Most coin collectors are looking to get a coin with the highest grade they can. The standard coin grading scale gives coins a scale from 1-70 with 70 being in the best condition, a perfectly uncirculated coin with a good strike.
Just as getting a coin of 70 is incredibly difficult there is an equally difficult rating… a score of 1.
Thank you to PCGS for the example images used in this post!
What Makes a Grade 1 Coin?
A score of 1 is also referred to as a “PO-1” for “Poor 1”. In the original Sheldon Grading Scale, it was also referred to as a coin’s “Basal State” although this is less common terminology now, and sometimes refers to coins that are ungradable.
A coin with a grade of one will have the most bear minimum of identifying features visible. By that, I mean that it must still have a visible date and mint mark.
As long as the date and mintmark are visible, an entire side of the coin could be worn flat, as long as the side with the mintmark and year is legible.
The best way to learn about PO-1 coins is to look at photos. Here is a picture from the PCGS Website.
Notice that the date and top of the mintmark are still legible. This is a 1994 Morgan minted in Carson City.
For comparison, here is a PCGS example of a coin with a grade of FR-2 for Fair-2:
Much more of this coin is visible. We can make out many of Lady Liberty’s features including her ear, mouth, eye, and hair. The Eagle is still clearly discernible as an eagle and we even see the features on some of the eagle’s feathers.
How Do PO-1 Coins Get So Worn?
There are many ways a coin can wear down, either intentionally or unintentionally.
The Morgan Dollar in the example above looks like it was in someone’s pocket for a very long time. Coins like these are called “carrying pieces” and owners usually keep them in their pocket for good luck or sentimental reasons.
A coin could reach a similar state just by being in circulation for a long enough time. Think of it like this, when a cashier hands you change, do you examine every coin to make sure it is the right denomination?
Most likely not, many people can tell what a coin is by its weight and general color. This is the same reason why a cashier may hand you a foreign coin in change without realizing it if it is similar enough to a US coin in circulation.
Why Is It Hard To Get A Grade Of 1?
Wearing a coin just enough so that it still has a legible date and mintmark is not easy to recreate. Even if you did try to wear a coin down by sanding it, most coin graders reject mutilated coins.
Since coin graders reject mutilated coins the coin must be worn in such a way that it could have happened in circulation. Carrying a coin in your pocket for a decade is a good way to wear it down for a poor grade.
What makes a coin ungradable?
For a coin to receive an “ungradable” rating it will have neither a visible date nor mintmark according to PCGS.
Since coins are graded and categorized by the year and mint mark, a coin without these features cannot be graded. Similarly, the coin must be identifiable as a genuine coin and be able to fit in a coin slab.
If you want to learn more about coins that PCGS will not grade, they have a series of webpages about it. Click Here to View.
Do people really pay more for PO-1 Coins?
As they say, “The proof is in the pudding.” Here is a screenshot of a mercury dime graded by NGC with a grade of PO-1.
This coin sold for 29.99! Here is a screenshot from USACoinBook of Mercury Dimes based on grade:
This coin was graded as “Poor”, but sold for a better value than 1916S Mercury Dimes graded AU50!
Not all PO-1 coins are worth more than their better graded counterparts. Here is an example of a PO-Morgan Dollar that did not command a premium:
At $163.50 this coin graded about what was predicted for a low grade 1899 Morgan Silver Dollar.
Why Do People Collect Poor-1 Graded Coins?
There are all sorts of coins people specialize in collecting. Collecting Poor coins is certainly rare, but not unheard of.
For many coin collectors, Poor coins make an interesting piece of their collection. It is an interesting talking point, and something that is rarely seen.
If you collect PO-1 coins or know someone who does, reach out to me on my Contact Page! I would love to hear from you.
Would you pay more for a PO-1 coin? Vote in our poll and comment below!