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Why “Good” Really Isn’t


Merriam-Webster has this to say:

  1. of a favorable character or tendency
  2. handsome, attractive

Seems like a fairly straightforward definition – except when it comes to collectibles grading. Whether it’s old records, toys, cars, action figures, comics, stamps, coins or nearly any other collectible item, if you bid or buy anything in "good" condition, be prepared for a shock. In nearly all these categories, the grade "good" ranks very near the bottom of any published grading scale you are likely to find. In fact, the eBay Grading Guide notes the following:

A "good" conditioned item really means an item with a lot of flaws. If someone is describing something as "good," be cautious! This item will probably have scratches, flaws, tears, chips, and other major problems. Ask the seller for specifics and understand that you may be disappointed with your purchase depending on what category the item is in. I would never buy a coin or a comic book or even a Pez dispenser in "good" condition.

How did this distortion of the language come about? Well, that’s an easy one. Grading descriptions have historically been assigned by the seller. Very few, if any, sellers like to have their items described as "poor" or even "fair," so in an effort to maximize the appeal of their merchandise, sellers "adjusted" the adjectival meanings to paint the rosiest possible picture. Items in rough or bad condition became "good," average used items became "fine" and well preserved (good) items became "very fine." The upshot is, we ended up with a "good" coin rating a "4" or a "6" on a scale of 70!

A Draped Bust Half Cent in Good-4 condition. Doesn’t look all that good to me.

When it comes to grading rare coins, I must confess I respect the British community for their far better adherence to the language. (After all, they invented it!) What we in the U.S. might describe as "good," they more aptly refer to as "fair." Similarly, their higher grades are also shifted a bit as well, with their "Fine," "Very Fine" and "Extremely Fine" coins being at the high end of our scale for the equivalent adjectival grade. Take a look at the following table from Derek Francis Allen’s extremely well done book Standard Guide to Grading British Coins:

And if a picture is worth a thousand words, have a look at the following:

If "good" really means "not so good," let’s just dispense with it entirely. Makes a lot of sense to me.

Grading Coin Collecting: Basics

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