What is grading and how to grade U.S coins?

Coin grading is an important component of coin collecting. It is done in order to assess the quality of a rare coin and determine what its value might be worth.

Should I get my coins graded?

Yes, every coin collector should take the time to have their coins graded. Coin grading (otherwise known as certification) makes it much easier for a collector to sell their coins because they have been inspected by a professional.

By getting coins graded a buyer as well as prospective sellers have a much easier time determining what their coins might be worth.

Also, graded coins are often worth more because they have been verified for quality and authenticity. While coin grading is not a complete science, it is done as objectively as possible using the best experts in the field of numismatics.

What are the five main components of coin grading?

  • strike – A coin’s strike refers to the way an image has been pressed into its surface. The strike may have imperfections that affect its overall grade.
  • surface preservation – The surface preservation of a coin refers to any marks that might have been left by a person or the mint which may have a direct effect on its outward appearance. It may be as minor as a fine line from improper cleaning techniques or as severe as becoming misshapen due to blunt force or an accident.
  • luster – A coin’s luster refers to how shiny its surface is. This sheen is initially created at the mint and may become duller over time due to wear and tear. Luster can be preserved through appropriate cleaning techniques.
  • coloration – A coin’s color will naturally change over time due to its chemical properties. For example, copper coins will naturally change color over time, especially with exposure, circulation, and mishandling. The color of a coin can help determine its position on the grading scale, however, it is the most subjective component of coin grading. Opinions on a coin’s coloration will vary from person to person.
  • eye appeal – Eye appeal plays a smaller role in a coin’s overall grade. However, it can have a huge impact on what the coin ultimately sells for. A coin that has unusually striking features (such as symmetrical wear or interesting weathering patterns) may sell for substantially more money than a coin that has comparable flaws but looks less interesting.

What is the 70 point coin grading scale?

The 70 point coin grading scale was first created by William Herbert Sheldon in 1949. While it was originally created as a way to grade large cents (later replaced by the standard American pennies) it was eventually revamped in 1970s in order to be utilized to assess all coins.

  • 1. (P-1) Poor – A coin that is graded “Poor” is in extremely bad condition. Besides having a date printed on the face it will be barely recognizable.
  • 2. (FR-2) Fair – Coins that have been rated “Fair” are slightly better than a coin rated “Poor.” A coin rated as “Fair” will be smooth around edges which once had ridges and also have significant damage to the face. However, it is in somewhat better condition than a coin rated “Poor”.
  • 3. (G-4) Good – Coins which have been rated “Good” are heavily worn down with most of the details barely recognizable. Inscriptions are often worn together and unreadable to the naked eye.
  • 4. (VG-8) Very Good – Major designs on a coin rated “Very Good” are recognizable but heavily worn. Smaller details on the face and along the ridgeline are virtually undetectable
  • 5. (F-12) Fine – Typically, a coin that is graded “Fine” will have significant wear and tear, however the design features will be visible with all details present on the face.
  • 6. (VF-20) Very Fine – A coin that has been rated “Very Fine” will have at least seventy five perfect of the design still present. While it will show the most wear along the high points and on the face of the coin, most features are clearly apparent.
  • 7. (EF-40) Extremely Fine – A coin that has been rated “Extremely Fine” will be
    in good condition. There might be some very light wearing along the surface or on the ridges, but all finer details will be highly visible.
  • 8. (AU-50) About Uncirculated – The wear on a coin that is ranked “About Uncirculated” will be extremely light and is still lustrous and shiny. These coins are often mistaken for uncirculated coins, and only feature very small traces of wear. They are sometimes referred to as “sliders,” since they are so often mistaken for mint coins.
  • 9. (AU-58) Very Choice About Uncirculated – A coin rated “Very Choice About Uncirculated” is also a coin that could be mistaken as a mint coin but is in better condition than an AU-50 coin. Some numismatists compare these coins to an MS-63 coin with the slightest traces of wear.
  • 10. (MS-60) Mint State Basal – “Mint State Basal Coins” look nearly identical to what they did when they were first minted. They have no wear at the highest points on the coin, however they may have lost their luster or have hairlines that have formed over the years.
  • 11. (MS-63) Mint State Acceptable – A “Mint State Acceptable” coin is one that has been uncirculated, however, the strike is weak to average in quality. Although the appearance is quite attractive there are notable issues with contact marks, hairlines, and luster.
  • 12. (MS-65) Mint State Choice – A coin that ranks as “Mint State Choice” is above average in terms of eye appeal and luster. Contact marks are negligible. Although the luster will be above average, some slight toning of color is acceptable.
  • 13. (MS-68) Mint State Premium Quality – For a coin to qualify as a “Mint State Premium Quality” piece it must have no more than four minor flaws across the coin. These flaws might be strike flaws, scratches, or contact marks and must be very light and not detract from its overall quality.
  • 14. (MS-69) Mint State Almost Perfect – A coin that qualifies as a “Mint State Almost Perfect” piece will have no more than two minor flaws across the surface. These flaws must be very light. Scuff marks and hairline marks will disqualify a coin from reaching a MS-69 rating.
  • 15. (MS-70) Mint State Perfect – A coin that is considered “Mint State Perfect” is very rarely seen and is virtually flawless, both to the naked eye as well as when it’s examined under the microscope. They are perfectly centered and hold no strike flaws, even when studied under 8x magnification. For some denominations a “Mint State Perfect” coin does not exist.

How often should I get my coins graded?

If you think that your coin will be worth more than what it costs to grade and that the benefits outweigh the costs you should grade your coins at least once before you consider selling them.

However, if you suspect that your coins aren’t worth at least as much as it would cost to grade them then you might want to wait a while until their overall value increases. After an initial rating is given your piece shouldn’t need to be reassessed unless something happens and its condition becomes significantly altered.

Should I try to grade my own coins?

Every novice coin collector should become familiar with the 70 point coin grading system, and the best way to familiarize yourself is to grade your own coins every so often.

While grading your own coins won’t earn them a verification letter or a seal of authenticity, it will help you to better understand what professional coin graders are looking for when they are assessing the coins in your collection.

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