When collecting and investing in numismatic silver coins understanding condition grades is as important as knowing the year and place the coin was struck. The following general information about numismatic grading is applicable to NGC grading, PCGS grading, and ANACS grading.
The current generally used grading system is an outgrowth of the demands of the market place. A hundred years ago coins were considered to fall into three states of condition: “Good” (well used), “Fine” (used), and “Very Fine” (hardly used). However with the increase in collectors, auctions, and prices a better way of describing the condition was needed. Especially with the ever widening price difference between the “Very Fine” condition silver coins and “Fine”. This also caused the “Very Fine” grade to be considered too simplistic and incapable of describing a coin with no ware, very little ware - and then those with a bit more. A standard of grading and an in-depth stratification of what those grades meant had to come into being.
The grade of a coin is determined by how much wear a coin shows. This is first evident on the highest surfaces of the coin. These vary from series to series, but in general the coin's detail is less and less evident as a coin is worn by handling. Each part of a coin is considered when it is graded. Each coin is considered to have three sides: the Obverse side; (head) usually has a portrait/bust image and year of mintage, the Reverse side; (tail) has the value/denomination, and the third side is called the Edge; plain, grooved, or ornamented.
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The Obverse and Reverse share characteristics: the Field is the flat portion of the coin, the Relief is the raised portion (design) of the coin; the Rim is the raised area running around these sides, the Legend refers to the inscriptions of value and country of mintage.
Grading for wear as a state of condition is now widely done using the 70 point Sheldon Scale grading system, developed in 1948 by Dr. William M Sheldon and is in general use today.
MS 60-70 Mint State (Uncirculated)
-no wear is apparent at all although there maybe some contact marks and dulling of the original luster.
AU 50, 53, 55, 58 About Uncirculated
-all detail is readily apparent with only slight signs of wear.
XF 40, 45 Extremely Fine
-lightly worn but the relief is bold and details mostly apparent.
VF 20, 25, 30, 35 Very Fine
-moderately worn, the relief is fully apparent some details are worn.
F 12, 15 Fine
-well worn, some of the relief’s details show.
VG 8, 10 Very Good
-the relief images are worn but clear.
G 4, 6 Good
-the relief images are outlined but without details, the rim maybe worn away in spots.
AG 3 About Good
-the relief is apparent but some of the outlines are worn flat and obscured.
FA 2 Fair
-the mint and date are barely legible, but the series is apparent.
PR 1 Poor
-these heavily worn coins are barely identifiable as to their series and may not have a visible date or mint mark.
The three top rated coin grading services are:
ANACS: American Numismatic Association Certification Service
NGC; Numismatic Guarantee Corporation
PCGS; Professional Coin Grading Service