What is the Sheldon Scale?

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For coin collectors who have just started their stacking, purchasing coins they find interesting or aesthetic is often their primary motivation, with only minor regard to coin's condition. However, speaking with collectors across the US, we know that niche and experienced collectors often want to know the intricate specifics of the coins they are purchasing—specifically the coin's grade.  

The Sheldon scale, formally known as the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale, is a system used to assess the condition or grade of a coin. Developed by Dr. William Herbert Sheldon in the late 1940s, it has become widely accepted in the numismatic community, assigning a numerical grade (ranging 1 to 70) to a coin based on its overall condition. Each number represents a specific grade and condition. Higher grades indicate better preservation and fewer signs of wear. 

Coin grades are determined by evaluating various factors, including the amount of wear, luster, surface quality, strike, and overall appeal of the coin. The higher the grade, the better the condition of the coin, and subsequently the higher its potential value. 

Here is a quick breakdown of the Sheldon scale grades:

  • Poor (PO-1) to About Good (AG-3) Coins in these grades are heavily worn, with most details barely visible or completely worn away.

  • Good (G-4) to Very Fine (VF-20) Coins in these grades have moderate wear but still retain visible design elements and some level of detail.

  • Extremely Fine (EF-40) to About Uncirculated (AU-58) Coins in these grades have minimal wear, with most details well-preserved and visible.

  • Mint State (MS-60 to MS-70) Coins in these grades are uncirculated, meaning they show no signs of wear. The higher the grade, the better the overall condition, strike, and luster of the coin.

We would like to note that coin grading is subjective to some extent, and different grading services or inpidual graders may have slightly different interpretations or standards. Plus, factors such as rarity, demand, and historical significance can also influence the value of a coin beyond its grade. 

Because the Sheldon scale is widely used by coin collectors and investors to assess and compare the condition of coins, it can provide a standardized framework for evaluating coins' physical condition and helps determine their market value. When buying or selling coins, understanding the Sheldon Scale and consulting professional grading services can assist in making informed decisions and ensuring fair transactions.