What Are Certified and Graded Coins?

Published on 1/21/2022 by APMEX

Two coins that were graded by PCGS and NGC.

A coin’s grade, or state of preservation denotes the coin of Gold or Silver bullion item's condition in minute increments. Coins and bullion are graded based on the Sheldon scale, which grades items on a scale from 1 (barely recognizable) to 70 (absolute mark-free perfection). Five components determine the grade of a coin: strike, surface preservation, luster, toning and eye appeal. Coins are meticulously scrutinized during the process of grading. What appears to be an insignificant minor flaw to the untrained eye can significantly affect the graded coin's value. While there may be a subjective element to coin grading, all coins that are professionally graded, are graded by multiple graders and they offer a consensus opinion. Their consensus opinion is accepted widely by the marketplace.

The best way to minimize subjectivity and maintain exacting standards is to use two widely respected coin grading services – the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC). Certified coins assigned a measured grade by a reputable third-party grading service are referred to as graded coins. These two grading services are, by far, the most accurate and reliable grading companies. APMEX does not currently sell coins graded by most other grading services.

Coin Grading Tutorials

Knowing what a graded coin is, or certified coin, may awaken greater curiosity about the process of grading coins. Coin grading is an art and a science, and it is a lifetime's work to become an expert. Of course, knowledge is power. The more a collector or investor knows about grading and graded coin values, the better equipped they are to make smart buying decisions.

There are many tutorials on grading a coin for those who wish to learn about the process. Unsurprisingly, the educational materials at PCGS and NGC may be the best place to begin. However, no private individual's grades make a difference when selling a coin. Only coins graded by a reputable third-party grading service are considered certified coins.

Anyone wishing to participate in amateur coin grading will need some basic supplies, including a jeweler's pad to protect your coin in case of an accidental drop, cotton gloves, a darkened room, a lamp with a 60-watt incandescent bulb and a 5x magnifier. The most important thing to remember is not to damage your coin while handling it. You may also wish to practice photographing coins with your camera or smartphone to capture images as you learn how to grade your coins.

Coin Grading Scale

All graded coins receive a grade and numerical value along with the Sheldon Grading Scale. Each number is essentially a code for the coin's physical description, detailed below. This scale has evolved to reflect finer grade distinctions.

Originally, coins were graded either new (Uncirculated) or used (Circulated), which, as you can imagine, left far too much room for error in graded coin value. As the collector market grew, the need for more significant distinctions in coin conditions and coin values increased. Then, in 1948, numismatist Dr. William Herbert Sheldon took steps to standardize the coin grading process, proposing what is now known as the Sheldon Grading Scale. Sheldon's 1 to 70 grading scale is the internationally accepted standard in grading coins and it is now also applied to currency. The original theory behind this scale was that a specific coin with a 70-grade would be 70 times more valuable than a 1-grade coin.

Coin Grading Standards

  • MS/PR-70 (Mint State/Proof): A coin with no post-production imperfections at 5x magnification.
  • MS/PR-69: A fully struck coin with nearly imperceptible imperfections.
  • MS/PR-68: Very sharply struck with only minuscule imperfections.
  • MS/PR-67: Sharply struck with only a few imperfections.
  • MS/PR-66: Very well struck with minimal marks and hairlines.
  • MS/PR-65: Well struck with moderate marks or hairlines.
  • MS/PR-64: Average or better strike with several obvious marks, hairlines and other minuscule imperfections.
  • MS/PR-63: Slightly weak or average strike with moderate abrasions and hairlines of varying sizes.
  • MS/PR-62: Slightly weak or average strike with no trace of wear. More or larger abrasions than an MS/PF-63.
  • MS/PR-61: Weak or average strike with no trace of wear. More marks and/or multiple large abrasions.
  • MS/PR-60: Weak or average strike with no trace of wear. Numerous abrasions, hairlines and/or large marks.
  • AU-58 (About Uncirculated): Slight wear on the highest points of the design. Full details.
  • AU-55: Slight wear on less than 50% of the design. Full details.
  • AU-53: Slight wear on more than 50% of the design. Full details, except for very minor softness on the high points.
  • AU-50: Slight wear on more than 50% of the design. Full details, except for minor softness on the high points.
  • XF-45 (Extremely Fine): Complete details with minor wear on some of the high points.
  • XF-40: Complete details with minor wear on most of the high points.
  • VF-35 (Very Fine): Complete details with wear on all the high points.
  • VF-30: Nearly complete details with moderate softness on the design areas.
  • VF-25: Nearly complete details with more softness on the design areas.
  • VF-20:Moderate design detail with sharp letters and digits.
  • F-15 (Fine): Recessed areas show slight softness. Letters and digits are sharp.
  • F-12: Recessed areas show more softness. Letters and digits are sharp.
  • VG-10 (Very Good): Wear throughout the design. Letters and digits show softness.
  • VG-8: Wear throughout the design. Letters and digits show more softness.
  • G-6 (Good): Peripheral letters and digits are full. Rims are sharp.
  • G-4: Peripheral letters and digits are nearly full. Rims exhibit wear.
  • AG-3 (About Good): Most letters and digits are readable. Rims are worn into the fields.
  • FR-2 (Fair): Some details are visible. Rims are barely visible.
  • PO-1 (Poor): Enough detail to identify the coin's date and type. Rims are flat or nearly flat.
  • Ungradable: Date and mintmark of the coin are undetectable, which is necessary for grading.

Professional Coin Grading Services (PCGS)

Due to PCGS's respected coin grading standards and esteemed reputation for reliability, PCGS-graded coins recognize high values in the marketplace, since the company’s inception in 1986. The company offers countless benefits for collectors and investors alike, including:

  • The PCGS Price Guide is a comprehensive list of PCGS coin values for PCGS-graded coins.
  • PCGS certification with a money-back guarantee.
  • PCGS FirstStrike® + APMEX MintDirect® Premier is a partnership to extend designation long after the typical eligibility cutoff.
  • PCGS Photograde™ Online, a tool to approximate the grade of a coin.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC)

NGC is the official grading service of the American Numismatic Association and the Professional Numismatists Guild, establishing NGC coin grading as an industry-standard since 1987. Other distinctions include:

  • The NGC Collectors Society, an online resource and community where members can discuss NGC coin values and NGC coin prices. Members of the NGC Collectors Society pay an annual fee so they can directly submit coins for NGC certification.
  • NGC coin grading scale with a special star designation for coins with exceptional eye appeal, increasing NGC coin values.
  • NGC certification number that can be verified online along with NGC Price Guide Values.

Certified coins make strong additions to every collection. Proven quality, authenticity and protection make graded coins desirable to anyone interested in building a valuable collection. Graded coins are also the easiest coins to liquidate when the time comes to sell them. APMEX carries a wide selection of coins certified by PCGS and NGC.

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