Last updated on February 27th, 2023 at 12:10 pm
Last Updated on February 27, 2023 Posted by Colonial Acres Coins
If you are interested in collecting coins, you likely know that examples can vary substantially in quality. Some look like they have come directly from the mint while others may be severely worn and even damaged. To help standardize the assessment of coin quality, numismatists use the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale. At first glance, this can seem very confusing. However, it is easier to learn than you may think.
Standardizing Coin Grading
When buying and selling coins, the parties need some way of evaluating the relative value of one coin versus another. While concepts like “good,” “bad,” “pristine” and “worn” can be useful in basic coin collecting, the lack of precision becomes an issue for more advanced transactions. The Sheldon Scale is the answer to this problem. It gives coin collectors a standard way of describing the quality and, subsequently, assigning value.
How the Scale Works
Although it can look like a confusing jumble of letters and numbers, the scale is actually very simple. A coin is assigned a number grade based on quality. These range from one, meaning a poor-quality coin with significant wear, to 70, meaning a perfect coin with no perceivable damage even when magnified. The degree of wear, or the depth of the relief, is the primary consideration in grading a coin. Impairments such as corrosion or scratches are usually noted separately.
Of course, having 70 different grades is a little unwieldy in some cases, so the numbers are grouped based on general quality. A 32 is slightly better than a 31, but both are considered Choice Very Fine. Typically, the grade is written with the grade class followed by the number. So, a 60 would be MS-60 for mint state 60.
Grades You Should Know
The first 59 grades are circulated coins, meaning that they have been actively used and will have wear. Most older coins fit into these grades unless they have been specially preserved. Grades 60 to 70 are reserved for uncirculated coins.
- 1 – Poor/PO: These coins can be identified but are heavily worn. They are the worst level of damage among graded coins.
- 2 – Fair/FR: These have a little more detail than poor coins but are still highly worn.
- 3 – About Good/AG: The date and type are distinguishable but other parts are worn.
- 4 – Good/G: The major features are all clear with evident outlines. However, the coin is still worn.
- 6 – Choice Good/G+: The rim is fully discernible with clear outlines but heavy wear.
- 8 – Very Good/VG: The writing is readable, and the rim has clear features, but the coin is worn.
- 12 – Fine/F: The features show some detail but there is moderate wear.
- 20 – Very Fine/VF: The coin has strong detail and little wear on the low points. The high points show some wear.
- 30 – Choice Very Fine/Ch. VF: The coin has little wear other than at the highest points.
- 40 – Extremely Fine/Ex. F: The text and features are sharp with only slight wear at the high points.
- 45 – Choice Extremely Fine/Ch. Ex. F: The text and features are sharp, and the coin has good eye appeal. There may be some wear at high points.
- 50 – About Uncirculated/AU: The coin has some remnant of mint luster and excellent detail.
- 55 – Choice About Uncirculated/Ch. AU: The details are very sharp and there is a lot of mint luster left.
- 58 & 59 – Choice About Uncirculated/Ch. AU: The coin appears almost as if it is fresh from the mint, despite having been circulated.
- 60-70 – Mint State/MS: These coins were uncirculated. A 60 may look worse than a 59 despite being uncirculated because the striking process itself can introduce imperfections A 70 is a perfect, flawless coin.
With the above information, you can better determine the relative value of a coin example. To upgrade your expertise, Colonial Acres carries a guide to grading. Colonial Acres has a variety of both circulated and uncirculated Canadian coins and other currencies from around the world. Check out our catalogue today and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions about the coins in your collection.