What is Coin Grading & Why Does it Matter?

If you’re new to numismatics, or coin collecting, you likely have seen coins being labeled with a certain grade in your research and purchasing. It can be hard to decipher what each grade means, and which coins are a good value for the grade.

Here, we’ll provide a brief overview of coin grading, and why it matters!

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What is coin grading?

Coin grading is the system by which coins—both mint state (business strikes) and proof—are valued based on a number of characteristics, such as overall wear, how clear the design is, and raised edges.

Why does coin grading matter?

Coin grading is used when buying, selling, or trading coins. It helps classify how perfect or damaged a coin is, and gives a scale and a name to a coin’s condition, rather than just giving a vague description.

What are the different grades of coins?

There are three main categories for grading coins, each used to classify a different type of coin. A circulated coin is very different from a proof coin, so it’s important to have separate scales for each different coin type.

Circulated Coins

Circulated coins are coins that are used as currency. Because of this, they are susceptible to more damage and inconsistencies.

  • Poor (PR; 1) — The lowest grade a coin can get. The coin is likely nearly unidentifiable due to damage, but must have a visible date and mint mark.
  • Fair (FA; 2) — Extremely worn down, but less so than a Poor coin. Must still be identifiable via date and mint mark.
  • Good (G; 4, 6) — Heavily worn down, but the design outline is still visible.
  • Very Good (VG; 8, 10) — Worn down, but most of the design is visible, including detail.
  • Fine (F; 12, 15) — Slightly worn down, but all design elements are visible and clear.
  • Very Fine (VF; 20, 25, 30, 35) — Worn, but design elements are well-defined and clear.
  • Extremely Fine (EF; 40, 45) — Lightly worn down, with only very minimal wear on design elements.

Uncirculated Coins

Uncirculated coins have never been in circulation, but they were not created specifically for collecting.

  • About Uncirculated (AU; 50, 53, 55) — Light wear on design elements’ high points.
  • Very Choice About Uncirculated (AU; 58) — Very light wear, nearly perfect with a few minor imperfections.

Proof Coins

Proof coins are coins that were created specifically for collecting. They are uncirculated, but may not be perfect due to bag wear or improper mishandling. They are defined by their shiny, mirrored backgrounds.

  • Proof State Basal (PR; 60, 61) — No or very little wear, but luster is lacking.
  • Proof State Acceptable (PR; 62, 63, 64) — Very little wear, but the strike of the coin and luster is lacking.
  • Gem State Choice (PR; 65) — An above-average coin, with a strong strike and luster and almost no wear. Considered gem state.
  • Gem State Premium Quality (PR; 66, 67, 68) — An almost perfect coin, with a nice luster and above-average strike. No flaws are visible without a magnifying glass.
  • Gem State Almost Perfect (PR; 69) — A perfect coin except for minor flaws that are only visible with a strong magnifying glass.
  • Gem State Perfect (PR; 70) — A perfect coin! No visible flaws, even with a strong magnifying glass. Design is perfectly centered.

Mint State (Business Strike) Coin

Business strike coins are different than proof and circulated coins in that they were originally made for circulation, but are now a collector’s item. They differ from proof coins in that they were not struck in the same way, so they do not have the mirrored background like proof coins.

  • Mint State Basal (MS; 60, 61) — Very little wear.
  • Mint State Acceptable (MS; 62, 63, 64) — Very little wear, but the strike of the coin is lacking.
  • Gem State Choice (MS; 65) — An above-average coin, with a strong strike and almost no wear.
  • Gem State Premium Quality (MS; 66, 67, 68) — An almost perfect coin, with an above-average strike. No flaws are visible without a magnifying glass.
  • Gem State Almost Perfect (MS; 69) — A perfect coin except for minor flaws that are only visible with a strong magnifying glass.
  • Mint State Perfect (MS; 70) — A perfect coin! No visible flaws, even with a strong magnifying glass. Design is perfectly centered.

How does a coin’s grade affect its value?

The higher a coin’s grade, the more likely it is to have a higher value. This is in part why the coin grading system exists—to give a framework for how much a coin is worth based on its appearance and striking.

How can I find a coin’s grade?

If you’re looking to sell an especially rare or valuable coin, it’s best to have it professionally graded. There are professional grading services that will analyze your coin and grade it. Professional Coin Grading service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) are two of the most popular coin grading companies and are generally accepted by coin collectors to be trustworthy in their grading. If you’re thinking about selling, it’s best to have verifiable proof of your coin’s quality through one of these services, making it much easier to sell. 

At Nationwide Coins, we are an authorized dealer of the NGC so if you have any questions about the best coins for your collection, our account executives are happy to help. Feel free to send us an email or give us a call

Invest in high-quality coins today.