Grading vs. Attribution by David Cassel


United States pattern coin attributions from the grading services are overwhelmingly based on Judd’s “United States Pattern, Trial and Experimental Pieces.” At the behest of the grading services, generally what was presented in the Judd book 7th. edition, forms the basis of the grading company’s certificate’s attribution. There are few exceptions to this statement. Some coins have received a Pollock number. An example is the N.G.C. P.401a. which came about due to a coin design muling that was not accounted for in the Judd or Pollock books. It was, however accounted for by Adams and Woodin in “United States Pattern, Experimental, and Trial Pieces,” as a A-W 668. Some coins have received suffix letters not found in the Judd book such as the tested, N.G.C J-331c. The new suffix letters may or may not have been utilized based on a scientific test. An example of a coin encapsulated by P.C.G.S. with a added suffix is J-326b. I believe no test was performed on this coin and no log of information was maintained as to what prompted the “b” designation. On the other hand, P.C.G.S. has suffixed a couple of my coins as a result from a scientific test, examples are: J-328a., and J-328b.

I hope that not every pattern series in the Judd book is as fraught with errors as the series that I have specialized in, the Postage Currency 10 cent coins of 1863 and those related, dated coins of 1868 and 1869. I have had thirty coins scientifically analyzed within this series. Half of the coins had attributions based upon the Judd system that were either incorrect, incomplete, impossible, or never encountered before. The other half, were basically correct but in several cases, failed to account for special varieties within a series.

For example, the unique 38.3 grain plain edge silver coin was grouped with all other J-325 plain edge silver coins. P.C.G.S. did not consider a coin that was nearly twice as heavy as the standard J-325 as something different. Had Dr. Judd known of this coin and had the Judd book included this coin, P.C.G.S. would have had the ability to properly account for this coin. Let me mention here that in Pollock’s book, “United States Pattern and Related Pieces,” Pollock mentions the existence of the 38.3 grain silver coin but he placed it under the same number as all other silver plain edge coins of similar design, P.390. What is better for pattern variety specialists, Judd who missed the coin or Pollock who grouped the coin with three other weight group varieties?

Pollock has grouped other coins that Judd kept separated. Two examples of Pollock’s groupings in the Postage Currency coins are: P.397 “Pure aluminum or aluminum-silver alloy, plain edge” and P.398 “Pure aluminum or aluminum-silver alloy, reeded edge.” Here, emphasis is placed on the word, “or.”

In fairness to Mr. Pollock who I admire for tackling such an unbelievable task as cataloging over 2,000 coins, he has every right to limit his categories for any reason he chooses. I don’t have the talent or the time to tackle 2,000 coins. It has taken me five years to tackle just thirty coins.

Conversely, I have every right to want to see all varieties possible. I don’t want mistaken attributions on my certificates at any price. It would be preferable to have some distinguishing traits such as weight, or PE or RE (plain or reeded edge), or metal, still better yet, all of the above.

The only way to properly separate the varieties as I see it, is to rely on the scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive non destructive x-ray analysis on pattern coins, not to mention other items such as gold ingot and Western assay bars, which have been so controversial in the past. It does not take a scientist to operate this equipment. This equipment can be properly operated by anyone who can type on a key board. Until such time as the certification services install the necessary equipment which can range in cost from $70,000 to $120,000, and use it on every pattern coin, buyers beware. You are relying on little slips of paper that were conceived from the sometimes inaccurate identification of coins from which some third party had to make the following choices: design, not to difficult; reeded or plain edge; still not to difficult; weight not difficult; type of metal, have only what Judd stated, maybe there’s a choice of metals, and maybe none of the above is the reality. Scientific analysis will tell all and, help all!

How many of us read between the lines when Mr. Bowers courageously catalogs an encapsulated coin with the admonition: “Attribution is tentative in the absence of specific elemental analysis?” My presumption is that Mr. Bowers is indicating, and I believe correctly so, that he is not responsible for the attribution. Look to the encapsulation service for relief, if desired.

And then again, how many of you are complacent? You bought the coin, studied the coin, and put in away. That should not be the end of the story. That coin is what it is, not necessarily what the tag says it is. There would be no problem if the encapsulation firms graded a coin but did not give their slab a Judd or Pollock number. But, there’s also no solution as to what lies beneath the plastic Once again, coin grading may be subjective, but coin attributions must be objective.

As of June 1999, P.C.G.S and N.G.C., according to their most recent combined statistics, have encapsulated over 10,000 patterns. Just think, if they had leased or purchased the necessary equipment, every single coin could have been inspected for just a few dollars. I’ll bet also that the compensations they have paid out could have been substantially reduced, if only, they had acquired the necessary equipment. I suggest their acquiring the equipment because based upon my personal experiences, having the services take the coin to an outside lab requires much dead time.

It would be interesting to know the average insured value of those more than 10,000 patterns. I’ll just bet they rank on average, very high. Who, for a few dollars more, would not want the peace of mind that the objective portion of the certificate was rock solid.

Although some cupro-nickel coins have been encapsulated silver, some tin coins have been encapsulated billon, and some billon have been encapsulated tin and sometimes copper, not all pattern coins are inaccurately certified. Other metals that need verification, including but not limited to, are: Koulz alloy coins, German silver coins, the five and one cent coins of 1896, the “nickel” J-1767 and “pure nickel” J-1767a. the silver and copper combinations of J-111, 112, 113, 675, and one of my favorites, J-793, “Silver & Copper,” the goloid coins, the white metal coins, the J-1617 “Silver metric alloy”, the magnetic and non-magnetic nickel coins, and the list goes on, and on.. Hopefully, most attributions are right on. Was President Reagan thinking of pattern coins when he proclaimed, “Trust but verify,” or something similar? The difficulty is that where do you draw the line? Which coins should be questioned? After the coins are subjected to scientific analyses, then what?

A system for accounting for all the new varieties we will find could be along the lines of the Cassel Decimal Numbering System. This open ended system that I use for the Postage Currency Coins can easily be adapted to modify any other system by simply stating the base number, for example, J-325 (silver plain edge any weight Postage Currency coin) and adding .l, or .2, or .3 for the various weight classifications or even metal variations. If one saw a number such as J-325.1, they could refer to our web site and easily see this stood for the 20 grain silver with copper alloy plain edge coin. By the way, I am not trying to create rarities. For all I know, the marketability of a J-325.1 may be the same as an ordinary J-325 even though the weight variation.

I have been told that I may be 20 years ahead of my time. Who knows, maybe 20 years from now we’ll look back at today and be pleased we tried to correct that part of the record that needed correction. Years ago it was impossible for a second hand party to really know the ingredients of our nation’s pattern coinage. The technology was not available. Today it’s not only possible, but it’s also not to expensive, and whatever we find is retrievable with computer accessibility. I can also envision each encapsulation containing bar coded information pertinent to the coins attribution that any of us collectors having bar code detectors could easily access.

Let’s gather the knowledge gained from the scientific analyses and share the facts with anyone interested. Any one with access to the Internet can contact our web site and become a part of the most extensive, living, pattern catalog that is in the process of ever being created. It is not to late to have a look at what’s under that plastic in your vault.

Copyright David Cassel Numismatist, Collector, Researcher, Author “United States Postage Currency Coins” with a projected release the Fall of 1999.

Questions about this listing should be sent to David Cassel at