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The Coin Grading System

May 13, 2008
Coin grading is a term used to refer to the process of determining the condition or quality of a coin, and its full identity. It is essential to know what the grade is of a particular coin, because, as a general matter, the higher the grade of a coin, the higher its numismatic value.

Coins are graded on a 0-70 point scale devised by Dr William Shelby. The details can be found in the Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins published by the American Numismatic Association (ANA). Under this method of grading, the higher the point scale accorded a particular coin, the better its quality.

The process of grading a coin is partly subjective and partly an art, rather than a true science. Accurate grading requires many years of skill and experience. However, determining an approximate grade is possible for even the novice coin collector.

The basic point scales that define coin grades, are as follows:

1. Mint State Perfect Uncirculated (MS-70)

Mint state uncirculated coin in perfect condition, showing no traces of wear, and no blemishes, scratches, handling or contact with other coins. The best quality coin possible.

2. Choice (Gem) Uncirculated (MS-65-69)

An above average uncirculated coin which retains all of the original mint brilliance or luster, and has a very few contact marks on the surface or rim, which are barely noticeable.

3. Brilliant Uncirculated or BU (MS-60-64)

An uncirculated coin having no traces of wear but which has a few contact marks, surface spotting or lacks some of its original luster.

4. Choice About Uncirculated (AU-55 & 58)

A coin having very light wear on only the highest points of the design but no other defects and with most of its luster remaining.

5. About Uncirculated (AU-50)

Coin has evidence of light wear on many of the high points but at least half of the mint luster is still present.

6. Extremely Fine (EF-40)

The coin design is lightly worn in most places but all the features remain sharp and well defined.

7. Choice Very Fine (VF-30)

Light even wear on the surface and highest parts of the design but most major features and the lettering are sharp.

8. Very Fine (VF-20)

Minor features such as some of the finer hair detail, feathers, etc. will be moderately worn. Shows moderate wear on high points of design. All major details are clear.

9. Fine (F-12)

Moderate to considerable even wear over most features and the lettering. A lot of the details are worn through but you can still see a good deal of the design.

10. Very Good (VG-8)

The entire design is weak, but a few details are visible. Well worn throughout but coin rims still visible.

11. Good (G-4)

Heavily worn but design and legend still visible although quite weak in spots. Many details are gone.

12. About Good (AG-3)

Very heavily worn with portions of lettering, date and legends worn smooth and barely discernable.

Have fun collecting your Perfect Coins!

Robert L Taylor, JD
Copyright 2006 Robert L Taylor, JD
About the Author
Robert Taylor is a retired Lawyer, from Denver, CO, and who has had a passion for collecting US coins, since the age of 6. To share his Passion, he created http://www.ThePerfect-Coin.Com which features US Rare and Modern Coins (from 1960) and http://www.PerfectDollarCoins.Com featuring US coins
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