Grading Gold Sovereigns
AU - Almost Uncirculated
Example of the coin grade AU - Almost or About Uncirculated, with photographs.
Almost Uncirculated - A.U. - About Uncirculated
We show photographs of the obverse and reverse sides of an 1821 George IV sovereign. We graded this coin AU (About Uncirculated).
If we were in a really pessimistic mood, we might grade this coin as only EF (Extremely Fine), but in the next paragraphs, we discuss some revealing information about how other people grade.
As you can see, the 1821 sovereign we show in our photographs is a very nice coin. Even though we are professional dealers and not collectors, we get a tremendous amount of pleasure when we get to see, handle, own, buy and sell particularly attractive coins. It's sometimes called job satisfaction. There's also another bonus, we get to take photographs of these coins, and add the photographs to our collection; that way, even when we have sold the coins, we still get to keep the pictures! The third photo is of the coin in the holder which its recent owner made for it, and shows brief notes about the coin. These are quite revealing.
Grade; Gem BU . FDC by J. Welsh, Jan 1991.
We assume the grader has followed normal convention by showing the obverse grade followed by the reverse grade.
We have graded the coin as "About Uncirculated".
The obverse has a few scuffs and bagmarks, which are all quite normal and acceptable. Circulation coins, which the Americans would call a "business strike", and handled in bulk at the Mint, and at banks, before they get seen by any potential collector or dealer. There is a noticeable scratch on the neck, and a few small edge knocks. There is also some purplish toning. The high points of the design have all got slight polishing or wear, so if we were being ultra strict, we might have to grade the obverse as only EF (Extremely Fine). To grade this as Uncirculated is therefore an exaggeration, to call it Gem BU is even more of one, firstly because "Gem" suggests "better than", whereas it is in reality "not quite", and the "B" stands for Brilliant (or Bright), whereas the coin is actually toned, which in itself is quite unusual for a gold coin such as a sovereign, and being composed of high carat (22) gold.
We graded the reverse at the same grade as the obverse. John Welsh's grading states it to be FDC, which we understand to mean absolutely perfect, making this even more of an exaggeration than his obverse grading.
Dishonest or Self Delusional?
Although we are aware that coin grading is subjective, and not an exact science, we believe that to sell a coin which is deliberately overgraded is dishonest, and certainly so when the buyer places reliance and trust in the seller's expertise. The alternative is that the grader has deluded himself, probably from wishful thinking, but this shows a lack of expertise and professionalism. Which it is in this particular dealer's case, we don't know, although we do have our own opinions, which we will hold in reserve. It would be interesting to know whether the same dealer undergrades when he is buying!
Over a long period of time, we have noticed his adverts full of (apparently) high grade coins, and his favourite grade seems to be "Gem BU". To see evidence of his FDC makes us wonder whether he has actually ever seen an FDC (perfect) coin, and how he would grade it if he ever had one to sell.
Again, over the years, we have bought numerous collections which almost every coin graded as "Gem BU", which we would have graded as "EF to AU, cleaned", and you can guess, as we invariably do, who they were bought from.
Price and Value
We think our asking price for this coin is reasonable and competitive. If we compare its catalogue price (2008 Spink £1,700 Unc), it might sound slightly expensive, but demand for these early sovereigns, particularly in higher grades, is running very strongly. There is no catalogue price shown for "Gem BU/FDC", but if there were, we would expect it to be in the region of £3,500 to £5,500; which would make our coin look an absolute bargain. Anybody want to buy a "straight Unc" for £3,000?
Our resident photographer, Yannick, has done his usual good job, which normally involves an amount of retouching or airbrushing (it also happens with top models), so he has removed some of the scuffs and scratches. We will ask him to create a pair of unretouched photographs showing the coins grade more accurately.
Our airbrushing is not done for dishonest purposes, to mislead about the coins grade, but because one of our prime aims whenever we add to our websites, is to create a photographic collection record of the best coins we can. Where we wish to feature an individual coin for sale, we can usually supply unretouched images if necessary, and sometimes add them to the page specific to the individual coin.
In our comments above, we have mad a number of assumptions, including that the coin under discussion is the very same coin as graded, and also that it is still in the same condition as it was in 1991. We believe this to be fair and true, as the collector from whom we bought this collection took the time and care to create his own individual custom holders to protect his coins.