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Coin Grading Explained

Grading is a way of determining the physical condition of a coin. Grades range from Poor (almost completely worn out) to Perfect Uncirculated (a coin with absolutely no wear and no flaws of any kind). Over 99.9% of all coins fall somewhere between these two extremes.

The grade is a sort of "shorthand" for describing the condition of a coin. With experience and the aid of the appropriate books, many people can learn to grade with a moderate degree of accuracy. Few people, however, can ever learn to grade with the precision required to become a professional. The grade of a coin goes a long way in determining the coin's value, and sometimes a seemingly insignificant and easily overlooked flaw can make thousands of dollars of difference.

Coins that have been properly stored since the day they were minted-- i.e., made-- are called "uncirculated" or "mint state." If a coin saw circulation for a short time but still looks nearly brand new, it is called (or graded) "About Uncirculated." After that, the grades in descending order are:

EXTREMELY FINE -- VERY FINE -- FINE -- VERY GOOD -- GOOD -- ABOUT GOOD -- FAIR POOR.

Uncirculated coins have different grades as well, depending on how carefully each coin was made, handled, and stored. Some uncirculated coins have heavy marks caused by contact with other coins during minting or storage. Other uncirculated coins are nearly free of such marks. The coin in the best state of preservation will almost always have the greatest value.

If rare coin dealers only dealt with other rare coin dealers, there would be no need for coin grading. The two would simply decide on the value of the coin and conduct business accordingly. However, the coin market has expanded far beyond dealer to dealer transactions.

When the rare coin market was limited to a small number of numismatists trading with each other, three broad definitions were enough to determine grade: "Good" -- a coin with most of the detail intact; "Fine" -- a coin with clear detail and some luster on its surfaces; and "Uncirculated" -- a coin which had never been in general circulation and therefore retained its Mint State condition.

As the market grew, collectors realized that some "fine" coins were finer than others. Even some uncirculated coins rose above the rest in detail, luster, and general appearance.

Soon terms such as "very fine" and "extra fine" began to emerge, as collectors sought to further define the condition of their coins -- and increase their value. In 1948, Dr. William Sheldon, a renowned numismatist, developed the Sheldon Scale, assigning grades from "one" through "70" to coins on the theory that a "70" would be worth seventy times as much as a "one".

Although coin collectors agreed on the scale, they could not agree on the standard -- and assigning a Sheldon Scale grade to any given coin was still a matter of subjective opinion. The Gold Vault continues to use this grading system and guidelines to render our professional opinion.

Grading Standards Used

Grade Description
PO-1 Identifiable date and type
FR-2 Mostly worn, though some detail is visible
AG-3 Worn rims but most lettering is readable though worn
G-4 Slightly worn rims, flat detail, peripheral lettering nearly full
G-6 Rims complete with flat detail, peripheral lettering full
VG-8 Design worn with slight detail
VG-10 Design worn with slight detail, slightly clearer
F-12 Some deeply recessed areas with detail, all lettering sharp
F-15 Slightly more detail in the recessed areas, all lettering sharp
VF-20 Some definition of detail, all lettering full and sharp
VF-25 Slightly more definition in the detail and lettering
VF-30 Almost complete detail with flat areas
VF-35 Detail is complete but worn with high points flat
EF-40 Detail is complete with most high points slightly flat
EF-45 Detail is complete with some high points flat
AU-50 Full detail with friction over most of the surface, slight flatness on high points
AU-53 Full detail with friction over 1/2 or more of surface, very slight flatness on high points
AU-55 Full detail with friction on less than 1/2 surface, mainly on high points
AU-58 Full detail with only slight friction on the high points
MS/PR-60 No wear. May have many heavy marks/hairlines, strike may not be full
MS/PR-61 No wear. Multiple heavy marks/hairlines, strike may not be full
MS/PR-62 No wear. Slightly less marks/hairlines, strike may not be full
MS/PR-63 Moderate number/size marks/hairlines, strike may not be full
MS/PR-64 Few marks/hairlines or a couple of severe ones, strike should be average or above
MS/PR-65 Minor marks/hairlines though none in focal areas, above average strike
MS/PR-66 Few minor marks/hairlines not in focal areas, good strike
MS/PR-67 Virtually as struck with minor imperfections, very well struck
MS/PR-68 Virtually as struck with slight imperfections, slightest weakness of strike allowed
MS/PR-69 Virtually as struck with minuscule imperfections, near full strike necessary
MS/PR-70 As struck, with full strike
GV Government issue price