How to Evaluate a Coin’s Quality
The price of a coin is primarily determined by four factors: rarity, demand, bullion price, and quality. Only the
last, quality, can be controlled by the collector. Because quality so greatly impacts
a coin’s value, collectors strive to keep their coins in pristine condition. Maintaining
numismatic quality is the best way to protect a coin’s value and make it a worthwhile
When numismatists evaluate a coin’s quality (or grade), they assign it a number
on the Sheldon scale, from 1 to 70. A coin in perfect condition would earn a 70
on this scale. To
determine a coin’s grade, numismatists consider five components:
Luster: This applies to how light reflects from a coin’s surface.
It is impacted by microscopic lines in the design. Luster diminishes as the surface
of the coin wears away.
Color: Both the natural hue of the metal and the vibrancy of
any colorization in the coin’s design are important, like for the Toned Morgan Dollar. Chemical
cleaning can alter both of these, lowering a coin’s quality.
Detracting marks: Obviously detrimental to a coin’s value,
detracting marks come from improper handling or packaging. Fingerprints are considered
detracting marks. To protect coins from these, it is important to avoid handling
coins and using tight plastic holders.
Cleaning or mishandling marks: These occur when a coin’s surface
is actually damaged due to cleaning, rubbing, or polishing. They can also be caused
by “cabinet friction,” the faint rubbing away of a coin’s high points, caused by
contact with an envelope or tray.
Eye Appeal: While this category sounds extremely subjective,
it actually refers to the absence of carbon streaks, striking defects, vinyl damage,
and a myriad of other factors that detract from a coin’s overall appearance.
Being able to estimate a coin’s value independently is a useful skill for serious
collectors, and can be learned through practice. Both luster and color can generally
be evaluated with the naked eye. Coins that appear white, or too shiny, may have
been dipped in an abrasive cleaner to remove grime and restore shine.
Along with determining the coloring for “original” coins, collectors will want to
familiarize themselves with the natural coloring and patinas for coins struck from
different metals. This is an important step to take before purchasing a coin. Some
coins, like 19th century US Silver dollars, develop a natural violet tint as they
age. These specimens are often more valuable than those that have been cleaned and
remain bright silver.
Discerning marks and wear, especially on coins in excellent condition, usually requires
special equipment. A magnifying glass or microscope is generally the best way to
detect fine lines and damage on a coin’s surface.
Evaluating the quality of coins is an important skill for collectors and investors
alike. With practice and patience, anyone can develop the ability to determine a
This information is provided for general reference purposes and does not
constitute professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information,
please consult with a professional expert.
Browse Other Articles by Topic: Coin Collecting, Coin Facts, Coin History, Popular Coins, Rare Coins