Grading Coins-starting from the highest grade to the lowest

Grading coins is a term used to refer to the process of determining the condition or quality of your coins. It is essential to know what the grade of a particular coin is, because, as a general matter, the higher the grade of a coin, the higher its numismatic value.

Coins are most often graded these days on a 0-70 point scale devised many years ago by Dr William Shelby and documented at some length in the "Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins" published by the American Numismatic Association. Under this method of grading, the higher the point scale accorded a particular coin, the better its quality.

The process of coin grading, being somewhat subjective, is more of an art than a science. While accurate grading requires skill and experience, determining an approximate grading is possible for even a novice coin collector.

The following sets out the basic characteristics and most commonly assigned point scales that define coin grading, starting from the highest grade to the lowest.

Mint State Perfect Uncirculated (MS-70)

This coin is a mint state un-circulated coin in perfect condition, showing no traces of wear, blemishes, scratches, handling or contact with other coins. This is the best quality coin possible.

Choice Uncirculated (MS-65)

An above average un-circulated coin which retains all of the original mint brilliance or luster but has a very few contact marks on the surface or rim which are barely noticeable.

Un-circulated (MS-60)

An un-circulated coin having no traces of wear but which has a few contact marks, surface spotting or lacks some of its original luster.

Choice About Uncirculated (AU-55)

This is a coin having very light wear on only the highest points of the design, but no other defects and with most of its luster remaining.

About Un-circulated (AU-50)

Coin has evidence of light wear on many of the high points but at least half of the mint luster is still present.

Extremely Fine (EF-40)

The coin design is lightly worn in most places but all the features remain sharp and well defined.

Choice Very Fine (VF-30)

Light even wear on the surface and highest parts of the design but most major features and the lettering are sharp.

Very Fine (VF-20)

Minor features such as some of the finer hair detail, feathers, etc. will be moderately worn. Shows moderate wear on high points of design. All major details are clear.

Fine (F-12)

Moderate to considerable even wear over most features and the lettering. A lot of the details are worn through but you can still see a good deal of the design.

Very Good (VG-8)

The entire design is weak, but a few details are visible. Well worn throughout but coin rims still visible.

Good (G-4)

The coin is heavily worn but design and legend still visible although quite weak in spots. Many details are gone.

About Good (AG-3)

This coin is very heavily worn with portions of lettering, date and legends worn smooth and barely discernable.

When there are significant differences between the obverse and reverse sides, a split grade may be assigned. Split grades are denoted with a "/". For example, "F/VF" means that the obverse is F and the reverse is VF.

The overall grade is often determined by the obverse. An intermediate value may be appropriate when the difference is significant, especially if the reverse is lower. A coin graded MS-60/61 would be considered to have an overall grade of MS-60 and another at MS-65/63 could be considered to have an overall grade of MS-64.