Coin Grading Guide
of a coin is commonly summarized by a grade. We say "summarized"
because grade is judged by more than one aspect of a coin's appearance.
Because the value of collectible coins often varies dramatically with
grade and overly generous grading is not uncommon, learning how to grade
(or at the very least learning how coins are graded) is an important part
of the hobby for coin collectors. Market values for many coins vary dramatically
from one grade to the next. Keep in mind that grade is only someone's
opinion. Until you are comfortable with your ability to grade coins, make
liberal use of other opinions, such as those available with slabbed coins
or from experienced collectors and dealers you trust.
presented here is intended only as an introduction to the subject. Grading
is a skill that can only be developed over time through referrals to grading
guides, consultation with experienced collectors and dealers, and lots
Grading is also considered by many to be somewhat of an Art. Published
standards have set objective criteria for grading, but some amount of
subjectivity is inevitable -- even expert graders will often assign slightly
different grades to the same coin. While you can always rely on an experienced
grader for their opinion, being able to make your own reasonable assessment
of grade is your best protection against buying a mis-graded coin or an
intentionally over-graded piece.
of American Numismatic Association standards follows. For more a more
extensive explanation you should consider reading the Official A.N.A.
Grading Standards for United States Coins which is published by the ANA.
ANA standards are widely used in the U.S. but are not the only system
used. Numerals used in coin grades have been taken from the Sheldon scale.
with no wear at all ("contact marks" or "bag marks"
are not considered as "wear") are referred to as uncirculated
or in mint state (MS) coins. Grades from MS-60 to MS-70 in one point increments
are used for mint state coins. Criteria include; luster, the number, size
and location of contact marks, the number, size and location of any hairlines,
and the quality of the strike as well as overall eye appeal.
An MS-60 coin may have dull luster and numerous contact marks in prime
focal areas, as long as there is no wear.
Grades from MS-61 to MS-64 cover intermediate parts of the range between
MS-60 & MS-65.
To merit MS-65, a coin should have brilliant cartwheel luster (when you
tilt the coin the light reflects on the coin's surface in a cart-wheel-like
shape), at most a few inconspicuous contact marks, no hairlines, and nearly
complete striking details. Attractive toning is permissible.
Truly exceptional coins may be graded MS-66, MS-67 or, if absolutely flawless,
MS-70. Many numismatists consider MS-70 to be an unobtainable ideal although
there have in fact been coins certified as MS-70.
Terms such as brilliant uncirculated (BU), choice BU, gem BU, select BU
and premium BU are sometimes used in lieu of numerical grades.
coins the grade is primarily an indication of how much wear has occurred
and generally does not take into account the presence or absence of dings,
scratches, toning, dirt and other foreign substances. Such information
may also be noted and you most certainly can take these things into account
when you are deciding on whether or not to purchase a coin. Remember,
even if the coin deserves a high grade, if you don't find it attractive
perhaps you shouldn't buy it.
ANA grading standards recognize 11 grades for circulated coins For more
a more extensive explanation you should consider reading the Official
A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins which is published by
AU-58, very choice about uncirculated: just traces of wear on a coin with
nearly full luster and no major detracting contact marks
AU-55, choice about uncirculated: small traces of wear visible on the
AU-50, about uncirculated: very light wear on the highest points; still
has at least half of the original mint luster
EF-45 or XF-45, choice extremely fine: all design details are sharp; some
mint luster remains, though perhaps only in "protected areas"
EF-40 or XF-40, extremely fine: slightly more wear than a "45";
traces of mint luster may show
VF-30, choice very fine: light even wear on high points, all lettering
and design details are sharp
VF-20, very fine: most details are still well defined; high points are
F-12, fine: major elements are still clear but details are worn away
VG-8, very good: major design elements, letters and numerals are worn
G-4, good: major design elements are outlined but details are gone; for
some series the date may not be sharp and the rim may not be complete.
AG-3, about good: heavily worn; date may be barely discernible
While coins more worn than AG are rarely collected, two additional grades
are nevertheless used to characterize them:
F-2, fair -- very heavily worn; major portions may be completely smooth
P-1, poor, filler or the more commonly used "cull" -- barely
While not included in the ANA standards, intermediate grades like AU-53,
VF-35, F-15 and G-6 are used by some dealers and grading services. When
a grader believes a coin is better than the minimum requirements but not
nice enough for the next higher grade "+" or "PQ"
may be included (e.g. MS64PQ or VG+) or a range may be given (e.g. F-VF).
there are significant differences between the obverse and reverse sides,
a split grade may be assigned. Split grades are denoted with a "/".
For example, "F/VF" means that the obverse is F and the reverse
The overall grade is often determined by the obverse. An intermediate
value may be appropriate when the difference is significant, especially
if the reverse is lower. A coin graded MS-60/61 would be considered to
have an overall grade of MS-60, and another at MS-65/63 could be considered
to have an overall grade of MS-64.
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