AEJ Coin Grading Guide

Contents Introduction

This site hopes to be your free reference and information hub for locating your next coin and pricing your current collection.

If anyone would like further information on your whole collection, or perhaps any piece that you want to know more about, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to consult on that elusive coin. If you are not sure about a certain coin's value or grade, feel free to send a JPG file of the coin in question and we will get a free valuation for you. Do you need to know how much your next coin purchase will be worth? How much you really should spend? Let us help you research your coin's value, provide guides and references to finding certain coins.

Our prime objective here is to provide you with a wide range of information about coins for your investment and collection purposes, catering for beginners and more experienced alike.

In this page you will be able to find information on grading coins and deciding which types will suit your needs, whether they be choice condition investment coins, rare ancients or locating that missing piece of a series. Beginners will find a comprehensive bibliography covering a range of coin interests.

A History of Coins

From the birth of coinage twenty-seven centuries ago, people have always wanted to know the true value of a certain coin, whether it was for a payment of goods and services or to gauge the a coin's value as a store of wealth. The creation of coinage occurred as a response to help standardise trade payments between Greek and Lydian merchants in Ionia, on the coast of Asia minor at around 700 B.C. By striking small pieces of Electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of Gold and Silver, found in alluvial deposits), an 'internationally recognised' medium of exchange was created.

Whatever currency was struck, at whichever mint, since these early days in Ionia, history has been directly influenced by the economic power of even the smallest of states. The money to build the triremes (galleys) which saved the Greeks at Salamis, came from the Attic silver mines coined into the famous Athenian 'Owls'. The Roman empire needed more than two million kilos of silver Denarii a year to pay its far-flung Legions. The American West was opened to all as a result of the Gold rush, which helped build the 'Great Republic'.

At every turn in history, these small often beautifully made tokens of wealth have recorded the great events and turning points in human history.

Coin Grading Introduction

One of the most essential techniques any coin collector should develop is his/her ability to grade a coin confidently. There are two systems for grading coins, firstly, for US coins the 'Sheldon Grading System' is used; developed by Dr. William H. Sheldon. The other method is the International coin grading system, which uses expressions to relay the state of a coin. An outline of both these systems follows below.

Note On Grading Coins

When you see coins listed for sale, you may have seen the following description of its condition, XF-40/ VF-20. This is the way collectors classify coins with different amounts of wear on either side of a coin. That is, on a number of coins it will be found that one side may have a different level of preservation than the other. This is expressed with the abbreviation, for example of XF40/VF-20; which means that a coin has an extremely fine obverse and a very fine reverse.

Grading Coins - Sheldon Grading System

This grading system was developed by Dr. William H. Sheldon, who was a collector of early American cents. He developed this scale of coin condition in which a completely worn, unmutilated, coin was represented by 1; whilst the best possible condition of preservation was expressed by 70.

There were also some financial reasons behind this numerical system, namely that Sheldon found that a coin in condition 50 tended to be worth around fifty times more than the same coin-type in condition 1. He then used the most recognised abbreviations for describing every condition and thus created the Sheldon Grading System.

This system was primarily developed for grading US cents and was then extended to describe all US coinage. Currently, there is an attempt by a number of Australian collectors to introduce this system into Australia. Its one advantage over the traditional International grading system is its ability to accurately express the grade of coins in the higher conditions of preservation, ie, coins in Mint State.

The Sheldon Grading System
  • Poor-1 A coin in this condition can just be identified; its date and legend may be entirely worn, the coin presenting an almost completely smooth flat surface.
  • Fair-2 A coin in fair condition may have the date and half the legend faintly discernible, on an otherwise smooth-flat coin.
  • Good (G-4) This coin will be heavily worn, its legend weak. The main designs will be silhouettes and minor inscriptions worn away.
  • Very Good (VG-8) On such a coin we should see most of the minor inscriptions, such as LIBERTY on the obverse. The overall design is clear, despite the coin being flat and lacking any further detail.
  • Fine (F-12) This coin should show almost half the details of the major figure, although hardly any features of the face.
  • Very Fine (VF-20) A coin in this condition should have a moderate even wear and all major features should be visible. On the obverse figure most of the hair and drapery, if any, should be bold despite obvious wear. The figure's lips and eyes should be well defined. The word LIBERTY and the hair ribbon should be fairly visible.
  • Extremely Fine (XF-40) This coin should still preserve faint traces of mint lustre, mostly around the stars on the obverse and around the legend on the reverse. There should be slight wear on the Liberty's hair, above the eye and ear, the high points of many US coin designs. From this grade upwards, signs of wear decrease and mint lustre increases.
  • About Uncirculated (AU-50) On such a grade of coin a good deal of mint lustre will be found, mostly around the rim edge radiating inwards covering a large part of the field. There will be faint traces of wear in the highest points, ie above the eye and ear on the obverse and around the shield and eagle's claws on the reverse. All other high points should be clearly visible, while preserving a mint crispness in the design on the lower areas.
  • Mint State (MS-60) A coin in this condition should by definition be uncirculated and display all the characteristics of a coin kept out of general use the moment it left the mint or very shortly thereafter. Such a coin will display no evidence of wear on all the high points, it may have a few marks, a natural result from minting and transportation; it will lack full mint lustre across the whole of its surface.
  • Mint State (MS-65) This state of preservation expresses a mint state coin which should have full mint lustre on all its surfaces, even on the tops of letters and fine detail. It should be void of any blemishes, such as 'bag marks', scrapes or dings.

In different coin types a further grade for general use exists which includes the quality of impression from that coin's minting. Namely coins struck when a die is new display even finer detail on the highest points, and sharper detail on a crisper looking field of frosted mirror-like surfaces. These are called 'first strike' coins and are in a distinct class of their own. This is why a 'Mercury' Dime of this exceptional grade will be graded as a MS-65 FSB (Fully Split Bands), referring to the clearly visible bindings around the Fasces' rods, which stand out as being clearly separate from each other. Many such 'grade refinements' exist for various types and it is well worth your while to research if this may apply to any of your own coins, as the difference in value may be exponential.
  • Mint State (MS-70) A coin of this grade could exist if it received special treatment in the mint (not being thrown into trays and bags with other coins), and remained untouched from the day it left the mint. This is the 'Ideal' of the its 'die-type', and from this ideal all others are placed into perspective when we grade.

Proof Coins

This kind of coin is specially manufactured using polished dies and selected planchets (blanks), to give the desired mirror effect. As they rarely enter circulation, their grading presents collectors with a different set of criteria for comparison between proof coins. Collectors grade them by using the Sheldon System's Mint State scale, from MS-60 through to MS-70.
  • Proof-60 A proof coin of this grade may be considered "average", being a specimen struck from worn dies, which imparts a 'weak-strike'; such a coin generally lacks some detail in the highest of points than a 'firststrike'. Also this coin may have a number of marks from the minting process.
  • Proof-65 A proof coin of this grade is called "choice" and should show no blemishes or marks from contact with other coins, which detract from the overall effect.
  • Proof-70 For a coin of this grade to exist it would have to have enjoyed special treatment from the moment of minting to the time it entered a collection. A coin of this grade would have to have been untouched from the moment of its striking. Such a coin is referred to as a "perfect gem proof".

Grading Ancient & Modern World Coins

This traditional system of grading coins by describing their condition by a series of words, is used all over the world for grading modern World and Ancient coins. Its basic categories are the same as the Sheldon system. Below an outline follows showing each of these categories.

Note on minor grades - In this system there will be found a number of sub-grades which are used regularly. These are "about" ("a") which is used as a prefix to denote a coin not completely of that grade, eg. an about uncirculated is annotated as "aUnc". The other sub-grade is the "good" ("g") sometimes shown as an addition sign ("+") after the grade; this prefix denotes a coin which exceeds the majorgrade it is in but is not quite up to the standard of the next grade up: for example a "good very fine" may be shown in the following ways, "gVF" and "VF+".

International Grading System
  • Poor (P) The same as in the Sheldon system.
  • Mediocre (M) A grade in which a coin has more detail than a 'poor' but not as much of the legend, date and major features of a 'fair' grade. This grade is rarely used as any resultant difference in value from this grade to the previous 'poor' grade is negligible.
  • Fair (no abbrev.) The same as in the Sheldon system.
  • Good (G) The same as in the Sheldon system.
  • Very Good (VG) As in the Sheldon system, the coin-type and legend are legible although thoroughly worn through circulation, only the lowest of points are visible, the design resembling a silhouette. Most grades below this are rarely preferred by collectors.
  • Fine (F) The higher points of the design clearly show thorough wear. The rim will also be found to be smooth in parts. More of the overall design will be present.
  • Very Fine (VF) A coin in this condition will exhibit some wear on the legend and in the higher points of the design.
  • Extremely Fine (EF) In this condition a coin will show very little wear on the legend and high points, with most finer detail being visible. The rim border should be clearly defined with the occasional marks in the field, resulting from the coin's minting and short time in circulation.
  • Uncirculated (Unc.) This coin by definition should exhibit no sign of having been in general use. It will probably be an "average strike" and there should be no wear evident even on the highest points, 'bag-marks' the only blemishes to be found. Full mint lustre should be seen across all the surface. Marks on the obverse and especially the face of the figure, will detract from such a coin's value.
  • Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) A coin of this grade will show no blemishes or sign of wear. The design and legend will appear sharper than the average, a result of early mintage. Full mint lustre will be seen over all the coin, sometimes giving the effect of a proof-like finish.
  • Proofs (Pf) These specially prepared coins are the result of highly polished dies used to strike selected blanks (planchets). Unlike The Sheldon system, no real demarcation exists between proofs of varying grades; the dealer and collector will sort through an issue for the better examples of a type which come from the mint or private collections.

    Top of page