The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 52, December 16, 2012, Article 8


Last week Dick Johnson submitted a question about the nature of Contact Marks. Where and how do they occur? Are they similar to Cabinet Friction? Are they Bag Marks? I wrote: " I'm in the "Bag mark" camp. I always thought of contact marks as the evidence that another coin had come into contact with the surface of the coin, leaving behind a minute nick. What do E-Sylum readers think?". -Editor

Joe Boling writes:

I'm with you on contact marks - small dings that are not as obvious and distracting as full-fledged silver dollar bag marks.

Bill Eckberg writes:

I'll be brave and stand with you. "Contact marks" means "damage from touching other things". The type of touching isn't specified, so bag marks and cabinet friction could BOTH be thought of as types of contact marks. However, I think the general understanding would be that contact marks mean marks other than friction wear.

Pablo Hoffman writes:

The operative word is "mark," as opposed to "wear." A mark is caused by a discrete contact localized in a distinct location, and is distinguished from wear, which is generalized across the surface of the item. A coin might have a thousand bag marks and no wear, and therefore remain technically uncirculated.

I'm with you.

Peter Mosiondz, Jr.writes:

As a collector and numismatist of nearly sixty years I’ll offer my personal viewpoint; “Basically, any source of dings, dents, and scrapes that mar coins as a result of contact with other coins can be called contact marks. The larger the coin, the more susceptible it is to this type of damage. In many instances collectors and dealers refer to these contact marks as “damage”. The grading houses detract “points” from the coin’s technical grade according to the number and placement of these contact marks”.

I also offer the ANA’s definition of contact marks; “These are tiny nicks, dings, lines, and other intrusions into the metal surface of a coin created by coming into contact with other coins (such as in a cloth bag), in pocket change, while being stored or moved, or, in some instances, careless handling by collectors. A coin with few or no contact marks is a candidate for a high grade, while a coin with extensive contact marks must be placed in a lower category”.

It is important to consider the fact that most contact marks on our earlier coins, especially the Large Cents, came from jostling about and coming into contact with other coins well after leaving the Mint.

Others may have differing opinions and that is what makes our great hobby so fascinating.

Mark Van Winkle writes:

The person who set me straight about the term “contact marks” was Walter Breen. He was most emphatic that contact marks happened to proof coins, and abrasions happened to circulation strikes. Once I thought about it, there seemed to be a great deal of logic to this. Since then that is how I have used the terms and have encouraged the other Heritage catalogers to do the same.

I would like to say the Heritage catalogers have all fallen in line with this thinking, but we do occasionally slip and say a proof has abrasions or a business strike has contact marks. Neither is wrong in the absolute sense. But I have incorporated this on the Style Sheet for catalogers. To me it makes sense that a proof coin would have incidental contact from other coins or other objects. Coins struck for circulation are abraded from coin-to-coin contact even while in the mint. I can certainly understand that this would be a fine line for some.

Regarding the alternate meaning, I do not understand how “contact marks” can apply to cabinet friction. We have perfectly good words for that: friction and rub. If it is slight, then “high-point friction.” However, such a coin could have high-point friction but be free from abrasions or contact marks.

To go further down the rabbit hole, Pablo Hoffman states a coin might have a thousand bag marks, but no wear and still be Uncirculated. My answer is an emphatic, “Yes, but … “ When you examine thousands of coins, many of which are in the AU58-MS62 range, one begins to understand the nature of third-party grading. It is a value-based system. Yes, the coin may be peppered with innumerable abrasions and have no actual rub from circulation, yet still be graded AU58. This is because the market values that coin as an AU58, not necessarily because it has actual friction from handling. So, third-party grading backs out the grade of a coin from how the market values it.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: QUERY: CONTACT MARKS: WHERE AND HOW? (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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