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The Grading of Ancient and Medieval Coins: It’s Just NOT Good Enough

Again we touch on this subject because the grading world has forgotten one major point. Many coins are struck on flans that are smaller than the dies. This means that parts of the coin legend often do not appear on the coin itself. What is more important for serious collectors is that full attribution cannot be made on many of these coins.

With grading the important thing is the condition of the strike of the coin. So the better the strike (hand struck or not) the higher the magic grading number is (at least in as non technical sense as I can put it). Coins with (in the case of Indian coins for example) with shroff or chop marks will not receive a magic number. That is the way these things are done. So you can have a coin with all the necessary attribution detail available but because of use marks it can’t be graded but you can have a coin that cannot be fully attributed but can be graded.

Clearly this system makes a nonsense of serious collecting. As a good friend and co-researcher said to me recently “Are these people collecting coins or some type of fantasy tokens?”

So we either have the following and it does not matter how “pretty” the coin is we are talking about:

  1. A continuation of the current system where anything that looks pretty gets a number whether it can be correctly attributed or not.
  2. Coins that cannot be fully attributed are graded by the old alpha system (XF, AUNC etc) and not by the number system.
  3. Coins of the type where the flan is smaller than a complete die have a new system allocated to them so that serious collectors can understand exactly what they are getting.

In reality we have one choice and that is point 3. However the situation is further hampered by the modern marketing arrangement of coins termed Nazrana (alt sp. Nazarana). These Mughal coins so described are “complete” in every detail however the name is somewhat misleading in truth and very, very few coins are in fact “complete”. Some coins will show, for example, traces of a dotted border but as the strike even in these rather beautiful coins is centred correctly on extremely rare occasions. So the term Nazrana needs to be discontinued and another term used.

Broad details of the proposed system, to be greatly expanded on in our next E-magazine edition are as follows.

Coins where the complete die is larger than the coin flan will have a new grading system and the system will consist on the following types and within each type the current grading system will continue.

Type 1: Incomplete obverse and reverse. A part of the necessary attribution details is missing from both sides.

Type 2: Incomplete details on the obverse, complete details on the reverse.

Type 3: Complete details on the obverse but incomplete details on the reverse.

Type 4: Complete text details discernible on the obverse and reverse. Here parts of the inscription may be missing but the coin can be completely and absolutely attributed. Parts of a border if present may be visible but this is not necessary for attribution.

Type 5: Exemplary strike. All parts of the inscription are complete and the border, if a part of the die, is complete. This is technically the old Nazrana type but that type suffered from lack of clear definition

So this system then qualifies what REALLY happens with coin strikes where the flan is smaller than the die. The truth is that astute and careful collectors wish to collect coins that are complete as possible rather than just something that looks “pretty”. The truth is that such collectors should be rewarded with increased value for coins that are more complete and frankly a Type 4 coin with a chop mark or Shroff mark, part of real trade and coin use, should be worth more than a Type 2 or 3.

We are talking about reality in collecting. However the points are slightly more complicated when there are couplets on various coins. For example with Jahandar Shah there is a variation to each of the two main couplets. Being able to collect coins where the an absolute decision can be made on which couplet variety it is for some mints will be a great but rewarding challenge. It is currently a great challenge for us in preparation of the book.

This theme will be greatly expanded on in the next E-magazine as advised. This will include various illustrations from our books and manuscripts.

It is time for serious collectors to demand serious and correct grading for these coins.

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