Coin Grading in the US

In the US, coins are graded according to a scale that was created by the American Numismatic Association (ANA). This scale is a modified version of the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale, which is used, in one form or another, to grade coins in most countries.

This scale begins at 1 and goes all of the way up to 70, with many key milestones along the way. Everyone can follow these grades to determine how a coin should be listed, but official grading can only be done by a professional grading company. If the grading is professional, then it will usually be preceded by the initials or the name of the grading company and followed by a precise number. If not, it may only list the grade.

The American Numismatic Association

Formed in 1891, the goal of the American Numismatic Association is to advance the knowledge of numismatics. It is a not-for-profit organization that is based in the state of Colorado and has more than 20,000 members. If you’re looking to get involved with coin collecting and to learn more about this great hobby, then the American Numismatic Association is a good place to start.

Circulated

These coins were minted for circulation and tend to show a lot of wear and tear as a result. Older coins and rarer coins may still be valuable, even if they are classed as circulated, but typically that value will be heavily dependent on the grading of the coin. These grades are:

  •         Not Abbreviated — Poor (1)
  •         Not Abbreviated+ — Fair (2)
  •         AG — About/Almost Good (3)
  •         G — Good (4)
  •         G+ — Choice Good (6)
  •         VG —Very Good (8)
  •         VG+ — Choice Very Good (10)
  •         F — Fine (12)
  •         F+ — Choice Fine (15)
  •         VF — Very Fine (20)
  •         VF+ — Choice Very Fine (30)
  •         Ex. Fine — Extremely Fine (40)
  •         Ch.Ex.Fine — Choice Extremely Fine (45)
  •         AU — About/Almost Uncirculated (50)
  •         Ch.AU — Choice About/Almost Uncirculated (55)

Uncirculated

These coins may have been struck for circulation or they may have been struck as commemorative/collectable pieces. Either way, to be classified as uncirculated, they must not have entered circulation and must not show signs of wear. They may still have a number of flaws though, including marks and discoloration, which is where the grading system comes into play. Uncirculated grades use the initials “MS”, which stands for “Mint State”. This basically means that the coins are in the same state as when they left the mint, although age, bag marks and flaws in production can mean that these coins are far from perfect.

Uncirculated grades begin at “MS-60” and go all of the way up to “MS-70”. The latter of these grades is very rare and describes coins that are “as struck”, which means they are free from any flaws and are in perfect condition.

Proof

There is also a scale for proof coins. Numbers 1 through to 59 indicate an impaired and heavily flawed proof, and numbers 60 through to 70 indicate one that is in much better condition, with these grades mirroring those in the uncirculated scale. Because of their similarities, these two scales are often used interchangeably.

Glossary Of Important Terms

To understand coin grading in greater detail, you need to understand the terms used to describe minting methods, flaws and more. There are dozens of such terms, most of which will mean very little to an outsider. These are the most common:

  •         Altered Date: A coin that has been given a fraudulent date to defraud collectors.
  •         Bag Mark: Small marks that appear on the surface of the coin and are a result of the coin being placed in a mint bag where other coins rub against it. Also known as “Contact Marks”.
  •         Beading: A raised, spotted border on the rim of a coin.
  •         Certified Coin: These coins have been graded and verified by a professional.
  •         Die: An instrument used to strike coins.
  •         Die Defect: An imperfection that is the direct result of a damaged die.
  •         Edge: The rim of a coin.
  •         Encapsulated Coin: A coin that has been graded, certified and placed in a sealed capsule.
  •         Hammered: A coin that has been struck by hand.
  •         Inscription: The wording on the coin.
  •         Key Coin: A rare coin in an otherwise common series.
  •         Legend: The main inscription on a coin.
  •         Luster: A finish that is applied to the coin to give it shine and make it reflective.
  •         Mint Mark: Letters or symbols on a coin that denote where it was minted.
  •         Mint State: Synonymous with the term “Uncirculated”.
  •         NCLT: Non Circulating Legal Tender.
  •         Obverse: The “head” side of a coin.
  •         Over Graded: A coin in a worse state than its grading suggests.
  •         Proof: High quality coins made for collecting purposes.
  •         Reverse: The “tails” side of a coin.
  •         Uncirculated: A coin that has never entered circulation.