Grading Coins - Appraising Your Coin Collection

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Copyright 2015 by Kevin Flynn, All Rights Reserved

Coin grading is an important part of coin collecting. It is the most important thing that you need to learn if you really want to collect coins. The grading of coins has to do with how much wear or circulation the coin has received. More use leads to the coin’s design becoming more worn. This in turn affects the coin’s condition and value. Always remember the grade of a coin is based on personal opinion. If someone tells you it is one grade and you disagree, then you should not buy the coin. There are no experts. Each person grades differently and you must learn to grade and trust your own experience that you learn through examining many different coins.

There are many books that can help you learn how to grade coins. Two of the standard books are: Photograde, and Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins. These books are helpful tools, but the best way to learn how to grade coins is to examine various graded coins and see the differences on the coin.

It is important when examining coins to use the right lighting and magnification. Four to eight power magnification should be fine. Ten power or more should be used to study small differences in a coin and to determine grading. When examining a coin, hold the coin on its edges between your fingertips. Make sure a soft padded surface is beneath the coin in case it is dropped. Tilt the coin at an angle so that the light reflects from the coin’s surface to your eye. By tilting or turning the coin, different parts of the coin can be observed. Try not to breathe on coins, especially copper coins, and do not talk while holding one in front of you.

The grade of a coin reflects the condition. Wear, contact marks, hairlines, scratches, nicks, color, luster, and eye appeal all contribute to the grade of a coin. The grade of a coin is one of the most important factors in establishing the value of a coin. Grades for coins made for circulation are from 0 through 70, with 70 being perfect. Coins that show no signs of wear are assigned a grade of 60 through 70 and are known as Uncirculated (Unc) or Mint State (MS). The following are some of the general terms and standards used in the hobby to describe the grade of the coin. These descriptions are general; the exact descriptions will differ from series to series.

The basic circulated grades are given first. Lincoln cents are shown as an example for each grade.

The design of the coin is the main image. For example, on the Lincoln cent, the obverse design is the image of President Lincoln. The lettering or legend are usually the lettering around the rim of the coin. The date is the date the coin was struck, which is usually at the bottom of the front of the coin. The highest point on the coin is the part of the design that is raised the highest above the surface of the coin and usually will begin to wear first.

The most important thing to learn about grading is that the more coins you study, the better you will be at telling what grade a coin is. Study as many coins as you can and compare coins to see differences.

General Descriptions of Circulated Grades

About Good (AG-3)

Very heavily worn. Design worn smooth, but the general outline is still visible. Most of letters around the rim are only partially visible. The date is worn but visible, allowing you to tell which year the coin was struck.


Good (G-4)

Heavily worn. Most of the design is worn flat, but major parts of the design are visible. Letters around rim are worn but mostly visible. Date is fully visible.


Very Good (VG-8)

Well worn. Major features of design flat, but visible. Letters around rim are clear.


Fine (F-12)

Moderate to considerable wear. Entire design is bold, with some higher points visible.


Very Fine (VF-20)

Moderate wear on high points of design. Major details are clear.


Extremely Fine (EF-40)

Only slight wear. Major features of design are sharp and well defined.


About Uncirculated (AU-50)

Traces of light wear seen on most of the highest points of the design.


General Descriptions of Mint State Grades

Mint State coins show no signs of wear. The grade of a Mint State coin is based on the coin’s luster, number of bag marks, scuff marks, location of marks, color of the coin, and eye appeal. Remember, what grade one dealer or collector might consider a coin will usually vary from another dealer. It is always best to learn to grade yourself. The following are some general descriptions of Mint State coins:


Many possible large contact marks, hairlines or scuff marks throughout. Possible rim nicks. Poor eye appeal. Surfaces may be dull or spotted. Dull luster.


Only a few scattered large contact marks in prime areas, numerous small contact marks. A few small scattered patches of hairlines in secondary areas. Several possible scuff marks in fields and on the design. Attractive eye appeal. Surfaces have some original color. Luster may be slightly impaired.


One or two large contact marks in prime areas or a few small contact marks. One or two small patches of hairlines. A few scuff marks on high points of design. Very pleasing eye appeal. Surfaces have full original color or tone. Attractive average luster throughout.


Perfect coin. Outstanding eye appeal. Surfaces bright with lustrous original color. Very attractive blazing luster.

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Copyright 2015 by Kevin Flynn, All Rights Reserved

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