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What are Graded Coins?

Before the current coin grading system was developed, all coins were either new, or used. Because this rudimentary—to say the least!—grading system provided so little useful information about a given coin’s real condition, numismatists came up with a more nuanced system to describe a coin’s appearance and estimated value. Now, the term “graded coin” refers to a piece that trained experts have minutely examined and evaluated for its rarity and condition.

The Grading Coin Process

The numismatic value of any given coin depends on three elements: the date and mintmark of the coin, its mintage and population and its condition. This is common knowledge among coin collectors, and may leave a new collector wondering what, exactly, is a graded coin. A coin grade judges a coin's condition in minute increments. Generally speaking, there are five components which determine the grade of a coin: strike, surface preservation, luster, coloration and eye appeal. Coins are meticulously scrutinized during the process of grading. What appears to be an insignificant flaw to a layman can greatly affect graded coin value. Even when done by those at the top of their field, there is a subjective element to coin grading, and experts may slightly disagree about the grade of a given coin. The best way to minimize subjectivity and maintain exacting standards is to use respected coin grading services such as NCG and PCGS. Certified coins assigned a measured grade by a reputable third-party grading service are referred to as “graded coins.”

Coin Grading Tutorials

Knowing what is a graded coin, or certified coin, may awaken greater curiosity about the process of grading coins. Coin grading is an art as well as a science, and it is a lifetime’s work to become an expert. Of course, knowledge, as always, is power. The more a hobbyist knows about grading and graded coin values, the better equipped he is to make smart buying decisions. There are many tutorials on how to grade a coin available for those who wish to learn about the process; we would point you to the educational materials at PCGS and NCG as the best place to begin understanding coin grading. Continuing self-education can come from books and videos available online. 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. That said, understanding how to grade your coin and the shades of difference in the grades can enhance your ability to ballpark coin values.

Anyone wishing to enter into amateur coin grading will need some basic supplies, including a jeweler’s pad or similar to protect your coin in case of droppage, cotton gloves 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 work out how to grade your coins.

Coin Grade Definitions

“Grading standards” refers to the descriptions assigned to each number of the grading scale, which we will examine shortly. Knowing and understanding these descriptions is essential to understanding not only the basics of how to grade your coin but also what details third-party grading services are evaluating.

  • MS/PF70 A coin with no post-production imperfections at 5x magnification.
  • MS/PF69 A fully struck coin with nearly imperceptible imperfections.
  • MS/PF68 Very sharply struck with only miniscule imperfections.
  • MS/PF67 Sharply struck with only a few imperfections.
  • MS/PF66 Very well struck with minimal marks and hairlines.
  • MS/PF65 Well struck with moderate marks or hairlines.
  • MS/PF64 Average or better strike with several obvious marks or hairlines and other miniscule imperfections.
  • MS/PF63 Slightly weak or average strike with moderate abrasions and hairlines of varying sizes.
  • MS/PF62 Slightly weak or average strike with no trace of wear. More or larger abrasions than an MS/PF 63.
  • MS/PF61 Weak or average strike with no trace of wear. More marks and/or multiple large abrasions.
  • MS/PF60 Weak or average strike with no trace of wear. Numerous abrasions, hairlines and/or large marks.
  • AU58 Slight wear on the highest points of the design. Full details.
  • AU55 Slight wear on less than 50% of the design. Full details.
  • AU53 Slight wear on more than 50% of the design. Full details except for very minor softness on the high points.
  • AU50 Slight wear on more than 50% of the design. Full details except for minor softness on the high points.
  • XF45 Complete details with minor wear on some of the high points.
  • XF40 Complete details with minor wear on most of the high points.
  • VF35 Complete details with wear on all of the high points.
  • VF30 Nearly complete details with moderate softness on the design areas.
  • VF25 Nearly complete details with more softness on the design areas.
  • VF20 Moderate design detail with sharp letters and digits.
  • F15 Recessed areas show slight softness. Letters and digits are sharp.
  • F12 Recessed areas show more softness. Letters and digits are sharp.
  • VG10 Wear throughout the design. Letters and digits show softness.
  • VG8 Wear throughout the design. Letters and digits show more softness.
  • G6 Peripheral letters and digits are full. Rims are sharp.
  • G4 Peripheral letters and digits are nearly full. Rims exhibit wear.
  • AG3 Most letters and digits are readable. Rims are worn into the fields.
  • FR2 Some details are visible. Rims are barely visible.
  • PO1 Enough detail to identify the coin's date and type. Rims are flat or nearly flat.

Coin Grading Scale

“Grading scale” refers to the numerical value or grade assigned to a coin. Each number is essentially a code for its physical description, detailed above. This scale has evolved over the time to reflect finer and finer grade distinctions. Originally, coins were graded either new or used, which as you can imagine left far too much room for error in graded coin value. As the collector market grew, so did greater distinction in coin conditions and coin values. Then, in 1948, respected numismatist Dr. William Herbert Sheldon took steps to standardize coin grading, proposing what is now known as the Sheldon Grading Scale. Sheldon’s 1 to 70 grading scale is now the internationally accepted standard in coin grading. It is said that the original theory behind this scale was that a 70-grade coin would be 70 times more valuable than a 1-grade coin.

Of course, it is the application of the Sheldon grading scale that gives it meaning. APMEX recognizes the superiority of two specific third-party grading services, NGC and PCGS. These companies enjoy a worldwide reputation for excellence, and we would not recommend anything less to our esteemed clients. Each of these grading services offers exceptional accuracy and trustworthiness.

Professional Coin Grading Services

Thanks to a respected coin grading scale and a reputation for reliability, PCGS graded coins recognize high values in the marketplace. The company offers:

  • The PCGS Price Guide as a comprehensive list of PCGS coin values for PCGS-graded coins
  • PCGS certification with a money-back guarantee
  • PCGS Photograde™ Online: a tool to approximate the grade of a coin

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation

NGC is the official grading service of the American Numismatic Association and the Professional Numismatists Guild, establishing NGC coin grading as an industry standard. 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 Collector’s Society pay an annual fee so that 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

Many collectors favor one or the other of these grading services based on personal tastes or relationships, but APMEX confidently deals with both NGC and PCGS. We respect their consistency and enthusiastically recommend them both.

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. Look to APMEX for a wide selection of coins certified by PCGS and NGC.

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