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How to Grade High Relief
High Relief

High Reliefs are graded somewhat differently from the later issues of the Saint-Gaudens design that were struck in lower relief. While circulation of this issue was low, it can pay to know the difference between an About Uncirculated High Relief and a truly Uncirculated High Relief. Furthermore, the pricing difference between a MS-63 and MS-65 or higher can be substantial, and premium quality specimens of a certain grade can be much nicer than other High Reliefs certified by the same grading company in that particular grade. To discern these differences, however, some knowledge is needed of the striking characteristics of the High Relief (see also specifications and characteristics).

As has been noted in many references the High Reliefs were struck multiple times to bring up all the detail of the design. However, on virtually all coins not every detail has been brought up to full excellence and a weak strike can easily be mistaken for circulation wear and vice-versa. Additionally, there are some differences in the design compared to the no-motto and motto types that were struck during the next couple of decades, making comparison virtually worthless. In fact, because of the High Relief comparison to any other United States coin series is useless, with exception to the 1921 and 1922 Peace Dollars, which were struck in High Relief as well and are somewhat comparable.

One of the key features to grade upper circulated grades (AU-50 to AU-58) is the presence or absence of luster on the highest points. Logically, handling will cause minor luster breaks at the highest points first. For the High Reliefs, this means some very light luster breaks on the breast and knee of Liberty on the obverse, and the top of the eagle’s wing feathers, and its head at first. Importantly, to warrant an AU-55 or AU-58 grade at the grading companies there must be full luster present in the fields. One of the advantages of the High Relief design was the protection of the fields, which means it took sometime before the fields were affected by circulation. The lower About Uncirculated grades will see some scattered luster breaks in the fields and more wear on the highest points, but some luster will be visible in the protected fields, even in grades EF-40 to EF-45). However, more circulation wear will be visible on the highest points and the luster disappears virtually everywhere at the EF-40 grade level.

High Reliefs are seldom available in grades below VF-35, but some exist in grades as low as AG-3. Between those grades (and obviously, at the FR-2 and PO-1 level as well) luster and striking quality are of no influence anymore, and wear is the most important key to grading. The lower grades mostly spent their times as pocket pieces, and many have been cleaned or otherwise damaged at a later point. As such, any collector should be very careful to buy a circulated High Relief, even when certified, and select every piece, heavily circulated or not, on its eye appeal. The figure of Liberty and the Eagle on the reverse gradually wear down, and in the lowest grades the rim is either full are partial joined by the fields. It must be noted that the High Relief is very vulnerable to circulation wear, making worn surfaces more prominent than on other coins struck in lower relief.

Uncirculated High Reliefs are a completely different story. Eye-appeal is very important for these grades (and basically for every coin), as is the presence or absence of heavy marks in the fields and on the design itself. The strike, luster and coloration are other important factors which all come back to the eye-appeal of a High Relief, and its grade. Even with the special attention that was given to these coins during their minting and their immediate popularity, high grade examples are very scarce, and any High Relief graded gem (MS-65) or higher is rare to extremely rare.

High Reliefs in the lower uncirculated grades (MS-60 to MS-62) are seen with numerous hairlines, hits and impairments, in both the fields as well as on the design itself. The luster might be flat on some points, less satin than on the higher graded pieces. Some marks and scuffing from handling will be noted, most prominent on the highest points that are also vulnerable to wear, as explained above. This is natural, as these points of the design will be the first that come in contact with the highest points. The true key to identifying these lower graded coins and differentiate them from MS-63 graded coins is the quality of the fields. Contacts of other coins and objects can cause light hairlines, and while MS-63 coins will have some visible, they will be much less than the MS-60 to MS-62 graded High Reliefs. Interestingly, more coins are graded at the MS-63 and MS-64 level than at the lower circulated grade levels. This indicates that at least some care was taken with most pieces, but that handling still caused many pieces to acquire enough pieces to keep it from a gem grade.

MS-65 High Reliefs will have excellent eye-appeal, with satiny to light frosty surfaces. The fields will be free of any major marks, although some minor contact marks are still noted on the design. The eye-appeal on these pieces is excellent, and the difference with higher grades is becoming less than in the grades we previously mentioned. Strike is also becoming more important at this level, and in the higher grades. No High Relief is struck fully, and their will always be some weakness noted, most noticeable near the rim on the reverse. This is a natural characteristic of the High Relief, a result from the striking abilities at the Mint in 1907 but still plays a factor on the eye-appeal and grading standards of these coins.

MS-66 and MS-67 High Reliefs are rare, but available for a price, with intensive searching usually needed to find a premium quality example. Superior and nearly flawless fields are needed to warrant these grades, with excellent eye-appeal as well. This is also the case with the ultra-rare MS-68 and MS-69 High Reliefs that have been graded by PCGS and NGC (both have graded just a few pieces at the MS-68 level, with only one example ever graded by either grading service). Strong magnification will be required at these levels, with some very minor post-strike imperfections on the MS-68 High Reliefs, perhaps one minor mark visible with the naked eye. The near-flawless High Reliefs that have been graded MS-69 will show no imperfections with the naked eye, with perhaps a very tiny contact mark visible under 5x magnification.

The above standards are general, and each coin should be graded individually. NGC recognizes Proofs, but besides the characteristics the grading standards are virtually the same as the business strikes. The natural coloration varies, but most are seen with light yellow-gold surfaces, sometimes lightly toned to a more orange tint. The two rim varieties are not graded differently, although the eye-appeal will be slightly different when these two varieties are viewed, in hand, side-by-side.

Includes Ultra-High Reliefs, High Reliefs, and Arabic Numeral varieties. 1907 $20 High Relief NGC PF63


How to Grade High Relief - High Relief - High Relief Saint Gaudens

US Rare Coin Investments 2003 - 2015 U.S. Rare Coin Investments

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