Cameo Grading, What's the Difference?

Why all Cameo’s (or DCAM/ULTRA’s) aren’t the same!

Collectors new to buying superb U.S. proof coins often wonder why two cameo proof coins of the same grade, from the same service, might be priced differently. It is often because one is significantly more contrasted, i.e. has more “eye appeal”, than the other! Also read more about coin grading here.

The next question then is, “If one is more contrasted, why do they get the same “Cameo” (or Deep Cameo) designation?

To answer that most important question, I refer you to the very important, but almost never talked about, “PCGS Cameo Grading Set”.

While PCGS only offers three proof grades on their holder for proof coins, there are actually seven cameo grades in the PCGS Grading Set. The PCGS Set is comprised of several dozen coins purchased by PCGS to help guide present and future graders at PCGS in maintaining a permanent, consistent, and constant standard that will be the same 50 years from now as it is today.

The cameo grading set, used by the graders at PCGS to help determine what designation (PR, CAM, or DCAM) should go on the holder, has the following seven comparison-categories to aid their graders:

Canadian Graded Gold Coins

The 7 comparison categories to aid PCGS graders

  1. Proof + (plus)
    These are coins that exhibit some cameo contrast, but not quite enough on either obverse or reverse to earn a “Cameo” designation. One side may even be DCAM! However, the other side does not meet the minimum “Cameo” standard. These coins are simply designated “PR”.
  2. Cameo – (minus)
    These are coins which exhibit the minimum standard for cameo contrast on both their obverse & reverse. These coins are designated “CAM”.
  3. Cameo
    A “dead centre” cameo, with slightly more contrast than category 2 coins.
  4. Cameo + (plus)
    Exceptional contrast. Approaching DCAM status, but at least one side does not meet the minimum standard. These coins also receive a “CAM” designation.
  5. DCAM – (minus)
    These coins display considerable cameo contrast on both their obverse and reverse. Quite striking in appearance, though not quite the “black & white” variety, with slightly more contrast than a Cam+ – just enough to earn a “DCAM” designation on the holder (Deep Cameo-minus). On other coins, one side can even be DCAM+, but again the other has just enough contrast to earn a DCAM.
  6. DCAM
    A “dead centre” DCAM (Deep Cameo). This is a black & white. The devices offer the snow-white cameo effect, the mirrors the jet-black look that cameo collectors lust for. Exceptional contrast, though not a DCAM+ as there may be a frost-break or two on the devices.
  7. DCAM + (plus)
    Ultimate!! Very, very few pre-1972 proof coins exhibit this level of contrast. On a DCAM+ (Deep Cameo+) coin devices are intensely frosted, with little if any frost-break on both obverse and reverse. From this earlier era, only the very first strikes from a matching die pair that was perfectly prepared, ever display this level of contrast, and few dies of any year were prepared this perfectly. These coins also receive a “DCAM” designation on the holder.