Coin grading | UK/Worldwide
(This is a great guide but grading in the USA has its own rules)
The United States of America grading system deserves special mention because it seems the most logical and probably the easiest system to learn for a beginner.
It consists of the basic British range of grades plus a number from 1-70 (You could even just use the numbers). ‘1’ is the worst (Poor) and 70 is perfect (and virtually unobtainable).
A rough idea of the numbers and their equivalent British Grades can be obtained from the details below.
USA Proof (perfect MS70) (MS64 -MS9 less or more contact points) (MS60-63 UNC- BU) (XF45-AU53) (VF20) (F12) (G4) (P1)
- There are two subtle differences between the abbreviations. It seems in American English ‘Extremely’ begins with an ‘X’ not an ‘E’ so the ‘EF’ for ‘Extremely Fine’ is ‘XF’ for ‘Xtremly Fine’ using the American system.
- Also, the ‘MS’ is an abbreviation for Mint State and covers the British ‘About UNC’ grade up to BU.
Probably the most controversial and by far the most important area of coin collecting.
Grading issues have caused disputes between buyers and sellers since collecting began and will continue to do so forever more.
Grading coins accurately is a skill acquired in time and after looking at many similar/identical coins in all ranges of conditions.
Coin Grading | This page deals just with the grading of Modern coins.
(i.e coins ‘milled’ to a good standard).
Where British coins are concerned ‘Modern’ is usually considered to be after 1790 (The latter half of George I Reign).
Please be aware that the guide refers to the British Grading System.
Just to confuse things, many countries have their own names in their own languages for the various grades.
Grading is subjective to a degree and very difficult to do without actually seeing the coin you want to grade, however, the following rough rules can be followed and there are pictures of coins in their collectable grades.
Coin grades are usually referred to as the coin’s ‘condition’ and there is quite a range of conditions that are usually represented by initials.
The basic ‘conditions’ are:
Extremely Fine or EF:
A coin with little sign of being circulated.
There may be only the slightest wear to the highest areas and minimal scratches and other marks.
Usually, some of the mint lustrs are visible on coins of this grade.
As a rough idea, a coin in your change would probably be an EF if it had been lucky and was minted just 1 year ago.
Uncirculated or UNC:
Like the name suggests the coin should be as it left the mints with no signs of circulation or wear.
Not necessarily perfect though, because coins can pick up scratches and what’s known as ‘bag’ marks during mass production and contact with other coins at the mint.
The coin should have most of its lustre present and some dealers may expect 10% lustre on coins stated as Poor:
A coin that is usually barely identifiable, often with some of the writing/date worn away.
Coins in this condition are not usually wanted by coin collectors unless very very rare, but can still have sentimental historical value.
Confusingly ‘Good’ coins are not really that good at all.
Usually, although very worn Good coins should be identifiable with clear dates.
All the writing and main designs should be distinguishable.
Like above, not usually wanted by coin collectors unless very very rare, but can still have sentimental historical value.
Fine or just F:
Usually, with earlier ‘Milled’ coins this is the first truly collectable condition and often a very good value because sometimes there are considerable leaps in value between a Fine coin and the next grade up.
Fine coins still show considerable wear to all raised surfaces.
More detail should be visible in the designs and some of the main hair volumes should be visible on the Monarch’s head.
Not individual strands, but maybe a parting or signs of a headdress.
Many of the coins in your pocket even after just 30 years or less of use could probably be described as ‘Fine’.
An Uncirculated coin would be given to you from a freshly opened bag of new coins in your change.
Brilliant Uncirculated or BU:
BU is not an official grade but is often used to refer to an Uncirculated coin with full mint lustre.
You may see a coin referred to as a ‘Proof’.This is not a grade but the name given to a coin that is made using specially prepared dies (The dies are the inverted images used to strike coins) and often alternative metals.
The flat areas of proofs often have a mirrored finish, and you can literally see your face in them.
Update 20th June 2013.
As well as the basic grades listed on this page, collectors will often encounter grades like ‘GVF’ for example.
This indicates the coin is not exactly a ‘VF’ (Very Fine). In fact, the ‘G’ stands for ‘Good’ so a ‘GVF’ coin would be better than ‘VF’ but not quite ‘EF’.
The preceding letters encountered using the British grading system are: ‘G’ for Good, ‘N’ for Near and ‘A’ For about.
The range between ‘VF’ and ‘EF’ for example looks like this: ‘VF’, ‘GVF’, ‘NEF’, ‘AEF’, ‘EF’ and from ‘F’ to ‘VF’ looks like this: ‘F’, ‘GF’, ‘NVF’, ‘AVF’, ‘VF’.
Sometimes, mainly due to a coin being struck with one side’s design slightly higher or more complex (giving better protection), it is possible that a coin will have less wear on the ‘Heads’ side than the tail (or vice versa).
If this is the case you may see some coins graded as, for example, ‘VF/NEF’.
This does not mean the coin is somewhere between ‘VF’ – ‘NEF’ it means that the obverse (heads side) is Very Fine and that the reverse (tails side) is Very Fine or ‘VF’.
A coin with some wear to the highest areas of the design but has seen limited circulation.
More hair detail is evident as also detail on the other designs.
Just as an average guide a coin that has been in normal circulation for approximately 5 years would probably qualify for ‘VF’ status.
Massive Thanks to Garth Tuxford.