A Guide to Grading Charlotte Gold Coins
The grading of Charlotte gold coins can be best summarized in three small words: hard to do. Grading standards for all United States coins are predicated on common factors. These include but are not limited to strike, surface preservation (i.e., the number of marks present), luster, coloration and a combination of these factors which is known to numismatists as eye appeal. Certain types of United States coins are fairly easy to grade due to the fact that a set of standards can be established and then applied to the series as a whole. When grading Charlotte coins, these standards can not be applied. When viewed on a coin by coin basis, Charlotte issues are as different as certain modern series are uniform. This is a large part of the appeal of the branch mint issues.
A number of factors contribute to the difficulty of grading Charlotte coins. Most issues show soft, irregular strikes; especially when compared to Philadelphia coinage of this era. Workmen at the mint often had problems properly preparing planchets, making many coins appear worn or damaged before they were even placed into circulation. Unlike certain gold coins, those struck at Charlotte were not mere storehouses of value whose primary function was to be transferred from bank to bank. These coins saw heavy local circulation and, as a result, most survivors are worn and/or heavily marked. Finally, there were no local collectors to save Charlotte coins for future generations. The majority of high grade pieces have survived strictly by accident.
Of the three denominations produced at the Charlotte Mint, the most poorly struck were the gold dollars. This is the result of the tiny size of these coins, difficult designs to properly execute and a supply of dies which were poor quality in comparison to those used in Philadelphia.
Quarter eagles tend to be better produced but many exhibit poor strikes and are found on inferior planchets. The half eagles are the best struck of the three denominations but, even still, it is not easy to find an example of any date with a sharp strike and an absence of mint-caused planchet problems.
The following guide should provide the collector with important points to consider in the determination of each grade. These descriptions are based on the design elements found on the reverse of quarter eagles and half eagles. For gold dollars, the description of the wreath should be substituted for the eagle.
Fine (Fine-12 and Fine-15)
All letters in LIBERTY will be legible except for the upper left corner of the L. The hair will show very little detail and the jaw will be worn smooth. Less than half of the eagle's feathers will show while the claws will have little or no detail. The lines in the shield will appear merged. In addition to showing heavy wear, many significant marks will be present. Virtually all coins in this grade range have been cleaned at one time.
With the exception of such very rare issues as the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar or the 1842-C Small date half eagle, most collectors will not purchase coins grading Fine-12 or Fine-15 due to the fact that their excessive wear makes them unappealing.
Very Fine (Very Fine-20, Very Fine-25, Very Fine-30)
LIBERTY will be fully readable. Some of the fine hair detail, especially that above the tiara, will be visible. Approximately 50% of the eagle's feathers will be visible and the outline of the claws will show. The shield lines will be partially visible. There will be very noticeable wear and heavy marks, especially on coins graded Very Fine-20 and Very Fine-25. Most coins in this grade range have been cleaned at one time.
Choice Very Fine (Very Fine-35)
The hair and feathers will be sharper than on coins in the lower Very Fine grades. Less wear will show on the wing tips and the shield lines will appear a bit sharper. The color and surfaces will be more pleasing than on a coin in the lower ranges of this grade. Most coins in this grade have been cleaned at one time.
Extremely Fine (Extremely Fine-40)
Wear will be obvious but it will be more confined than on lower grade coins. Much of the wear will be localized on the tip of the coronet, the hair near the ear of Liberty and the wing tips. The shield and the claws show weakness but are better defined than on Very Fine coins. There may be traces of mint luster in the protected areas (i.e., in the field areas closest to the devices and about the stars and lettering). The surfaces will typically show liberal abrasions. Very few Charlotte coins graded EF-40 will have original color. A significant number of coins in this grade have been lightly cleaned or dipped at one time.
Choice Extremely Fine (Extremely Fine-45)
Less wear will show than on a coin graded Extremely Fine-40, especially on the cheek of Liberty, below the eye of Liberty and on the wing tips. Approximately 25% of the original luster will be present except on those specific issues which are typically found dull. The surfaces will show abrasions but they will tend to be lighter and less detracting than on a coin graded Extremely Fine-40. Some will have original color. A significant number of coins in this grade have been lightly cleaned or dipped at one time.
About Uncirculated (About Uncirculated-50, About Uncirculated-53)
A coin graded About Uncirculated-50 will show definite wear to the naked eye. The majority of the wear on the obverse will be localized to the tip of the coronet, the hair below LIBERTY and around the ear. On the reverse, the wear will be concentrated on the wing tips, the neck feathers and the claws. Approximately 40-50% of the original mint luster will be visible. Many Charlotte coins graded About Uncirculated-50 have an above-average number of bagmarks or they may show mint-made planchet problems. The color may not be original or not very appealing if it is original.
Coins graded About Uncirculated-53 will have approximately 50% of the original mint luster present and fewer marks than on an About Uncirculated-50 coin. Some experts feel that AU-53 is a superfluous grade and, therefore, the difference between a coin graded AU-50 and AU-53 is hard to describe. My opinion is that an AU-53 is a solid About Uncirculated coin while an AU-50 is a coin which barely qualifies as such.
Choice About Uncirculated (About Uncirculated-55)
The wear on a coin graded About Uncirculated will be limited to the highest relief details. Approximately 75% of the original luster will be present and the protected areas may show unbroken luster. The surfaces will show abrasions but these will be less detracting or heavily concentrated than on coins in the lower About Uncirculated grades. The color is sometimes original but many pieces grading AU-55 have been dipped or otherwise lightened in recent years. Coins which grade About Uncirculated-55 and have original color and surfaces are worth a significant premium over unoriginal "commercial quality" examples.
Very Choice Uncirculated (About Uncirculated-58)
An About Uncirculated-58 coin will have very minimal wear. On many, this wear will be limited to the high spots of the obverse with the reverse being free of actual wear. Over 75% of the original luster will be present and the protected areas should show unbroken luster. The surfaces are free of serious bagmarks. The color is more likely to be original than on any other circulated grade. From the standpoint of cosmetic appeal, an accurately graded AU-58 Charlotte gold coin is likely to be more attractive than a coin graded Mint State-60 or Mint State-61. This makes sense when one considers that an AU-58 coin represents the finest quality within the About Uncirculated grade range while an MS-60 or an MS-61 represent the lowest quality within the Uncirculated grade range.
Coins which grade About Uncirculated-58 and have original color and surfaces are worth a significant premium over unoriginal "commercial quality" examples.
Uncirculated (Mint State-60, Mint State-61, Mint State-62)
A Charlotte coin graded Mint State-60 will often show heavily abraded surfaces. These marks will impair the luster somewhat, even though no true wear will appear on the high spots. There may, however, be friction on areas such as the bridge of Liberty's nose and the brow. As stated above, it is not uncommon for an MS-60 coin to show less eye appeal than one graded AU-58. Some MS-60's will lack original color due to having been dipped. Others may show softer strikes than usual. The overall level of eye appeal will range from below average to just about average.
An MS-61 coin will be similar in quality to an MS-60 except that it will show fewer marks and/or hairlines. In addition, a coin graded MS-61 will probably have better color and luster than an MS-60. Some will show below average strikes. The color may be original but a number of MS-61's have been carefully dipped at one time. The overall level of eye appeal will be about average to slightly above average.
The difference between a Charlotte coin graded MS-61 and one graded MS-62 will be considerable. The MS-62 will have nice color, good luster and fewer marks and/or hairlines. Most will show above average strike and good quality planchets. This is the first Mint State level at which virtually everyone who grades a specific coin will agree that it is "new." The overall level of eye appeal will be slightly above average to well above average. For all intents and purposes, most issues from the Charlotte Mint are unavailable in grades above Mint State-62.
Choice Uncirculated (Mint State-63)
Many issues from the Charlotte Mint are either unknown or unique in Mint State-63 and even those which are sometimes available (such as the 1851-C and 1852-C gold dollars and the 1847-C quarter eagle) are very rare.
A Charlotte gold dollar graded Mint State-63 will show a sharp strike and will have very good luster. The surfaces will be clean to the naked eye but light magnification will reveal some small marks or hairlines either in the fields or on the devices. The color will be original and pleasing.
MS-63 quarter eagles and half eagles from the Charlotte Mint are very rare. They may show some weakness of strike, especially on issues which are known for specific patterns of striking weakness. The surfaces will show some light, scattered marks or hairlines but none of these will be deep or detracting. The color will be original and very pleasing. The level of eye appeal will be far above average.
Select Uncirculated (Mint State-64)
With the exception of a few issues (the 1851-C and 1852-C gold dollars and the 1847-C quarter eagles), Mint State-64 coins from the Charlotte Mint are extremely rare.
An MS-64 Charlotte gold dollar will exhibit a very sharp strike, excellent luster and choice surfaces. There may be a few light hairlines in the fields or some small, unobtrusive marks. The color will be original and very attractive to the naked eye.
MS-64 quarter eagles and half eagles from the Charlotte Mint will also be well struck, although they may have some minor weakness on the hair around the face and the ear of Liberty or on the eagle's legs. The surfaces will show a few very small marks or possibly some light hairlines. The luster will be full and the overall level of eye appeal will be outstanding. Most importantly, a Charlotte coin in this grade will have superior eye appeal. This will be the result of the factors described above as well as a general sense of originality.
Gem Uncirculated (Mint State-65)
With the exception of one issue, the 1851-C gold dollar, Mint State-65 coins from the Charlotte Mint are virtually unknown. As of January 2000, the two major grading services had recorded a total of two quarter eagles in this grade (an 1843-C Large Date at PCGS and an 1842-C at NGC) and three half eagles in this grade (an 1847-C and an MS-66 1859-C at PCGS plus an 1855-C at NGC).
Needless to say, an MS-65 coin from Charlotte is going to be spectacular. It will be sharply struck, displaying full, blazing luster and a minimal marks. It will also have deep, undisturbed natural coloration and exceptional eye appeal. One must remember that a coin graded MS-65 is not going to be perfect. But its overall appearance will be extremely impressive.