There has been much talk about grading coins and the problems that come with an imperfect system. I recall the Brown and Dunn grading guide, a book of line drawings of coins. Photograde came along in 1970, with photos of coins. Collectors could just match up their coins to the photos. Professional grading and slabs came to be in 1986. Every so often, someone mentions the possibility of computer grading. What to do?
Numismatics is not getting simpler. A simple grading system, whether by adjectives or matching up drawings, will not work as the hobby/business becomes more complicated. As a young collector, I saw many coins in cardboard holders bearing the grade "Brilliant uncirculated," "Gem," or "Choice uncirculated." What exactly do these terms mean? If I had three Morgan silver dollars, one of each of these descriptive grades, what would the differences be? Which coin would be most desirable, and why? If one coin had flashy luster but plenty of bagmarks, how would this be noted?
How about the current system, the scale of 1-70? It can be debated endlessly what makes one coin a MS-63 and the next MS-64. Look at lots of slabbed coins, all MS. Some may be very pretty, and a few may not. I have seen unattractive coins in MS-65 holders, and others where I wonder why such a gorgeous piece is only MS-63. And what of coins that are not Mint State?
Coin collecting has changed a great deal in the past few years, and will continue to change. It's certainly different than when I began looking for silver coins in change in the late sixties. No doubt grading standards will change, too.
Computer grading? Wouldn't it be nice to place a coin inside a grading machine and get a reading? I cannot see this happening, at least not in the near future. It's been said that grading is an art and not a science. Only human eyes can judge such features as eye appeal. And would this computer be able to discern counterfeits? Nothing can replace a human being with years of experience, a trained eye, and a genuine love of coins.
The president of Early American Coppers has proposed that experts in certain series of coins grade those coins. EAC has its own grading system, stricter than the norm, but it works well for copper enthusiasts. Those familiar with coins that have striking problems, years famous for weak strikes (such as Buffalo nickels) and some knowledge of coin metals could act as graders.
Lots of questions, no set answers. It appears that grading will never be a perfect system, but will be modified and tweaked over the years to come.