Coin Grading Terminology
Coin grading is done both by adjectives and on a 1-70 numeric scale, and standards are developed enough that most collectors will be able to agree on how a coin should look given how the coin's grade is described.
Coin grades are as follows:
- Poor (PO-1): Barely recognizable. Large parts of the design will be completely flat. The date may be barely visible or completely missing. Also known as Basal State.
- Fair (FR-2): Rims worn well into the design. There should be outlines of some of the images visible on both sides of the coin, but the lettering may be completely gone. Enough of the date should be visible to identify the coin.
- About Good (AG-3): Most of the design of the coin will be outlined, but the rims will generally have worn far enough into the design to obliterate parts of the lettering or stars. Sometimes referred to as Almost Good.
- Good (G-4, 6): The general design of the coin will be outlined, but there will be very little detail and some parts may be very weak. For the most part, the rim will be intact, but it may wear down to the tops of the letters or stars in some cases. Non-collectors will often refer to their coins as being in "Good" condition; a coin grading Good is a very worn coin.
- Very Good (VG-8, 10): The coin will have medium to heavy wear, but some details will still be visible. As a rule of thumb, for seated coins, Barber coins, Liberty Nickels, and Indian Head Cents, three or more letters of LIBERTY will be visible.
- Fine (F-12, 15): The coin will have medium wear, with quite a few details visible and some high spots obviously worn away. As a rule of thumb, for seated coins, Barber coins, Liberty Nickels, and Indian Head Cents, all seven letters of LIBERTY will be visible, although some may be very weak.
- Very Fine (VF-20, 25, 30, 35): The coin will have medium to light wear overall, and all general details will be visible. As a rule of thumb, for seated coins, Barber coins, Liberty Nickels, and Indian Head Cents, all seven letters of LIBERTY will be visible and strong.
- Extremely Fine (XF-40, 45): The coin has light wear over the high points only. There may be some traces of mint luster. Also, commonly abbreviated as EF.
- About Uncirculated (AU-50, 53, 55, 58): The coin has wear ranging from extremely light to only a trace of friction on the highest points, along with medium to nearly full luster. AU-58 coins have so little wear that they are often mistaken for Uncirculated coins, hence the nickname "Slider", and in some cases, are more attractive than low-end uncirculated coins. It has been said that an AU-58 coin is an MS-63 coin with a trace of wear. AU is sometimes referred to as Almost Uncirculated.
The above grades refer to circulated coins only, and are meant as general guides only. Standards can vary from type to type and sometimes even from date to date depending on factors such as design and striking standards. For instance, there is much more tolerance of missing parts of the date on Buffalo Nickels and pre-1925 Standing Liberty Quarters than on most other coins because the date is one of the high points of these two designs. All circulated coins will have at least a trace of wear; as a result, no circulated coin may grade higher than AU-58.
Coins with no wear at all are alternately referred to as Uncirculated (Unc.), Brilliant Uncirculated (BU), and Mint State (MS). When a numerical grade is assigned to an uncirculated coin, it goes along with the abbreviation MS, such as MS-60.
It is important to note that Uncirculated and similar terms refer only to the fact that the coin has no wear. The presence or absence of bagmarks, toning (discoloration), or a strong strike does not affect a coin's Uncirculated status, although such things can affect the numerical grade of the coin.
- Uncirculated (MS-60, 61, 62): An uncirculated coin with noticeable deficiencies, generally either an overabundance of bagmarks, a poor strike, or poor luster. Although most price guides will give a price for coins in MS-60 condition, in many cases this is a very unusual grade, with typical uncirculated pieces often grading somewhere in the MS-62 to MS-64 range depending on the series.
- Select Uncirculated (MS-63): An uncirculated coin with fewer deficiencies than coins in lower uncirculated grades. In general, this will be an uncirculated coin with relatively ordinary eye appeal. Select Uncirculated is sometimes used to refer to a coin grading MS-62.
- Choice Uncirculated (MS-64): An uncirculated coin with moderate distracting marks or deficiencies. These coins generally have average to above average eye appeal. Choice Uncirculated is sometimes used to refer to a coin grading MS-63.
- Gem Uncirculated (MS-65, 66): An uncirculated coin with only minor distracting marks or imperfections. At this point, mint luster is expected to be full, although toning is quite acceptable.
- Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-67, 68, 69): An uncirculated coin with only the slightest distracting marks or imperfections. Toning is still quite acceptable and in these grades, will usually be pleasing. Many circulating coins even of relatively recent dates are quite rare in such lofty grades, although modern bullion coins and commemoratives are often found in grades as high as MS-69.
- Perfect Uncirculated (MS-70): An utterly flawless coin.
Proof is not a grade. The term refers to a method of manufacture rather than the condition of the coin. Proof coins are graded exactly as other coins of the series, yet always receive the abbreviation PR (sometimes PF). If a proof coin has wear, then it is called an Impaired Proof, and will receive the grade appropriate to the amount of wear it has. It is quite possible for a coin to be graded PR-12, for example.
The above grades are independent of the age of the coin, and when a novice says that a coin "is in good condition for its age," it almost invariably means that the coin is well worn.
Grades do not consider problems with the coin such as cleaning, corrosion, damage, and the like. However, ANACS has made a market niche for itself by grading and encapsulating coins with problems, noting both the level of wear and the problems of the coin, and assigning a Net Grade which takes both into account while attempting to find the grade that best fits their opinion of what the coin would sell for in the open market.