GRADING

Why would anyone invent a grading system for restored Buffalo Nickels...??

Fair question, and difficult to answer without sounding like I'm full of myself. But, here goes...

Ever since it was discovered that ferric-chloride could bring back the date on a worn nickel, people have been comparing them to natural date nickels, in one way or another. That comparison inevitably leads to criticism of the restored coin as well as to criticism of those who engage in the "shady" process of restoring them. Cleaning or alteration of the coin's natural surfaces has always been the cardinal sin of coin collecting and this leads to the admonishment that "Cleaning or altering a coin's surface reduces it's value and appeal."

To which I routinely ask, "What type of value or appeal did it have before I restored it – when it didn’t even have a date?" I also say, "Give a beautifully restored 1921-S (or any other key date) to someone who dislikes or discredits restored coins and see if he throws it away or uses it in a vending machine."

I wholeheartedly agree that a "natural" UNrestored nickel in VF looks better and has far more appeal than one of my restored nickels that only has VF characteristics, but I disagree that there is no place in the coin collecting world for a sharp looking, professionally restored Buffalo Nickel.

When people first figured out that ferric chloride would restore the dates on nickels, they took no precautions to preserve the appeal of the coin. The acid marks that these early pioneers (hatchet men?) left on the date area of the coin were truly horrible looking, sort of like cosmetic surgery results back when cosmetic surgery was in it's infancy.

My grandmother lost her nose to a disease in the early 1960's and the plastic surgeons of the time crafted her a new one that was just marginally better than the hole she had in the middle of her face. Now - they make 40 and 50 year olds look as good as 25 year olds! Nickel restoration has progressed, as well!!

buffalo nickel

The "bad rap" from this earlier period continues to dog restoration practicioners to this day but, as I said, things have changed. Restorers came to realize that there were ways to eliminate that big, ugly acid stain so frequently associated with the early days. The easiest way was to simply not use too much of it and to completely and thoroughly remove the chemical when they were done. The best way, however, was to treat the entire coin. In so doing, the coin will be uniform looking, even if it does not look exactly like a "natural" coin.

More and more people have figured out how to create good looking restorations and, if my sales and those of some other restorers on eBay are any indication, there are plenty of people willing to buy them.

With more and more buyers and sellers of restored nickels, it just seems appropriate and maybe even necessary that there should be some sort of a grading system. After all, there are MANY THOUSANDS of restored nickels that are now in the hands of collectors and many of them are the BIG keys....you know...the kind you don't throw away or use in a vending machine! Shouldn't there be some type of system for determining the difference between a good restoration and a shabby restoration? I think so.

The system that I have created tries to relate the appearance of the restored coin to most, but not all, characteristics associated with "natural" coins of varying grades and conditions. I did this only because people already understand what VG-8, G-4, F-12, etc. mean, and there's nothing to be gained by re-inventing THAT wheel.

In my grading system, VG, VF, AG and all those letter combinations are replaced by CR if I have Completely Restored all the visible surfaces of the nickel. I use DR if it’s a Date only Restoration, and HR if it’s a Hybrid Restoration (only some features have been restored). So, if I grade a nickel as CR-12, it means that it is Completely Restored and that the restored features of the coin have many characteristics in common with those of a coin in F-12 condition. Many… but NOT all.

Generally speaking, restored nickels cannot be made to look any any better than about VF-30. Restored nickels that are unnaturally bright are judged to be undesirable and inferior to those with a subdued luster or a matte finish.

The most difficult obstacle in creating this system is the Buffalo's horn. A full horn is one of the biggest benefits of owning a restored nickel, but it skews the grading system because full horns don't exist on "natural date" nickels below the grade of VF. A restored nickel can have a full horn despite the rest of the coin only exhibiting F-12, VG-8 or even G-4 characteristics. I have attempted to account for this anomoly by using split grades (such as CR-12/20) and by simply allowing the possibility of a horn on a reverse which is otherwise a numerical value of 12 or less.

Here is my grading system. Many thanks to a collector, occasional customer and an all-round smart\nice guy named Paul Winch (eBay ID paul57leo) for his help and insight in refining this grading system to what you see below.

Note: Split grades are not only possible, they are LIKELY! A designation of CR-12/8 means that it has many of the characteristics of an F-12 on the front and a VG-8 on the reverse. An "FL" after the numeric value indicates the coin has a major Flaw (usually a large scratch, a gouge, an unusually bad stain, too bright, dark, etc).

CR-30: Completely Restored over all surfaces. Date, horn and all lettering are 100% FULL and sharp and separated from the rim. There are no blemishes, nicks, streaks, toning or discoloration. Other than the matte finish associated with the restoration process, both sides of the coin should exhibit many of the qualities of an untreated nickel in VF-30 condition.

CR-20: Completely Restored over all surfaces. Date and horn are 100% FULL and sharp. All reverse side lettering is full and sharp. The tops of the letters in “Liberty” are weak and/or beginning to merge with the rim. There may be some light toning and there may be some minor nicks associated with normal circulation. Other than the matte finish associated with the restoration process, both sides of the coin should exhibit many of the qualities of an untreated nickel in VF-20 or better condition.

CR-12: Completely Restored over all surfaces. The date is sharp and full. The horn is completely visible but weak. Reverse lettering is strong but may no longer be fully separated from the rim. (Type 1 coins will exhibit weakness in “Five Cents”) The top half of “Liberty” will be gone or merged into the rim. Some toning or streaking may be evident, as will more and larger nicks from circulation. Matte finish on both sides from the restoration process. Other than the weak horn and the wear on “Liberty”, the coin should exhibit many of the qualities of an untreated coin in F-12 condition.

CR-8: Completely Restored over all surfaces. All digits in the date are distiguishable, but some or all may be weak. Only the very bottom of “Liberty” shows, but what remains is indistinct. On the reverse, the horn can still be seen but it is weak and poorly defined. Reverse lettering is legible but may be beginning to merge with the rim. Some toning or streaking may be evident as may some discoloration. Larger and more abundant nicks and blemishes may be seen. Matte finish on both sides from the restoration process. Other than the horn and the potentially weak and worn date, the coin should have many of the qualities of an untreated nickel in VG-8 condition.

CR-4: Completely Restored over all surfaces. The date is recognizable but may be incomplete or merged with the rim. “Liberty” may be missing altogether. On the reverse, the horn is missing, faint or incomplete. Reverse lettering is still mostly intact but merging into the rim. Matte finish on both sides from the restoration process. Some combination of toning, streaking or discoloration is likely. Numerous nicks or blemishes are likely. The coin should have many many of the qualities of a nickel in G-4 condition although the date may be more representative of AG-3.

CR-3: Completely Restored over all surfaces but with numerous problems and/or deficiencies. May have many of the qualities of an untreated nickel in AG-3 or FR-2.

HR-30: Hybrid Restoration. Like CR-30 but only the date and the entire buffalo are restored. (On Type 1 coins, “Five Cents” and the mint mark may be restored) The coin has been chemically cleaned to create a uniform appearance.

HR-20: Hybrid Restoration. Like CR-20 but only the date and the entire buffalo are restored. (On Type 1 coins, “Five Cents” and the mint mark may be restored) The coin has been chemically cleaned to create a uniform appearance.

HR-12: Hybrid Restoration. Like CR-12 but only the date and the entire buffalo are restored. (On Type 1 coins, “Five Cents” and the mint mark may be restored) The coin has been chemically cleaned to create a uniform appearance.

Note: It is this author’s opinion that hybrid restorations that are less than HR-12 should not be offered for sale. If it is a “key date” coin it should be completely restored and converted to a CR type restoration and given a CR grade. If it is not a key date coin it will probably not be much better than a “cull”.

DR-8: Date only restoration. The restored date is sharp. Other features have varying degrees of wear or damage.

DR-4: Date only restoration. The restored date is readable but may be weak, merged or missing the first two digits entirely. Other features have varying degrees of wear or damage.