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Photo grading rare coins is simply showing photographs that illustrate the coins according to their grade. These photos are available in book form or on the internet. A collection of photographs of graded coins can be a useful guide for coin collectors.

Grading Coins

Photo Grading Rare Coins

The following terms are useful when you receive information about photo grading rare coins. When a coin is minted, there is a blank, called a planchet that will be imprinted to make a coin. The die, an engraved stamp, will strike the planchet to press the image into it. A mintmark is a letter stamped after the date on the coin that shows where it was produced. When a coin is made, it is called strike. If the strike is weak, the coin won’t look as good as if the strike is strong.

Coin grading determines a coin’s condition. That is the most important factor in determining a coin’s value. Many times it is easier to show the condition of coins by photo grading rare coins. Photos can be easier to use than a lengthy description of the coin’s condition. When grading a coin, these three areas are considered: the quality of the die and striking, the condition of the blank, and the amount of damage done to the coin and its visual appeal. The last consideration is the most important when grading circulated coins.

About Photo Grading Rare Coins

The two most respected grading services for coin collectors are PCGS, Professional Coin Grading Service, and NGC, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. PCGS offers a free service online that can help coin collectors grade their coins, or at least get a general idea of the grade. It shows images of coins and several examples of grades for each one.

Both of these two grading services will grade your coin, for a fee, and then they will put the grade, the date, mintmark, and other pertinent information on a label. The coin and label are encapsulated in plastic called a “slab”. This helps with the security of your coin and deters counterfeiting.

Dr. William Sheldon developed a 70-point rating scale in 1949 to grade coins. Following is an explanation of this scale.

  • Poor-1 or P-1 (Poor) Badly damaged, can barely see the printing, worn smooth
  • Fair-2 or FR-2 (Fair) almost worn smooth
  • AG-3 (About Good) Date and printing barely readable
  • G-4 (Good) Outlines are discernable
  • G-6 (Good-plus) Clear outlines but still damaged
  • VG-8 (Very Good) Major elements are apparent but faint
  • F-12 (Fine) Some detail apparent, can almost see the rim
  • VF-20 (Very Fine) Very clear, good details, letters readable
  • VF-30 Little wear, letters and images distinct
  • EF-40 (Extremely Fine) Sharp and clear with light damage on high parts
  • XF-45 (Choice Extremely Fine) Images and lettering very clear
  • AU-50 (About Uncirculated) very little wear on high parts
  • AU-55 (Good About Uncirculated) retains half of its luster, slight wear
  • AU-58 (Choice About Uncirculated) almost uncirculated, almost all luster present
  • MS-60 and above are Mint State coins with the condition based on looks and absence of slight imperfections and contact marks. These include proof coins, which are coins minted with a special process for collectors
  • (MS-60) Mint State Basal to (MS-63) Mint State Acceptable some nicks, fair luster, average strike
  • (MS-65) Mint State Choice high luster, good strike
  • (MS-68) Mint State Premium Quality perfect luster, need magnifying glass to see imperfections
  • (MS-69) Mint State All-But-Perfect - Uncirculated, perfect looks, sharp strike
  • (MS-70) Mint State Perfect - The perfect coin

Grading Coins Yourself

Here are three steps to grading coins yourself. It would be helpful to go online and look at pictures to help you have an idea of the different conditions. First, you need a very good source of light, like a 100-watt bulb, and a magnifying glass that is a minimum 5x up to an 8x. This will be sufficient to see flaws and wear.

Next, determine which grading group the coin fits into: all circulated coins, AU (About Uncirculated) coins, or MS (uncirculated mint state) coins.

Last, look at the Sheldon Scale, compare your coin to the written description, and grade your coin. Remember, help is available online and there are also books that have photos and descriptions to help you.