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CHOICE AU-58 vs MS-60, 61, 62, 63 & 64
Some collectors compare the word AU (Almost Uncirculated) to MS (Mint State) in a similar fashion CSA, Obsolete and all other 150-200 year old notes are graded to the grades seen assigned to coins. This is quite understandable, although misses the mark by a long shot when it comes to paper money. While there may be some coins which are graded AU which are more desirable than an MS coin; such is not usually the case. The same cannot be said of paper money. First of all, as elementary as it may sound, coins are made of metal. The paper money discussed here is made of 150-200 year old "cutting edge" paper. Wide variations exist of the quality of this paper as well.
It may be difficult to do, but in my humble opinion, the collector of old paper money must dispense with this comparison in order to form a quality collection. A CHOICE AU-58 CSA T-4 may possess a corner bump which requires magnification to observe. Otherwise it may be as near perfect as one will ever see the issue. The note may bear the finest trim, superb margins, bright vivid color, lack of dirt or soiling, clarity of vignettes, crispness, along with many other quality attributes and be assigned a grade of AU. On the other hand, A mint State T-4, lacking a tiny corner fold or "bump" may be assigned a grade of MS 60-64 and lack the same quality attributes the AU note possesses. If a CHOICE AU note bears superb trim, color, etc. it will nearly always be more desirable and more valuable than the same MS note which does not possess these characteristics. I have seen this play out hundreds and hundreds of times. Just because a given note bears a MS grade does not mean it is more desirable or valuable than a note bearing an AU grade. This concept is applicable to all but the very most common notes. These "common" notes are usually readily available in MS carrying with them the high quality I subscribe to a CHOICE AU-58 piece.
An MS 60-63 note will invariably be trimmed into the margin at some location upon the note. I have observed this upon notes graded MS 64 and on rare occasion 65 as well. Many of us think of trim in the same manner we think of a frame surrounding a picture or painting. Old habits die hard and I know the first thing I do when observing a note for the first time is look at how well the note is trimmed. Next come lack of restoration or repairs, color (if any), inking or clarity, lack of soiling, crispness (if high grade), body, and a host of other factors. Every collector is different. I learned long ago not to be distracted by blazing color and overlook other problems. This is easy to do. Not so much now, with high quality scans upon the internet as it was in the old days when we only saw notes in person at a show.
Give me a choice AU note which may possess a light corner fold or bump which could require magnification to see over an MS note which is cut into the margin, may lack quality trim, color, etc. each and every time. At some point, we must realize we are dealing with paper, not metal. If a collector remains a collector for very long, he/she will soon realize what I am saying is true. Obviously, many issues are not available in high grade and are extremely rare in any grade. The discussion up to this point has dealt with mid to high grade notes. Many are the times I have seen an AU-58 note bring 6-7 times what the same note graded MS brings. It all comes down to the word CHOICE.
The word "choice" is utilized in a manner of settings; from Choice Uncirculated, Choice color,Choice trim and many instances in situations wherein the word does not lay within the purview discussed here. The context I will attempt to describe the word "choice" is within the overall quality and desirability of Confederate Treasury Notes, Obsolete, Southern States or any other note printed and issued from 1818 to the end of the Civil War.
In reality, truly choice notes are quite scarce. In the"ancient" days of the late 1970's and early 1980's, the most appropriate definition for "choice" (no matter what the grade or type) us old time dealers applied to a far above average note was "hummer"; "cutter"or "monster". While this may sound silly in this day and time, these adjectives fit the bill for a given note in any grade which is exquisite or exceptional for that particular note. The note has to possess distinctive and outstanding characteristics, such as superb framing for the issue, excellent color; bold, vivid detail upon the vignettes & design, be well inked; lack problems - no matter how minor, etc., etc., which distinguish it from the exact same note of the type. I am not referring to high grade notes only; but any notes that are "choice" which may fall within any grade range. In other words, I am referring to a note which bears that specific "pop" when you see it. Not all VF-25 PPQ CSA T-26's are created equal. Once one learns to look for 'Choice" notes and understand the concept that these notes will stand the test of time; both from a desirability standpoint and monetary perspective they will be well on their way to forming a collection that will always be in demand should the time ever come to sell it. Further, the collector will better comprehend the "above average" cost associated with that note. A collector need not form a collection of the highest grade notes available. So long as the notes are "choice" for any given grade, all other matters will take care of themselves. In over 4 decades, I have never seen a choice note decrease in value; only increase.
Many are the Choice CSA notes which grade AU 55-58 which are much more desirable, beautiful and valuable than than the exact same type note which grades New-61, 62, 63 and on some occasions, 64 & 65. I have observed this countless times. It is paramount for a collector to remember that the grading services grade from a technical perspective only. They do not take into account "choice" from a collectors viewpoint and are quite wise in avoiding this. When the grading services utilize the word "choice", such as in "Choice Very Fine 35" they are actually referring to the fact that the note is technically (from a paper perspective) a breath away from "Extremely Fine 40"; or what in the old days, we would deem Very Fine +. The word choice upon a grading service holder has absolutely nothing to do with our discussion of the word "Choice" as it applies to the eye appeal, etc.. of a given note. Just because a grading service holder has a higher number on it; does not mean the note is "choice" from a collectors viewpoint. This is very important to remember.
I cannot begin to count the number of National Paper Money actions I have personally attended over the years. The following scenario could be repeated by me many, many times; however, I will only offer one single occurrence to make my point. At a large auction not more than 7-8 years ago, I noted an unusual, although not extremely uncommon run of T-31's which were graded the same. They were graded as follows and the amount the notes sold for are set out.
T-31 VF 25 PPQ $775 (Nice note)
T-31 VF 25 $575
T-31 VF 25 PPQ $445
T-31 VF 25 $1700 (A choice note)
T-31 VF 25 c/c $245
T-31 VF 25 PPQ/Apparent $280
While it did seem somewhat unusual to observe so many T-31's of the exact same grade; as I stated previously, it is not all that uncommon. A choice T-31 will bring a good deal more than $1700 in this day and time. The higher priced T-31 was extremely well trimmed; possessed superb color; was clean, bright and bore incredible eye appeal. - lacking any problems or distractions whatsoever. The others, were at some location upon the note to various degrees barely cut into the deign, were very slightly soiled or dirty upon the back, had minor spots or other such minor issues (besides the C/C & Apparent notes). They were good looking, solid notes however.
It is much more easy to describe a note that is not "Choice" than it is to adequately describe a "Choice" note. Suffice it to say that you will know a choice note when you see it. One must take into account which particular issue the note is. For example, CSA T-42 to 45 were printed so close together upon a sheet, little room was left to hand trim the notes from the uncut sheet without damaging or eliminating the upper or lower frame line of the note above or below that note being trimmed from the sheet. This is true of many other CSA Treasury Notes as well.
This subject could be discussed for hours upon end. Do Choice notes cost more? Of course they do. Do they cost dealers more? Of course they do. Do they always bring more for the collector when and if he/she sells? Of course they do. In a 2018 auction I noticed several notes which I had sold to an individual over the course of 7-8 years beginning some 14-16 years ago in the auction. A note I sold the collector @ $1200 brought $3,000. Another note I sold at $500 hammered at $1500. Another I sold the collector at $1500 sold at auction for $4,000. The list goes on. The collector I sold to was patient and willing to pay a little extra for choice notes. Rather than buy a note which had good quality, although some slight distraction from overall eye appeal or quality, he acquired choice notes; which are scarce and becoming more so. It is not uncommon to see a truly "choice" note bring anywhere from six to seven times what an average to slightly above average note of the same type and same grade will command. Personally, I am willing to pay much, much more for a choice note. These notes have always increased in value and desirability. I pass upon over 95% of the CSA notes I am offered; as they do not meet my strict criteria of being "choice". Obviously, I pay more than most; although would much rather do so and offer superb material to those who grasp this concept. I find that most collectors learn the meaning and value of "choice" rapidly. If you have been around as long as I have and seen this situation occur enough, it is quite easy to grasp. All of us want to buy as cheaply as we can, although there comes a point wherein one must realize, we get what we pay for. I merely attempt to convey to collectors what they can expect when they acquire "choice" notes when they can be found. Believe me, it is well worth the extra price over the cost of an average piece. As stated, for over 45 years I have found this to be true and I see it more and more evident today. If you can acquire a 'Choice" note, my best advise is to do so if possible.
The beauty of collecting paper money is that one is free to collect in any manner they choose. If a collector wants to collect cut cancelled notes, repaired notes, or poorly trimmed notes they should feel completely free to do so. I completely respect that and totally understand this approach. After all, it is the history behind these wonderful items that motivates all of us. I offer the above advice based upon over 4 decades in this business and have repeatedly seen first hand what acquiring choice notes for the grade can do.
THE GRADING SERVICES
"Apparent"; "Net" What do they really mean?
Yes, there remain some of us "old geezers" who were around a long, long time before the Grading services made their appearance upon the scene. A few good friends come to mind - Crutchfield Williams, Hugh Shull, John Rowe, Don Fisher, Greg Ton, Steve Bales and far too many others to name here.
Prior to the appearance of the Grading Services relative to grading Confederate Treasury Notes, Obsoletes, Southern States, Scrip and all other manner of items they grade; we frequently utilized an "old saying" when it came to a rare note. That old saying was; "You grade the second one". Obviously, this was applicable to notes which were not easily obtainable and very rare. One might only have a single chance to acquire a given piece, so a collector acquired the note even though it had issues or problems; as we say. The internet has changed much and has actually increased the number of notes which may be viewed by collectors. Unless a collector had a nearby friend who also collected the same material, an individual absolutely had to attend a show to view any of the particular notes one might collect. The days of actually having to attend a paper money/coin show to actually view this material are no more. In this day and time, many venues offer high resolution scans of the material they offer for sale, thus eliminating the absolute need for a collector to attend each and every show they can. I think it is a good idea for collectors to attend some shows; as there is no substitute for the opportunity to hold the material in your hands and actually view it in person. Further, relationships with dealers are established and attending a show is a lot of fun.
Back to the use and interpretation of the word "Apparent" or "Net; hereinafter referred to as "Apparent/Net". These words can mean many, many different things. Of the two leading grading services, one uses the word "Apparent" and one uses the word "Net". I have received more than one e-mail from a collector which states they want no note; no matter what it is, which has the words "Apparent/Net" upon the holder. This is all well and good and I respect that. Such a qualifier would eliminate an otherwise Choice Uncirculated CSA T-35 or Indian Princess which happened to have a 1/16 edge split in it. Of course, no T-35 exists that is Choice Uncirculated. Before taking this approach to graded notes, I strongly suggest that one think about what the above statement means. A graded note may be assigned the word "Apparent"/Net" for a myriad of reasons. We must also consider what type of note and how rare it is prior to a proper analysis. A tiny edge split found upon a unique note from Jasper, GA will conjure up the word "Apparent/Net". Does one really expect to locate such a rarity in perfect condition? Even the most common note is indeed a miracle of survival. Excessively rare notes are certainly no exception and one is extremely fortunate to encounter an example at all, much less an example without some sort of so called "problem". When discussing common to semi common CSA or obsoletes which are not that difficult to acquire, I can readily understand and recommend avoiding problem notes.
Most advanced collectors of a particular series or type are not concerned if a grading service holder bears the words "Apparent/Net" upon a rare piece. Of course, this depends upon why the note was assigned an "Apparent/Net" grade and to what the extent the problems are. Was the note torn in two and glued back together? Does it have large, black stains all over it? Is there a 3/4 inch hole in the note? Is the note covered in rust? Many more dubious problems could be mentioned here. Some notes are very highly sought after by certain collectors even if they bear the above problems. Most collectors avoid them and rightfully so.....depending upon what you collect and how far along you are with your collection.
The entire point of this little post is that far too many notes are not bought simply because the word Apparent/Net appears upon the grading service holder. The CSA T-11 represents a very good example of what I am attempting to convey. In general, an original T-11 is located in simply terrible condition. For the most part, the collecting public does not see these notes in their original state. Collectors generally tend to be exposed to the "cream of the crop" if you will. Most Confederate or Obsolete notes (of whatever type) when located in an original group tend to be in terrible condition. Limp, torn, stained, missing corners, etc.. Such notes are not offered to collectors, as they remain in such poor condition so as to be uncollectible. The T-11 was heavily utilized in commerce and did not wear well. Most original, non repaired examples are near total rags, limp with corners missing, holed, etc.. There exist T-11's within the top 10 known which reside in grading service holders bearing the words "Apparent/Net". If one is fortunate enough to locate a T-11 with only one or two small edge splits and thereby graded "Apparent/Net", they have located one of the best T-11's extant. I suppose there is always the thought in the collectors mind that there will be a non apparent/net T-11 come along in time. A collector certainly cannot be faulted for thinking in this manner, as I would be thinking the same had it not been for the knowledge and experience over 4 decades in this business has provided me. In other words, there exist choice notes which bear the word apparent/net. I see far too many collectors merely purchasing the number on a grading service holder; rather than the note itself. That is an entirely different subject matter and will be discussed later. The old adage, "Acquire the best note you can afford" has by no means disappeared and remains as viable within the collecting community today as it did over one hundred years ago. However; it is extremely important for collectors to be aware that given a particular type of note, superb, high quality pieces exist which are housed in "Apparent/Net" grading service holders. If the note is rare enough and desirable; it will bring just as much money as a non apparent/net note. Just a suggestion; however, look at the note itself when you see the word apparent/net. Based upon years of experience, do not look at the word "Apparent/Net" and look no further. There is no right or wrong answer to a collector's interpretation and application of the word "Apparent/Net". Obviously, it is up to the individual and rightfully so. If a collector does not want a note bearing an "Apparent/Net" moniker in his or her collection, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. As stated, there are many variables at play in this situation; including what is being collected, a given note's rarity, the degree of impairment and individual tastes. If one collects Southern Merchant scrip from the State of Georgia and has no graded notes in his or her collection which grade Apparent/Net, that collection will be smaller than it should be, lacking many historically significant, rare "Apparent/Net" graded pieces upon which the collector passed due to the appearance of one of these words. On the other hand, if a collector is endeavoring to put together a complete type set of Confederate Treasury notes, most all "Apparent/Net" notes may be avoided...save for one or two issues. I merely point out that many choice, rare notes exist in "Apparent/Net" grading service holders and are overlooked simply because of these words. In many, many instances, this will likely be the only way the issue is located...if at all.
Out of time for now; although will come back to this subject later. Remember, I am not referring to common or semi common notes. Look closely at why the note is assigned an apparent/net grade. Very few scare to rare notes have survived the last 160 years or more without some sort of edge ding, split or the like. We are not discussing a coin which is made of metal. We are discussing something comprised of paper, which is truly amazing that it survived these many, many years at all. It is totally and completely up to the individual collector to interpret the above and there is no right or wrong answer.
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