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Learn About Coin Grading

For more than 30 years, collectors and investors have valued the third-party grading system, which provides independent assessment and certification. APMEX has taken an industry-leading step in making it easier than ever for shoppers to compare and buy certified coins. Learn more about coin grading below or discover CoinGrade+® here.

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Why is coin grading important?

Coin ratings allow multiple parties to agree on the state of preservation of a particular coin. Similar coins, of the same date and mintmark, are valued similarly when their state of preservation is the same. One coin that is bright and new-looking is generally valued higher than the same coin that has been worn and does not look brand new. Instinctively, people gravitate toward the coin that “looks better” than a similar coin that looks older or more worn. However, lower grades are not without their own unique appeal. Many collectors search for these “low-ball” examples rather than the popular high-grade coins.

why is coin grading important

How did coin grading start?

coin grading

Prior to 1985, there were a small handful of coin grading services. For a fee, these companies would examine a coin, then take a hi-resolution photo of the coin and send the coin and photo back to the owner. The photograph would state the grade of the coin. In 1985, a group of coin dealers got together in hopes of standardizing the coin grading process. Since some elements of grading coins are subjective, definitive standards were of critical importance. Grading needed to be consistent for each certified coin. They also developed a sealed holder (“slab”) to protect and guarantee the coin’s condition. Coin certification is now standard across metals and country, easing the minds of buyers and sellers.

What parts of a coin are important to grading?

To understand the many aspects of coin grading, it is wise to familiarize yourself with the parts of the coin.

detailed coin fields

What is the Sheldon Grading Scale?

In the 1940s, coin collectors realized the higher the state of preservation of a coin, the higher a price one would pay for that coin. Dr. William Sheldon, a psychologist and numismatist, developed a scale that gave coins “points” for displaying certain details. This system was devised for U.S. Large Cents (coins issued between 1793 and 1857) but was soon adopted for all U.S. coins. The Sheldon Grading Scale has since been universally accepted, even internationally. It rates coins with “wear” as circulated coins from grades 1 (poor and barely identifiable) to 58 (almost like new). Uncirculated coins (those with no sign of wear on them) are graded from 60 (lots of marks but no wear) to 70 (perfect in every way).

coin grades - poor condition coin Poor (PR)(1)
coin grades - fair condition coin Fair (FR)(2)
coin grades - about/almost good condition coin About/Almost Good (AG)(3)
coin grades - good condition coin Good (G)(4-6)
coin grades - very good condition coin Very Good (VG)(8-10)
coin grades - fine condition coin Fine (F)(12-15)
very fine condition coin Very Fine (VF)(20-35)
extremely fine condition coin Extremely Fine (XF/EF)(40-45)
about/almost uncirculated condition coin About/Almost Uncirculated (AU)(50-58)
uncirculated/bu condition coin Uncirculated/BU (UNC)(Mint State 60-62)
choice brilliant uncirculated coin Choice Brilliant Uncirculated (Mint State)(63-64)
gem brilliant uncirculated condition coin Gem Brilliant Uncirculated (Mint State)(65-66)
superb gem brilliant uncirculated condition coin Superb Gem Brilliant Uncirculated (Mint State)(67)
ultra gem brilliant uncirculated condition coin Ultra Gem Brilliant Uncirculated (Mint State)(68-70)

Specialty Proof Coins

Proof coins are struck specifically for collectors and feature sharp devices with mirrored fields. The blank planchets are polished and struck at least two times. Proof coins have fields that appear to be black. Some of these coins may have a Cameo, or frosted, appearance while others may exhibit a Deep Cameo (DCAM) surface.
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proof coin Proof
cameo proof coin Cameo
deep proof like coin DPL/DMPL (Deep Proof Like/Deep Mirror Proof Like)

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