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Learn Grading: Hierarchy Of Grades, Designations And Strike Characters

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NGC - Answers to commonly asked questions about "what's better" help shed light on a coin's grade and how different prefixes, strike characters and other factors affect it.

Read More: Learn Grading Series

The language of numismatics can sometimes seem daunting to new collectors. NGC has created the Learn Grading series of articles to help both new and seasoned collectors who want to learn more about how coins are graded and described.

Here we explore some of the most common questions about a coin's grade:

What's a better prefix: MS or a PF?

This question depends on a collector's preference.

Circulation issues, which are also called "business strikes," are coins that are made for commerce or struck in the same manner as coins that are made for commerce. For grades 60 and higher, circulation issues receive the MS prefix to indicate that they are in "Mint State" (Uncirculated). On the other hand, Proof issues are coins that are specially struck for collectors with highly polished dies and planchets. These coins traditionally feature frosted design elements and mirrored fields.

Typically, far fewer Proofs of vintage coins were struck, meaning a Proof coin is generally much rarer than those meant for circulation. However, because Proofs are designed for collectors to save, a high Mint State example of a business strike may be rarer (and more valuable) than a Proof with the same numeric grade. Collectors should familiarize themselves with mintages, census data and price guide information, which can all be done at

Finally, collectors should be aware that different types of Proofs exist. For example, NGC will attribute Reverse Proofs, Enhanced Reverse Proofs and Modified Proofs as REVERSE PF, ENHANCED REV PF and MODIFIED PF, respectively. In the same year, a coin such as an American Silver Eagle may be struck in the traditional Proof format and then again in a special Proof format in a much more limited mintage.

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