The world of coin collecting, like any area of specialization, uses special language to describe coins and other forged metal products. Particularly important to collectors is the vocabulary for explaining a coin’s condition. Because the quality of a coin plays a huge role in determining its value, coin collectors need to fully understand the vocabulary and abbreviations that coin collectors, or numismatists, use to indicate coin quality. When numismatists talk about a coin’s quality or condition, they refer to its grade. Grade is determined by the wear of the coin, along with the sharpness of its details and lettering.
The Sheldon Scale for Grading Coins
Collectors wanted a standard way to exchange information about coin grades, so Dr. William Sheldon developed a numerical scale that “ranks” a coin’s condition. Sheldon’s scale ranges from 1 to 70. Coins in Poor condition, with nothing but the date and basic lettering, get a 1 on this scale. Meanwhile, coins in flawless condition, straight from the mint, get a 70.
Often paired with the numerical ranking, is an abbreviation of one or two letters. These abbreviations correspond to numbers on the Sheldon scale and give collectors a specific idea of the coin’s condition.
- Mint State (MS) coins are rated 60 to 70 on the Sheldon Scale. Mint coins are highly detailed and have no signs of wear. Sometimes these coins are also designated as Proof (PR or PF) coins. Both names denote almost flawless quality.
- About Uncirculated coins are also sometimes called Almost Uncirculated. Both categories use the same abbreviation of “AU.” Coins graded AU have full detail, but may have signs of friction on the surface. They may also have some wear at the coin’s high points.
- Coins that are in Extra Fine (EF) condition (Sheldon scale 40-49) still exhibit full detail, but may have flattened at high points due to wear. In contrast, Very Fine (VF) coins (20-30 on the scale) may lack some detail, but still have sharp lettering.
- Fine (F) coins earn a 12 to 15 on the Sheldon scale, because they still have detail in recessed areas and sharp lettering.
- A coin that is graded Very Good (VG) corresponds to the Sheldon scale’s 7 to 10 range. Coins in this category are relatively worn, although the details are still somewhat perceptible. Lettering on Very Good coins is still relatively crisp.
- Coins in Good (G) condition have significant wear and may lack discernable details. The rims of these coins are often degraded or completely missing, and some lettering may be worn, so these coins are usually graded 4 to 8 on the Sheldon scale. If the lettering is readable despite heavy wear, the coin may be graded About Good (AG). Coins in this range generally earn a 3 on the Sheldon scale.
- If nothing is visible on the coin except for the date and type, the coin is in Poor (P) condition. Coins in this range tend to be extremely old, and earn only a 1 on the Sheldon scale.
Adopted by both the American Numismatics Association (ANA) and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), and Independent Coin Grading (ICG) this system for grading coins enjoys use worldwide. Being familiar with these coin grading terms and abbreviations is the first step in making coin collecting silver and gold coins a productive, enjoyable pursuit.
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.