July 20, 2023

Coin Grading - Understanding the Grade Marks for rare coins and numismatics

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Industry standards for grading conditions of coins:

Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC):

The NGC is the Official Grading Service of the American Numismatic Association, The PNG, SixBid.com, and the Approved Grading Company of eBay, CDN Exchange, and others. 

The NGC Coin Grading Scale uses the internationally accepted Sheldon grading scale of 1 to 70. This began in the United States in the late 1940's. Adopted by the NGC in 1987 and considered the industry standard.

Professional Coin Grading Services (PCGS):

Dr. William Sheldon in 1948 developed the Sheldon Scale, assigning grades from 1 through 70 to coins. Ideally, the "70" graded coin would be worth 70 times as much as a coin graded "1".

PCGS grading is built upon the Sheldon Scale in 1986 with the encapsulated third party grading. 

Strike Types:

MS (Mint State): those coins graded MS-60 through MS-70, a business strike coin that never has been in circulation. 

Proof (PR): A coin usually struck from a specially prepared coin die on a specially prepared planchet. Proofs are usually given more than one blow from the dies and are usually struck with presses operating at slower speeds and higher striking pressure. Because of this extra care, Proofs usually exhibit much sharper detail than regular, or business, strikes. PCGS recognizes Proofs (PR) as those struck in 1817 and later.

Specimen (SP): Special coins struck at the Mint from 1792-1816 that display many characteristics of the later Proof coinage. Prior to 1817, the minting equipment and technology were limited, so these coins do not have the "watery" surfaces of later Proofs nor the evenness of strike of the close collar Proofs.

Grading Scale:

PF or PR: Proof. A specially made coin distinguished by sharpness of detail and usually with a brilliant, mirror-like surface. Proof refers to the method of manufacture and is not a grade. The term implies superior condition unless otherwise noted.

MS: Mint State. The terms Mint State (MS) and Uncirculated (UNC) are interchangeable and refer to coins showing no trace of wear. Such coins may vary slightly due to minor surface imperfections.

UNC or BU: Uncirculated or Brilliant Uncirculated. Coins showing no trace of wear. Such coins may vary slightly due to minor surface imperfections.

AU: About Uncirculated. Traces of light wear on many of the high points. At least half of the mint luster is still present.

EF: Extremely Fine. Light wear on design throughout, but all features sharp and well defined. Traces of luster may show.

VF: Very Fine. Moderate wear on high points of design. All major details are clear.

F: Fine. Moderate to considerable even wear. Entire design is bold with overall pleasing appearance.

VG: Very Good. Well worn with main features clear and bold, although rather flat.

G: Good. Heavily worn with design visible but faint in areas. Many details are flat.

AG: About Good. Very heavily worn, with portions of lettering, date and legend worn smooth. The date may be barely readable.

Other abbreviations you may come across:

FR: Fair
PO: Poor
BN: Brown
RB: Red Brown
RD: Red
FB: Full Bands
FBL: Full Bell Lines
FH: Full Head
FS: Full Steps
PL: Proof Like
CA: Cameo
DC or DCAM: Deep Cameo
UC: Ultra Cameo
DMPL: Deep Mirror Proof-like
ER: Early Release
FS: First Strike
SMS: Special Mint Set / Satin Finish
SP: Specimen
TF: Tail Feathers (on Morgan Dollars containing 7 or 8 Tail Feathers)

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