Dealers and collectors commonly count the number of diamonds clearly struck on an Indian Cent as an important criterion for determining grade. The ANA grading guide states, for instance,
XF-45 coins should display four diamonds. I take exception to this generalized criterion and will explain how the minting process requires the astute collector to consider a wider variety of factors when
grading Indian Cents.
It was standard practice for the Mint to constantly grease coin dies to prolong their useful life. As coins are minted from greasy dies, dirt and other debris accumulate, slowly filling
in recessed areas of the design. On Indian Cent dies, the first areas to collect debris were the 3rd diamond or the diamond at the top of the ribbon. The reverse shield and feather tips on the obverse
also attracted debris.
One sees the greatest number of coins made from greasy dies between 1860 and 1872. When the Civil War created a shortage of copper and a drain on the federal budget, the Mint was
required to make coin dies work harder and longer than ever.
In my experience, coins from 1860 to 1872 seldom display all four diamonds in grades up to AU and even MS-60. I feel it's important to grade the overall coin, rather than just a single
point, such as the strike of the diamonds. In other words, I prefer to consider the diamonds, feather tips, hair above the ear, and hair curl below the ribbon for the obverse grade. On the reverse,
I judge the shield, leaves and bow.
For grades from VG to VF, the easiest point of reference for grading is the word "LIBERTY." VG should show 2 to 5 letters or parts of letters. Fine should show all letters, but "BER" may
be weak. VF should show all letters clearly. For XF and above, you must consider the overall grading points mentioned in the paragraph above to determine the grade.
At AU-50, lustre begins to be a determining factor in grading. AU-50 should present 50% lustre and AU-55 should exhibit 75% lustre.
At Mint State level, one notes that MS-60 displays 75-90% lustre, may have many marks, stains, spots, light cleaning or various other sins. (MS-60 is not always the most attractive coin.) MS-63
and above is determined by strike plus marks and lustre. The fewer the marks, the better the strike, the bolder the luster -- the higher the grade.
Keep in mind the wide variety of factors that apply to grading Indian Cents, and remember that grading is subjective (not rocket science). So, regardless of overall grade, find the
coin that appeals to you.