    Would you like to look at few coins? Here's one for each early silver denomination. I have many more coins.

    1805 half dime graded PCGS VF-35. I bought this from Sheraton Downy from "Coin World" ad many years ago. Sheraton is a half dollar specialist. He said he didn't know what to do with it. Some people say that this is over rated as a date, but with about 200 examples known in all grades, it's hard to call it "common"

    1805 dime, graded PCGS AU-58. This coin got me hooked on early U.S. coins. I bought this raw from Catherine Bullowa in the mid 1970s. There is a tiny bit a plaster caught in the devices of this coin, which I never tired to remove. It could be that someone wanted to make some "illegitimate children" from this coin.

    11807 Quarter, NGC graded AU-55. I think that NGC under graded it. It was stuck with very shallow dies and virtually all of the detail remains. A little circulation would have taken this from Mint State to "Choice VF" in a hurry. This is a Browning 2 An early quarter specialist told me that was the only early die state piece he has seen of this variety. Much of the reverse, especially above the eagle's head is P-L. I bought this raw from Catherine Bullowa also in the mid 1970s. It was said to be part of the Brand Collection.

    1806 half dollar, NGC graded AU-58. I bought this at a Paramount Auction in the mid 1970s. It is obviously dipped so you won't like it, but there is plenty of luster for the grade.

    1802 Bust Dollar. This came from Harry Laibston about 10 years ago. PCGS AU-58. This is about as original as you will find. Most of these dollars have been dipped on cleaned, even in the circulated grades. It was common to see white surfaced examples in the 1960s and '70s.

    If everything you buy has to be 100% original with a CAC sticker, you have a lot more patience that I do.

  • “ Do all early coins with a CAC sticker imply that CAC's opinion is that the coin is "original".

    No, not based on your assumption that I have included below, as CAC will sticker certain dipped coins.

    “I will assume that an "original" early coin is one that has 1. Not been dipped,”

  • I love early silver, Halves are my favorite. Here’s an 1807 Half Dollar with nice original surfaces. PCGS F12 CAC.

  • I have had very positive experiences dealing with CAC, but I am mystified by the rejection of some uniformly gray early type coins that retain luster around the devices and have no hairlines or evidence of cleaning. I am assuming that the pattern of color or toning is the problem?

  • Yes, I think that the blotchy toning on the Flowing Hair Half Dollar probably prevented that one from passing. My guess is dipped long ago without a total rinse afterward.

    CAC might be looking for something more like this, which is also graded EF-45.

  • i always think about it in layers of age. When ever surfaces are too mono plane/level of tone or dirt it most likely has been processed. There is stone cold Unmessed with vs old cleanings that have developed 2nd,3rd skins ect. There are exceptions like bag Morgans that lived a sheltered life for the most part Vs a trade dollar that circulated the globe and picked up dirt and grime. Gold I look for colors and grime

  • Always looking for toning pull-away as is evident in my 1907-s below the date, and across the top of the "states"

  • Pull-away can be faked. I did it on some Morgans before I started buying toned ones. Might repeat it, since the examples I did it with were dipped and sold.

  • Anything can be faked (ask my wife), the question is how convincingly

  • OK, let's talk about it.

    The original original is a completely white coin just as it left the dies. Anything that happens from there is a consequence of handling and environment. So, how original do you want your coins to be?

    I understand that the OP is referring to a coin that has survived unmolested by former "numismatists" but an uncirculated coin that has been flash dipped to remove light toning or dirt will be, essentially, original. No one can look at a coin that has been properly "conserved" by proper dipping and identify it as such.

    Next you will have your uncirculated coin that has obtained natural toning from storage. The toning can range from a "blush" of color to rainbows to black. Now, all these progressions are "original" but you may not want to purchase ugly toned or black coins. So, now you have "original" coins that bring vastly differing prices based on the degree and beauty of the toning.

    Your coin now has seen some circulation. The surfaces are no longer reflective and there are marks from contact during circulation. The color of your coin can still differ greatly from duller silver to the aforementioned black. Most collectors will prefer to collect the whiteish color coin or one that has progressed nicely to a darker grey color sometimes with "honey" colored highlights. The more the circulation on the coin the darker grey color is accepted by most collectors.

    All these progressions are technically "original". Some of them bring better prices due to the acceptance of the collecting public. I collect Bust coinages and love to find XF coins with a "honey brown-grey" combination of color. To me, these represent a vastly scarcer color combination than the other combinations of grey progressing towards black. That does not mean I do not actively purchase coins of different combinations, but visually I prefer these.

    I understand we are all looking for coins that have not been artificially altered to attempt to deceive collectors. In the 1960 and 1970's there was a trend to alter the surfaces to make the coin look more "new". Today we try to not purchase these cleaned coins. More recently, coin doctors have attempted to make many of these coins look more "original" to increase their marketability. These coins are harder to spot (depending on the ability of the MD).

    How so we identify these? Well, many depend on the third party grading companies to reject them from slabbing. We all know this is an imperfect system, but the best most collectors have. Next, we rely on CAC to identify the best of those put in plastic. Another layer of protection. Finally we all have to rely on our own experiences of collecting for a long period of time to obtain coins that fit our personal collections. We may not always get a CAC approved coin to add to our sets but if we shop carefully we can obtain coins that all represent the "look" that we desire, original or not..........

    When asked about originality I am always brought back to the judge that when asked to define pornography he said he couldn't but knew it when he saw it.

    Food for thought, consume as much as you desire at your own risk..........

  • edited December 2021
    The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • I love this place...

  • It was convincing enough. Somebody go convince PCGS to unhide all my forum posts I made on CU (they hid all 7k posts when they tossed me) and I'll find the pics of the coin.

  • Contrary to the good Colonels quote above I personally can not remember one intellectual victory on my part.

    That being said, I wanted to further the discussion but did not intend to write a "book" on the subject. I essentially bypassed the AU grades in my quick assessment.

    Thanks to the Colonel for pointing out the nuances of conservation in his post along with filling in the AU blanks.

    Now, how about some other opinions?

  • edited December 2021

    So to the OP’s question “Do all early coins with a CAC sticker imply that CAC's opinion is that the coin is "original".”, here’s my Capped Bust Half, graded MS65 with a CAC. Clearly this 1829/7 coin has been dipped! As MarkFeld correctly stated above, CAC will sticker certain dipped coins.

    My purpose of showing this coin is not for us to debate whether a coin like this should straight graded by the TPG’s, nor to debate if it merits a CAC sticker, nor whether you would or would not include a coin like this in your collection, but instead to discuss what type of dipping is “permissible” to get straight graded and a CAC? Perhaps the answer is as simple as having a coin dipped “gently enough” that virtually none of the original luster is washed away with the dipping solution, even though the end result is like a 95 year old person having gotten face work by an excellent plastic surgeon (a very old silver coin now looking like it came off the press not too long ago).


  • edited December 2021

    It's good to hear that you done much better with artful conservation than doctoring. My theory is that coins and conservators can go to the "next level" if we take artful conservation out of the closet like with classic cars. It should be part of the provenance of the coin.

  • Agreed. I believe this was discussed over 10 year ago, and the conclusion was CAC does not mean original. I think the issue is that original is too restrictive when compared to market acceptable.

  • I believe that CAC, as well as the third party grading services, are not actually GRADING services but PRICING services.

    Think about it.......

    How often do you see a coin in a 65 holder that you would technically grade a 64 but it has booming luster. Clearly it is worth more than it's technical grade so it was bumped up to the next PRICING level. You can look at it another way also, you get NET GRADED coins that look like a higher grade with a small problem but not a problem enough to "bag" it. This coin gets a lower grade so everyone can look at the current pricing guide to see the suggested selling price.

    So, we are not trying to determine the ultimate in whether the coin has been dipped, conserved or messed with but trying to figure out how much it should sell for. The labels are just telling us the opinion of the grader(s) where to look for the listed value. We as dealers, collectors, flippers, etc then get to agree or disagree via our checkbooks.

    Simple heh?

    Colonel Jessup (and whoever would like) sharpen your darts and have at it.......

  • No so simple, at all.

    The "pricing" theory might explain why certain eye-appealing/"booming luster" coins grade higher than they would, based on just their technical merits. But what about eye-appealing/"booming luster" coins which appear to be under-graded, which are clearly worth more than their technical grades?

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