In measuring, the skin should be laid flat on a smooth surface. The measurement is to be made at the widest point of the belly at the two inner sides. The measurement is to be made in centimeters and fractions of the centimeter are to rounded down. View the video on how a alligator skin is measured.
The most important distinction of the American Classic grading system is that it does not downgrade as much for natural damages in the skins (scratches or scars) as it does for damages the trapper can control (knife cuts, gig holes, slipping skins, etc.). The idea being that trappers should have equal incentive to properly care for a battle-scarred twelve footer as they do for a prime nine footer. By taking extra care not to gig, shoot or cut the belly pattern of the alligator, the trapper then only has to insure the hide will be properly skinned. So natural scarring or scratching of the hides is not normally downgraded unless it has already resulted in holes in the belly pattern, or if a severe scar will obviously make a hole during the tanning process.
The grades are assigned by the traditional 1, 2, and 3 numbers, but different categories of damage are assigned by letters to each grade (example 1a, 2b, 3c) in order to help collect information for the final grading standard. Both the neck buttons and belly buttons are noted by the grade, as are slipping skins.
In general, any hole or severe scar in the shaded area of the belly pattern in the diagram below will be downgraded. If the damage affects about one-fourth of the pattern the skin will be a grade 2.
The American Classic grading system tries to estimate the percentage of usable, undamaged finished leather that will be available for each skin, after allowing for the natural damages explained earlier. Therefore, a number one skin should produce 100% usable leather, a number two about 75% and a number three approximately 50%. A good deal of judgment and experience is necessary to make these grading calls, but the important point to remember is the American Classic grading system is done the same way each time, according to the same guidelines and is comparing alligator skin qualities to each other, not to price or customer.
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