Grading Your Coins

Learn to determine if your old coins are worth more than face-value.

Do you have a jar of old coins that were given to you by a grandparent? Have you been collecting coins since you were a child? If so, then your coins may be worth more than face-value. But before you get excited, take a moment to learn a bit about grading a coin collection.

Just because a coin is old, doesn't mean it's worth more than face-value. A lot goes into determining the worth of a coin. Coin grading is the process of discovering the condition and quality of a coin. A high grade means a high value for an old coin.

The American Numismatic Association (ANA) is dedicated to the study and collection of money. The ANA published a document called the "Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins". That document included a point scale devised by Dr. William Shelby. The point scale grades coins on a scale of 0-70, with 70 being the best.

Coin grading is subjective, and different people may judge a coin differently. It requires skill and experience, but anyone can learn to do it. To get started with coin grading, learn the point scale presented below.

1. Mint Condition (Mint State)

Mint Condition coins have no traces of wear. They appear brand new, as if they've never been in circulation. For a lot of coin graders, the only type of coin worth this rating is one that definitely hasn't been in circulation. Even among professional coin graders, there is disagreement over how to recognize a coin that's never been in circulation.

On the point scale, a mint condition coin is in the range of MS-60 - MS-70. There should be no blemishes, dents, or dull coloring.

2. Almost Un-circulated

Almost Un-circulated (AU) coins are difficult to spot. They are determined by the amount of wear present on the highest points on the coin. There should be minimal wear, no blemishes, and good color. You must be familiar with how the light should reflect off of certain spots on the coin. It's a difficult skill, but it can be learned.

A good idea is to compare a newer version of the coin you're grading. For example, if you're trying to determine the amount of wear on an old penny, compare it to a shiny new penny. Study how the light reflects off of both pennies.

On the point scale, an almost un-circulated coin is in the range of AU-50 - AU-58.

3. Extremely Fine (EF)

Extremely Fine (EF) coins have visible signs of wear, but not much. The color is still good, and it looks close to new. On the point scale, extremely fine coins usually range from EF-40 to EF-45.

4. Very Fine (VF)

Very Fine (VF) coins have more wear than EF coins. However, the features on the coin are still clear. Some of the minor features like hair or feathers may be visibly worn. VF coins show visible sings of circulation, but should still be attractive. Major features should be detailed. On the point scale, very fine coins usually range from VF-20 - VF-35.

5. Fine (F)

Fine (F) coins have moderate or heavy wear. A lot of the details may be gone, but the overall design should still be clear. On the point scale, fine coins are F-12.

6. Very Good (VG)

Very Good (VG) coins have more than moderate wear, but less than heavy. The design is clear, but lacks details and looks flat. A requirement for a coin to be graded as VG is that the rim must be visible. You must be able to see the line around the edge of the coin where it was once raised. Very good coins are usually VG-8.

7. Good (G)

Good (G) coins are heavily worn. The design is visible, but fading in spots. In order for a coin to be graded as Good, the date and mint mark must be visible. Mint marks indicate where a coin was manufactured. Not all coins will have a mint mark. Good coins are usually graded as G-5 or G-4

8. Almost Good (AG)

Now you're getting to the bottom of the barrel. An Almost Good coin isn't worth much. The design is almost unrecognizable, and a few digits of the date will be completely gone. The rating for coins in this shape is really low - AG-3 - AG-2.

9. Barely Recognizable/Poor

A barely recognizable coin or poor coin is worth very little - if anything. The coin may have holes, be bent out of shape, or have some other damage. However, if the coin is really old, it could still be worth a few dollars.

There's a lot more to grading coins than reading one or two articles. Some of the grading is subjective, and you may find variations of the grading scale published in various places. This is only a basic guide to get your started.

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