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From the December 2006 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:

 

A Crystal Ball From 1937

By Mike Nourse

      Of course nobody can see the future, but some fellow who wrote an article published in the October 1937 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook sure made a great guess about the future of grading in the world of coin collecting. The chap who wrote said article was one Alfred Reschke from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The October 1937 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook.

 

Mr. Reschke starts out with a sentence that applies just about as much today as it did nearly 70 years ago: "From a numismatist's viewpoint what this country needs is not, as Vice President John Marshall once said, a good five cent cigar, but rather a more satisfactory method of rating the condition of coins." At the time, there really was not much at all in the way of standardized grading. There did not even seem to be a clear definition of how to determine if a coin was Uncirculated or not.

The author's proposal is to have seven different grades. Not only that, but the intrepid Mr. Reschke allows for a quality breakdown within each of the seven grades by assigning five numbers to each grade. Sound familiar? While none of our present grades have five levels of quality other than Mint State which has eleven, he was on the right track. Another similarity to the grading system in use today, the proposed system has seemingly meaningless numbers from 66 to 100, though he calls them a percentile scale.

The proposed grading system is as follows, from lowest grade to highest:

Poor 66 - 70
Fair 71 - 75
Good 76 - 80
Fine 81 - 85
Superior 86 - 90
Excellent 91 - 95
Uncirculated 96 - 100

The author notes that the grade of Superior is meant to replace the grade of Very Fine which was in use at the time, while Excellent is to replace Extra Fine. The About Uncirculated (AU) grade saw limited use in the 1930's, and the writer states confusion about exactly what About Uncirculated means. Proofs, it was noted, would be graded separately since Proof is a different method of manufacture rather than a statement of condition.

 

1857 Flying Eagle Cent

Looks to me like a Superior-87 Flying Eagle Cent.

 

Now, this is already a pretty good example of a crystal ball. While the author got the names and numbers wrong, his basic structure was essentially correct of having several named grades with numbers used to further define a coin's condition within a given grade. I would be pretty impressed with this, but the following run-on sentence really seals the deal:

"To make a classification such as this more meaningful and more objective to the average collector, it might be desirable for some central agency, such as the American Numismatic Association to publish, after due research and deliberation, an illustrated rating scale in which all classes of coins from Uncirculated to the very poor would be listed both verbally and terms of percentages, described in some detail, and illustrated with cuts of typical coins showing what each class should approximately be like." Is this guy good or what? Can you say ANA Grading Guide? Wow!

He did not have it exactly right. He envisioned a separate pamphlet for each series. Each pamphlet would describe and illustrate each of the 35 grade levels from 66 through 100, and would sell for only a few cents. Still, the prediction sure was close to the eventual target. And remember, it would be 40 years after this article was published that the ANA grading guide became a reality, and 50 years before the ANA grading guide was actually illustrated with real coins as opposed to the line drawings used in the early editions.

In the last paragraph, the author actually claims little credit for developing this idea since the same kind of system is used for grading certain flowers. I, however, am still very impressed with the remarkably accurate look into the future of coin collecting provided by Mr. Reschke in the October 1937 Numismatic Scrapbook.

Now, I wonder if Mr. Reschke would allow me to borrow his amazing crystal ball?

   

Decades after the prediction we have the real thing.

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Questions, comments, or suggestions? Mail to: Mike@alaskacoinexchange.com