Which Coin Should I Buy Part II or often a "pretty" coin is an illusion of nothingness.

This is a continuation of our previous blog. It should be noted that although we work on the coins of the great sub-continent the general advice here is applicable to all coins. Here we concentrate on HAND STRUCK coins.

In part I we finished with four points that are often stated to coin collectors:

1. The coin is very common because it is a common ruler who ruled a long time.

2. The coin is from a common mint and therefore isn't worth much.

3. The coin has a Shroff mark (test punch) on it and it is ruined.

4. The coin has been cleaned and has lost its value.

Before we tackle these questions we need to look at our work in the books already published and those that are coming. The work in the books is a culmination of long years of research. We divide our work up by the following;

a. Eras: for example, Mughal, Sultanate etc. Each era has a key code.

b. Each ruler within that era has a code.

c. Each mint (if mints are listed on the coin) has a code.

e. Each change in the layout of the obverse and the reverse is listed. This includes changes to placement of words, dates, couplets etc.

Collectors can start off as simply as possible by collecting one coin by ruling era, one coin by ruler, one coin by mint or the work shows each and every change in design within a ruler and mint. So you can collect as simply as possible or as complexly as possible. Our unique colour coding system helps identify the actual inscriptions and clearly shows the changes. Collectors are now correctly set up to complete coin sets on whatever level of collecting they choose.

We actually wish things were that simple. Sitting on the horizon is a new way to collect your money and that is coin grading. There are a small number of worldwide reputable companies in this field but we must ask ourselves a simple question. How should hand struck be graded?

To look at this we first need to look carefully at grading. Modern grading advises of the condition of the coin as to appearance and strike (to cut a long story short). For machine struck coins this becomes quite simple if all the grading rules are followed. For example modern industrial process of coin minting follows a simple mechanical work flow. The coins should be perfectly centred with good die impression and no faults. The better the strike the higher the grade (noting if they have been in circulation the grade will be lower in general). The situation is further complicated by official mints that produce all sorts of coins. Many of these are pseudo coins meant purely for collection and a store of precious metal value all be it with a comparatively high seigniorage charge.

Other than the "special" editions most modern coins are produced in millions and tens of millions. The die making process is such that dies are identical with perhaps small marks on them to denote the mint if production comes from multiple mints. The sameness of coins has brought about a trade in coins that have had production errors. That is to say they are double struck or improperly struck. It appears that a production error now becomes "collectable". There is some evidence that in some regions mints actually produce error coins almost on demand.

When machine made coins first became common die cutting was still essentially an individual process and in many cases not only were dies marked from various mints but there were variations from die to die. If we look at British Indian machine made coins we see a number of these variations of what are generally known to be coins produced in their millions and at times tens of millions. Collectors seek our 'rare" coins to add value and check for the smallest of detail changes.

In many hand struck coins from the Indian sub-continent there appears have been in the past little done to check on authentic die changes and real rarity even within so called "common mints". Our work is completing this step by step.

As already explained the dies were much larger than the coin flans therefore it is often extremely rare for a coin to have the COMPLETE die impression that includes, for example, borders that may be included. In fact in most cases for most mints and rulers it is extremely rare to have complete impressions even if the borders (if present) are missing. Often the best we can achieve is a mint name (if present) that is totally readable, a rulers name that is totally readable and dates (if present) that are totally readable.

The next step down is coins that can be deduced beyond doubt as to the mint, the dates may be there partially but can be read satisfactorily and the ruler is clear. Other inscriptions can be seen or deduced. However here with coins with couplets there is often a critical part of the couplet (if present) or other inscriptions that may change that is at the edge of the coin. If the complete couplet or other legends cannot be clearly read then the coin is not fully attributed.

So we have a clear ranking.

1. Nazrana absolutely full strike. In general exceeding rare for coins in this collection area.

2. Full strike but with borders, if present, missing in whole or part. In general

3. Not full strike but all the elements can be ascertained so that FULL and COMPLETE attribution is easily.

4. FULL and COMPLETE attribution not possible. These coins may be collected by collectors collecting rulers or mints for example.

Now we can answer the four original questions with some certainty.

1. The coin is very common.

Not really when you see the ultimate four steps of scarcity above.

2. The coin is a from a common mint.

See the note on point 1.

3. The coin has a Shroff mark.

Only relevant within the grades above. It may reduce the "price" within the grade but coins of the grade should always be more valuable than coins in grades below.

4. The coin is cleaned.

This is always debatable and some coins needs conservation for example but again this only affects the value (if at all) within the group the coin can be assigned to.

Hand stuck coins CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be graded in the same way as machine struck coins. If a coin cannot be FULLY attributed then it should not have the same value as a coin that can be fully attributed. This is a simple fact of collecting no matter what the condition of the coin is.

It is now time for collectors of hand struck to stand up and demand that grading companies do not grade incomplete coins or at the least list them as "not fully attributed". It is also time for collectors to demand and pay a premium for fully attributed coins. This is a simple fact of collecting life.

WE ARE NOT HERE TO COLLECT PRETTY THINGS THAT CANNOT BE ACCURATELY ATTRIBUTED. THEY ARE MERELY PRETTY PIECES OF METAL WHOSE VALUE IS LIMITED BY WHAT IS ON THEM (OR NOT ON THEM) RATHER THAN HOW "PRETTY" THEY SEEM.

In Part III we will look at the actual number of coins produced in a year from hand struck coin mints and advise on how rare even some so called "common" coins actually are.

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