Are you familiar with the grading scale?

A coin's grade indicates its general condition and amount of wear. The higher the grade, the greater its value. The coin grading standard is the American Numismatic Association's 0-70 point numeric system, also called the "Sheldon Scale." The process of assigning grades to coins is subjective, but the scale helps to define what is important in the evaluation. By using the point system's guidelines, even beginners can grade coins with some accuracy.

One of the best skills a coin collector can learn is the art of coin grading. Here is the criteria used to grade coins according to the American Numismatic Association:

Condition

Grade

Description

About Good

AG-3

Very heavily worn with portions of the lettering, date, and legends being worn smooth. The date is barely readable.

Good

G-4

Heavily worn. Major designs visible, but with faintness in areas. Head of Liberty, wreath, or other major features visible in outline form without center detail.

Very Good

VG-8

Well worn. Most fine details, such as hair strands and leaf details are worn nearly smooth. The word LIBERTY, if on a shield or headband (seen on 28 coin types), is only partially visible.

Fine

F-12

Moderate to considerable, even wear. Entire design is bold. All lettering, including the word LIBERTY is visible, with some weaknesses.

Very Fine

VF-20

Same as Fine except with only moderate wear on the highest points.

Choice Very Fine

VF-30

Has light even wear on the surfaces, design details on the highest points are lightly worn, but with all lettering and major features sharp.

Extremely Fine

XF-40 or VF-40

Design is lightly worn throughout, but overall, features are sharp and well defined. A bit of luster may show.

About Uncirculated

AU-50

Has a trace of wear on many of the highest areas. At least half the original mint luster is still present.

Choice About Uncirculated

AU-55

A coin having less than a trace of wear on only the highest points of the design but no other defects and with most of its luster remaining.

Mint State

MS

The term "MS" can be interchanged with Uncirculated ("UNC") to describe "new" coins showing no trace of wear. There are 11 grades of MS coins, ranging from MS-60 to MS-70.

Uncirculated

MS-60

Has no trace of wear but may show a large number of distracting contact marks and scuffs. Surface may be spotted or lack some luster. Lots of hairlines and rim nicks are permissible. Poor eye appeal is typical.

Uncirculated

MS-61

Reduced mint luster, contact marks, and scuffs scattered throughout. Hairlines may be very noticeable. Small rim nicks are acceptable. Eye appeal is somewhat unattractive.

Uncirculated

MS-62

Reduced mint luster may be evident. Groups of small marks throughout, with a few large marks or scuffs highly visible. Scattered hairlines. Rim quality and overall eye appeal below average.

Uncirculated

MS-63

May have slightly impaired luster. Noticeably fewer defects throughout. A small number of heavy marks are acceptable. Somewhat attractive eye appeal.

Uncirculated

MS-64

Average mint luster. Several small contact marks in groups and a couple of moderately heavier marks are acceptable. One or two small hairline patches. Overall eye appeal is good.

Uncirculated

MS-65

Above average mint luster. Only a few scattered contact marks or two larger marks are present. One or two hairline patches. A few light scuffs on highest points of coin. Quality and eye appeal are above average and quite pleasing.

Uncirculated

MS-66

Above average mint luster. No more than a few minor contact marks; some in prime focal areas acceptable. A few hairlines or light scuffs show under magnification. Eye appeal is very good.

Uncirculated

MS-67

Has almost all of original mint luster. No more than three or four very small contact marks. One or two small hairlines or scuffs acceptable. No distracting flaws allowed. Exceptional eye appeal.

Uncirculated

MS-68

Full original mint luster. No more than four scattered very small contact marks or flaws, none in focal areas. No visible hairlines or scuff marks. Exceptional eye appeal.

Uncirculated

MS-69

Very attractive, full mint luster and sharp strike. No more than two small non-detracting marks or flaws. No visible hairlines or scuff marks. Exceptional eye appeal.

Uncirculated

MS-70

Full original luster of the highest quality. No flaws whatsoever visible, even under 4x magnification. Outstanding eye appeal. The perfect coin.

Proof

PR or PF

A specially made coin distinguished by sharpness of detail and usually with brilliant mirror-like surfaces. Proof refers to the method of manufacture and is not a condition. There are 11 grades of PR coins, ranging from PR-60 to PR-70.

Proof

PR-60

Unattractive with little if any mirror characteristics. There may be large detracting contact marks or damage spots. Heavy hairlines and possible large scuff marks. Rim nicks and poor eye appeal.

Proof

PR-61

Mirror characteristics diminished or greatly impaired. Large and small contact marks throughout. Lots of detracting hairlines. Unattractive eye appeal.

Proof

PR-62

Original or impaired mirror characteristics. May have distracting marks in prime focal areas. Hairlines throughout. Marginally acceptable eye appeal.

Proof

PR-63

Mirror field may be slightly impaired. Numerous small contact marks and a few heavy marks are expected. Many light hairlines are visible without magnification. Moderate eye appeal.

Proof

PR-64

Fully original mirror fields. May have a fair number of small contact marks, but only one or two heavier marks are acceptable. A few hairlines under low magnification are acceptable. Pleasing eye appeal.

Proof

PR-65

High quality mirror surface. A few small scattered contact marks, or two larger marks, are acceptable. A few hairlines under magnification are visible. Very pleasing eye appeal.

Proof

PR-66

Full mirror surface and above average quality strike. No more than two or three minor but noticeable contact marks. A few light hairlines may show under magnification. Above average eye appeal.

Proof

PR-67

Full mirror surface and sharp strike. Three or four tiny contact marks, with one or two in prime focal areas. No hairlines visible to the naked eye. Exceptional eye appeal.

Proof

PR-68

Full mirror surface and attractive sharp strike. No more than four light scattered flaws. No hairlines. Exceptional eye appeal.

Proof

PR-69

Full mirror surface and very attractive sharp strike. One or two very small flaws, none in prime focal areas. Exceptional eye appeal.

Proof

PR-70

Full mirror surface and highest quality strike. No flaws visible, even under magnification. Outstanding eye appeal. The perfect coin.

 

An excellent resource for any numismatist is "The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins" book. This resource goes through a variety of coins with specific indicators to assist in determining a coin's grade in accordance with the Sheldon scale. 

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