The art of coin grading, although still subjective, has been facilitated in recent decades by the development and adoption of standard grading scales. The most commonly used scale, originally developed by Dr. William H. Sheldon, is the 70 point numerical grading system that has been widely adopted since 1970. However, in order to assign numerical grades to coins, it is essential to know what to look for in the coin being graded. What are the high points? What areas are the most susceptible to abrasions, rubbing and flattening? May of these questions have been answered for US coins in comprehensive grading guides such as Photograde and the ANA Grading Standards for US Coins. For foreign coins, and Cuban coins in particular, published information is very scarce if not inexistent. The grading guide below, although not official or comprehensive, is a humble attempt to assist those interested in grading Cuban coins from the First Republic (1915-1961). This first post focuses on Star coinage, although some elements will likely apply to other series, since the coat of arms is almost ubiquitously present on the reverse of most coins from the Republican period. Grading of ABC Pesos, Marti Centennial coins and Gold coinage will be covered in future posts. Finally, it is worth stressing once again that grading is subjective and that other factors may influence the overall grade and value of a coin, including environmental damage, improper cleaning or handling, nicks, marks and other kinds of injuries, as well as eye appeal.
On the reverse, the high points of the coat of arms are most susceptible to wear. The palm tree, the key and the star on the Phrygian cap are key elements to consider when grading Cuban coins. The wreath and the fasces are also susceptible to wear. For higher grades in particular, it is imperative to take a close look at the obverse as wear and blemishes will usually be visible on the high points of the Star on the obverse, especially on the ridges and center of the star.
The accompanying table describes and pictures some of the differences among a range of condition or grades. As usual, comments and/or suggestions would be appreciated.
Very Good (VG8)
The rim will be full and all the letters and date will be clear and visible. Rev: Slight detail in wreath will show. Most vertical lines in the fasces will not be visible, and the diagonal and horizontal bands will be worn nearly flat. Obv: Star will be worn nearly flat but will be visible and completely outlined.
Rev: Parts of the key and palm tree will be worn smooth, but the outline may be visible. The star on the Phrygian cap will be worn smooth. Detail in wreath will show, although the ends of leaves will show considerable wear. Obv: Star will be well worn but completely outlined and visible. Star lines running to the center (valleys) will also be visible.
Very Fine (VF20)
Rev: The key and the star in the Phrygian cap will be worn but visible. Details may not be visible. All vertical lines in the fasces will show. Obv: Star will show signs of wear, but all valleys and ridges will be visible.
Extra Fine (EF45/XF45)
Rev: High points of the key and the Phrygian cap will be lightly worn but will show all details. Details of the palm tree will also show. Obv: Slight wear will show on Star ridges and center.
Uncirculated / Mint State
These coins have never been circulated, but the presence of bag marks and abrasions can affect the grade, most noticeably on the star. MS60 (Typical) No trace of wear, but with blemishes. MS65 (Choice) Nearly perfect with some small blemish. A few barely noticeable marks may be present. Has full mint luster but may be uneven or toned. MS70 (Perfect) Flawless coin as it was minted. Must have full mint luster.