Nostomania's Grading Guide for U.S. Coins

As long-time users of Nostomania know, the value of any coin depends strongly on grade. A specimen in pristine MS-70 condition can sell for over 1000 times the price of a worn-flat item in PR-1. Therefore being able to correctly determine the grade of a coin is an important skill for buyers and sellers alike. Grading coins is an art, and it takes many years of practice to become an accomplished grader. Luckily, alternatives exist for those who don't wish to undertake the effort to become an accomplished grader. Third-party grading services exist that will grade and encapsulate coins for you. A sampling of the most respected services are Pacific Coin Grading Service, aka PCGS, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America, aka NGC, and ANACS.

However, if you prefer to grade your coins yourself, we've provided the following quick summary describing the major grades. This summary is not definitive; however, it is intended to allow you to very roughly estimate the condition of your coins. All described grades apply to proofs as well. For example, the MS-70 description applies for a proof coin in the same grade, which will be denoted PF-70 or PR-70. Thanks to Jim Halperin and Heritage Coins for the example images.

This is a new, experimental section where we are testing response to a new type of grading guide. You can step through visual examples of each grade for each coin type. Please let us know what you think. The test series we chose is Franklin Half Dollars, with a modest representation of possible grades.

Franklin Half Dollars Grading Guide

MS-70 (Perfect Uncirculated) Show MS-70 Example

A flawless coin exactly as it was minted, with no trace of wear of any kind. The coin must have full mint luster and brilliance. Due to the subjective nature of grading, and the fact that near the top of the grading scale a difference of one or two grade points can mean a difference in value of thousands of dollars, if you believe you have a coin in this grade Nostomania recommends submitting it to one of the professional grading services listed above.

MS-65 (Choice Uncirculated) Show MS-65 Example

No traces of wear. Nearly perfect except for a possible small blemish. Has full mint luster but may be unevenly toned or lightly finger-marked. A few barely noticeable nicks or marks may be present.

MS-63 (Select Uncirculated) Show MS-63 Example

A mint state coin with noticeable detracting contact marks or minor blemishes. Newer coins in this grade should retain attractive luster, but older copper or bronze coins may be assigned this grade even though they have lost their original mint brilliance. Note that an older coin graded MS-63 which does retain full original mint luster will sell for a much higher price than another specimen with the same numeric grade.

MS-60 (Uncirculated) Show MS-60 Example

An uncirculated coin with no real wear, but with minor weaknesses or blemishes, may lack full mint luster, and surface may be dull or spotted.

AU-55 (Choice About Uncirculated) Show AU-55 Example

AU stands for About or Almost Uncirculated, and as such coins in this grade show only the slightest trace of wear on both obverse and reverse.

EF-45 (Choice Extremely Fine) Show EF-45 Example

The abbreviation XF-45 is also used to denote this grade. A coin which has received slight wear from handling or contact with other coins. A coin in this condition retains outstanding appearance with the exception of minor flaws or friction spots.

EF-40 (Extremely Fine) Show EF-40 Example

The abbreviation XF-40 is also used to denote this grade. A coin which shows slight wear on the highest points of the design. When present, hair lines are a typical high point area. Some mint luster may remain in protected areas of the coin's surface.

VF-30 (Choice Very Fine) Show VF-30 Example

A coin in choice very fine condition shows signs of having been in circulation and the higher points on the coin are slightly flattened from wear. All of the finer details of the design must still show and the coin can have no major disfiguring nicks.

VF-20 (Very Fine) Show VF-20 Example

Coins in very fine condition show light wear at the fine points in the design. The overall appearance will have details slightly smoothed out. All lettering and major features must remain clear.

F-12 (Fine) Show F-12 Example

Coins in fine condition have been worn from considerable use in circulation. Many parts of the coin will be rounded or flattened from wear. Minor nicks and blemishes are to be expected. The overall appearance is still pleasing however, and all major details still show clearly.

VG-8 (Very Good) Show VG-8 Example

A coin in very good condition will show considerable wear, with most design points worn nearly smooth. When lettering is present near the rim, it will start to merge in this grade.

G-4 (Good) Show G-4 Example

A good condition coin is very worn to the point most of the details are flat and numerous nicks and scratches may be present. All of the principle design and lettering is still discernible however.

FR-2 (Fair) Show FR-2 Example

While often denoted simply F-2, Nostomania contends the two-letter FR-2 notation should be used, to avoid possible confusion with the grade Fine. Coins in this grade should still be barely identifiable by date and mint mark, but are otherwise extremely worn with only parts of the lettering showing.