As discussed in a previous posting, a series of commemorative coins was issued in 1953 in Cuba to commemorate the centennial of the birth of Jose Marti in 1 centavo, 25 centavos, 25 centavos and peso denominations. These coins were hastily struck in Philadelphia and distributed to the public, which was evident by the defects and poor quality and condition of the coins received in Cuba.
Top grade NGC*
Top grade PCGS*
* As of publication of this post on April 4, 2020.
All coins in the series can be considered common, but they are surprisingly hard to find in gem uncirculated condition. Except for two 25 centavos examples graded at MS 66 by NGC, no other pieces from the 1953/58 series have been graded higher than MS 65 by either NGC or PCGS, one or two grades lower than what’s seen with the other First Republic series. Actually, the poor quality and condition of the 1953 Marti Centennial pieces drew early criticism from the public and the numismatic community, with the Cuban Numismatic Society issuing an official protest as soon as the coins were received in Cuba. Contemporary reports from The Cuban Numismatic Society and by Thomas Lismore estimate that about or less than 4% of the coins directly from the mint bags (70 out 2,000 coins) were devoid of bag marks and scratches, which they attributed to the hastily produced coins, design flaws such as the low rim and poor quality of the coin blanks which showed brown spots.
Elements of design of the 1953 centavo were used when the 1958 centavo was issued. The most notable modification was the removal of the legend commemorating the Marti centennial, and the placement of the date in a more prominent place to the left of the bust of Marti. However, close observation of the obverse suggests a much lower level of detail in particular as seen on the waves in Marti’s hair.
While we have definitely seen the poor quality of the 1953 Marti centenial emission reflected in the grading of the coins of the series, this is even more notable in the case of the 1958 centavo, with lower highest grade (MS64 vs MS65) and grade distribution (mean weighted average grade of 63 vs 64).
The other noticeable difference is in the number of speciments being graded as almost uncirculated (AU) by both NGC and PCGS, with approximately 1 out of every 4 submissions being returned as AU for the 1958 centavo, way higher than for the 1953 centavo which comes back in AU grade 1 out of 20 submissions. In fact, the 1958 date is the only one of all of the First Republic centavo dates that receives AU grades with that high of a frequency, much higher than even the much older and scarcer earlier dates.
This of course could be due to objective factors, such as the unlikely but not impossible fact that more AU coins may have been actually submitted to both NGC and PCGS. Alternatively, this may be due to a perception bias by which the same standard is been applied to the 1953 and 1958 centavo. If that was the case, the lack of detail in the 1958 strike may be perceived as wear by the graders. We would love to hear your thoughts on what may be driving this unusually high number of 1958 centavo pieces receiving AU grades.
Coin grade distribution for 1953 (blue), 1958 (red) and average 1C (gray) from both NGC (left) and PGCS (right). The average 1C was calculated by adding the population of all 1 centavo dates. Note the bump in 1958 AU coins much higher than 1953 and the average.