The Comprehensive Guide To Grading Your Coins

Grading coins is necessary to determine their real market value. In most cases, the coin’s value is gauged based on the clarity of its details and any wear or damage that may have an impact on the details. The Sheldon Grading Scale, designed by Dr. William Sheldon in 1949, was the standard coin grading system used by coin dealers.

Suppose you’re a novice numismatist or a coin collector. In that case, you may consider knowing how to grade coins. This way, you can determine the actual value of the coins you’d trade. Furthermore, you may know if coin dealers are selling you the coins at the right price. So, here’s an article you can read to delve deeper into how coins are graded. Keep on reading!

The 70-Point Numeric Scale

The Sheldon Scale is a 70-point coin grading system that ranges from 1 (Poor) to 70 (Perfect Mint State). The scale has had various interpretations in the past leading to much confusion in comparing and contrasting coins. As a result, many numismatists agree on a single understanding of the 70-point scale.

In most cases, coin grading is practiced by coin collectors and traders. You may look for more information in coin shops for more ideas. For the 70-point numeric scale and their respective descriptions, you may dive into the following:

1. Poor (P1)

This refers to generally damaged coins with barely recognizable dates and mintmark details.

2. Fair (FR2)

This has more explicit details than Poor types but has barely visible rims. Although the date and mintmark are identifiable, most elements are worn.

3. About Good (AG3)

This coin generally has readable date and mintmark details but has worn-out yet distinguishable rims.

4. Good (G4)

The peripheral details are nearly complete but almost merge with the rims because of the latter’s wearing.

5. Very Good (VG8)

The peripheral inscriptions are clearer and softer than G4. The design is evident yet faint.

6. Very Good (VG10)

The designs show moderate signs of wear, but inscriptions are somehow distinguishable.

7. Fine (F12)

Its overall design is sharp because of the clear recess. It exhibits uniform wear along the edges.

8. Fair (F15)

The inscriptions are sharp, although the recessed portions are slightly soft.

9. Very Fine (VF20)

The coin is moderately worn, but the inscriptions generally have fine details.

10. Very Fine (VF25)

The design area is generally soft with generally clear inscriptions.

11. Very Fine (VF30)

The coin has almost complete details. The design area is moderately soft.

12. Extremely Fine (XF40)

The details are complete and refined but are moderately worn on the high points.

13. About Uncirculated (AU50)

More than half of the coin’s designs are slightly worn—complete details with slight softness on the high points.

14. Very Choice About Uncirculated (AU58)

It has full details with standard eye appeal and no significant marks. It may have a slight indication of wear on high points.

15. Mint State Basal (MS60)

It has identifiable contact marks and hairlines but no indication of wear on the high points. However, it has a toned-down luster.

16. Mint State Acceptable (MS63)

It has hairlines of different sizes and restrained abrasions. It has a proper appeal and subdued luster. The strike ranges from average to weak.

17. Mint State Choice (MS65)

The strike is above average. It has an excellent appearance, minimal contact marks, and a solid mint luster.

18. Mint State Premium Quality (MS68)

It’s sharply struck yet with no visible contact marks. It has superior eye appeal and exceptional luster.

19. Mint State Almost Perfect (MS69)

It’s perfectly struck, with exceptional luster and eye appeal. In some cases, it has almost invisible flaws that can only be identified under 8x magnification.

20. Mint State Perfect (MS70)

In this mint state, no flaws are visible even under 8X magnification. It has superior luster and extraordinary eye appeal. Plus, it’s also perfectly struck and centered.

The Three Strike Types

Before learning how to grade coins, you must consider studying the different strike types. Many coin dealers believe these categories affect the coin’s value because each minting technique clarifies or blurs the coin’s details.

For an in-depth understanding, you may look into the following:

  • Proof Strike

In most cases, coins that underwent proof strike have the most precise details. Its process ensures that the coins produced are unscraped, unscratched, and undamaged. To make this happen, the production workers use special tools, such as a unique horsehair brush, a laser-engraved frosting, and soft-tipped tweezers. The planchet is also carefully struck to produce a high-quality finish.

  • Special Mint Set Strike

This type can be a notch lower than the Proof Strike. Similar to the Proof Strike’s process, this method also employs special treatment of planchets and blacks, unique preparation of the die, and the careful post-production handling of the coins.

Most of these coins came from the 1965-1967 Special Mint Set Strike period when a coin shortage occurred in the country. These coins and other precious metals, are often the subject of auctions.

  • Circulation Strike

This group may have the lowest quality because of the rapid production process. Apart from the speed, the making of the Circulation Strike coins comes in bulk, averaging 1 billion coins per month. Because of this, most coins in this group are of inferior quality.

However, there are rare cases when Circulation Strike Coins with excellent quality show up. This is often attributed to the coins that have slipped through the process and transferred between minting facilities. These coins can be graded similarly to the top-quality types as long as they share the same detail clarity and visibility.

How To Grade Coins Your Way

Now that you know the standard categories for grading coins and the three strike types, you may need to know the steps to grade these coins. For that purpose, here are the steps to follow:

1. Study The Scale

Before gauging the coins, you may have already run through the Sheldon Scale to be familiar with the different grades. Bear in mind that each rate isn’t proportional, which means that the difference between Mint State Basal 60 (MS60) and Mint State Perfect 70 (MS70) isn’t exactly as the disparity between Extremely Fine 40 (XF40) and About Uncirculated (AU50).

2. Prepare A Well-Lit Table

Aside from a clean and wide table where you can work properly, you may also need a 75-watt white bulb. Keep the bulb 12 inches from where you position the coins you’d grade. You may also need a clear magnifier that can enlarge the coin’s details up to 8 times.

3. Identify The Coin’s Group

Before grading the coin based on the Sheldon Scale, you must determine if it’s Uncirculated, About Uncirculated, or Circulated. Uncirculated types refer to coins that weren’t included in the regular money supply. In most cases, these coins have the slightest signs of wear.

On the other hand, About Circulated coins refer to the types used in the money supply for a short period. These types have visible signs but not as much as the Circulated types—the coins distributed for use.

4. Hold The Coin With Care

In grading the coins, you may use a pair of gloves to look into the edges, rims, and inscriptions. Tilt the coin to see it from different angles or look closely at the opposite sides. While holding the coin gently, ensure that you’re still holding it properly to prevent it from falling and damaging its details.

5. Use A Reference

If it’s your first time grading a coin, you may use a reference, such as a coin chart with pictures. This way, you may only need to compare the coin’s details from your reference. You may compare the similarities and differences if you have already previously identified coins in your collection.

Apart from the coin chart and the actual graded coins, you may purchase The Official ANA Grading Standards or its counterparts for more references. You may also ask a senior numismatist to assist you on your first try. 

Professional Coin Grading Vs. DIY Coin Grading

If you’re in limbo between bringing your coins to a professional coin grading services company or doing it yourself, you may need to weigh the pros and cons of your options. In choosing professional grading, consider the costs of the process.

In many cases, the payment is more than USD$20, depending on the maximum coin value. On the contrary, professional coin graders can provide authentic evaluation, paving the way for a precise appraisal.

On the other hand, DIY coin grading is cheaper. In addition, it favors the numismatists who want to keep their precious coins in privacy. However, novice coin graders may lack training and skills, thus resulting in inaccurate coin grading.

Final Thoughts

Grading coins can be a real challenge, especially for people just beginning their journey as numismatists. Fortunately, various guides and charts can assist a novice coin collector in understanding and practicing coin grading fundamentals. Suppose you’re into coin collection. In that case, you should learn the basics of coin grading so you can determine how valuable your coins are. You may consider reading this article, consulting a professional coin grader, or reading a book on the subject.

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