What is Coin Grading?

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If you're interested in collecting coins, understanding coin grading is a useful tool to help you make decisions regarding what to add to your collection, and ensuring your individual coins are authentic and worth their value. 

Coin grading is the process of evaluating a coin's condition and assigning it a grade based on a standardized scale. Plus, a coin that has been graded and authenticated by an official coin grading authority has a higher value than an identical coin that has not.

Professional coin grading services exist to provide independent and expert opinions on a coin's grade. These services, such as PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) or NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation), employ trained numismatists who evaluate and assign grades to coins based on their expertise and established grading standards. Graded coins from reputable grading services often come encapsulated in tamper-evident holders, known as slabs, which provide protection and authentication.

When a coin graded, certain codes are assigned to the coin indicating its status. These codes are typically graded on a numerical scale, such as the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale[Link: What is the Sheldon Scale?] or the numerical system used by various coin grading services. These scales assign grades from Poor (P-1) or Basal State (BS-1), indicating heavily worn coins, to the highest grades like Mint State (MS-60 to MS-70), representing uncirculated coins with no signs of wear. However, there are additional alphabetical codes indicating a coin's identifiability (e.g., Very Fine [VF] vs. Very Good [VG]). The list below illustrates some of these coin grading codes.

FDC (Fleur du Coin)>

Unc (Mint State or Uncirculated Coins)

AU (Almost Uncirculated Coins)

This only applies to proof coins and these coins are perfect, without any marks, wear, or blemishes.

The UNC graded coins are uncirculated and have totally no trace of wear.

AU graded coins have a small trace of wear visible on the highest points.

XF or EF (Extremely Fine)

VF (Very Fine)

F (Fine)

XF grade coins (or EF) have very light wear on only the highest point.

VF grade coins have a light to medium wear. All major features are sharp.

F grade coins have moderate to heavy even wear. The coin design is clear and bold.

VG (Very Good)

G (Good)

AG (About Good)

VG grade coins are well worn. The design is clear, but flat and with lacking details.

G grade coins are heavily worn. The design and legend are visible but faint in spots.

AG grade coins have an outlined design and parts of date and legend worn smooth.

Fair (Fair State)

Basal (Basal State)


With a coin that has been graded as fair you can identify the coin as to its type.

With a basal graded coin, you can identify the lump of metal as being a coin.


Most coin collectors prefer to collect coins graded VG (Very Good) or better since the design should be recognizable. For investors, the higher the coin grade of authentication, the higher the coin’s value will be when sold in the future.

As you begin collecting coins, understanding coin grading and acquiring the knowledge to assess a coin's condition will be invaluable. Developing your grading skills and being able to accurately evaluate coins will only enhance your collecting experience and help you make informed decisions when acquiring new additions to your collection. However, grading coins accurately and consistently takes practice and experience. 

Engaging with experienced collectors and/or joining local coin clubs and societies are great ways to gain insights, receive feedback, and learn from experienced collectors who can provide guidance and mentorship in the field of coin grading. 

Because coin grading involves a level of subjectivity, as different graders may have varying interpretations of a coin's condition. There are several factors considered in grading:

  • Wear: The extent of wear, loss of detail, or flattening of design elements caused by circulation.

  • Surface Condition: The presence of scratches, stains, spots, or other imperfections on the coin's surfaces.

  • Luster: The presence and quality of the coin's original mint luster, which reflects how light interacts with its surfaces.

  • Strike: The sharpness and quality of the coin's design elements, such as the level of detail and definition.

  • Eye Appeal: The overall visual appeal and attractiveness of the coin.

Additionally, the market may have preferences for certain grading services or specific grading standards, so familiarizing yourself with the widely accepted grading standards and consulting reputable sources when evaluating and purchasing graded coins will be incredibly helpful.