A Guide to Numismatic Coin Grading

December 1, 2023

Numismatic grading can seem complicated to new collectors, but it’s actually fairly straightforward. In this coin grading guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to purchase rare, low-population, and antique coins with full confidence.

Collecting numismatics can be quite profitable, but it requires due diligence on your part. Not every rare coin on the market is a good investment. Being able to recognize the difference between a solid buy and a money pit is crucial.

At Endeavor Metals, we put the customer first. We want you to be 100% thrilled with your rare coin investment, and that requires a comprehensive understanding of the ins and outs of numismatic grading.

As always, our knowledgeable in-house numismatists are happy to answer any questions you may have. Read this guide, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

The Sheldon Coin Grading Scale

Numismatic coins are graded according to a 70-point grading scale called the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale, or simply the Sheldon Scale. Besides a few changes made in the ‘70s, the scale has remained the same since William H. Sheldon invented it in 1949.

The scale is used to evaluate each individual coin’s overall condition based on its luster, strike, tone, surface preservation, and eye appeal. 

While it’s possible to learn how to perform accurate numismatic grading, it takes many years of experience and training. This coin grading guide will help you understand how the grading system works, not how to actually grade them yourself. That’s best left to the experts.

Third-Party Grading Services

There are two primary coin grading services: the NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Company) and the PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service). Both grade coins according to the Sheldon Scale.

These long-established organizations are trusted globally. If a numismatic coin has been graded by either service, you can rest assured that its grade is accurate and will be respected should you choose to sell.

Our numismatic coins always include individual numismatic grading by the NGC and/or the PCGS. This ensures you can purchase any of our numismatic products without wondering if their grades are accurate and authentic. They are.

How the Sheldon Scale Works

The Sheldon Scale’s grades have two components: letters and numbers. Higher numbers represent better conditions. 

For example, an MS70 grade means the coin is in perfect, flawless “mint state” condition. A PO1 coin is in poor condition.

It’s worth noting that not all numbers between 1 and 70 are used. For example, a coin in “good” condition is either a number 4 or 6—there are no coins with a 5 grade.

A List of All Possible Coin Grades

A variety of old coins

Here’s an overview of all of the possible numismatic grading letters and numbers from bottom to top. Use this coin grading guide to determine the condition of a coin you’re considering buying sight unseen.

  • PO (Poor): PO coins only have a number 1 grade. The coin only shows enough detail to recognize its type and date. Usually, the rims are nearly flat.
  • FR (Fair): FR coins only come with a number 2 grade. Most details and the rims aren’t visible.
  • AG (About Good): AG coins have a number 3 grade. The rims are heavily worn, but most details are legible.
  • G (Good): G coins come with a number 4 or 6 grade. The rims have some wear, and most details are legible.
  • VG (Very Good): Coins with VG numismatic grading are assigned either a number 8 or 10. The details are worn and soft.
  • F (Fine): Coins graded as F are given the number 12 or 15. Some details are soft, but all are intact. Numbers and letters are sharp.
  • VF (Very Fine): VF coins are assigned a number 20, 25, 30, or 35. Most of the design is visible and sharp.
  • XF (Extra Fine): Coins graded as XF are given the number 40 or 45. High points may have minor wear, but all details are visible.
  • AU (About Uncirculated): Coins with AU numismatic grading are assigned a number 50, 53, 55, or 58. There may be slight wear on up to half of the design or the highest points.
  • PR/PF (Proof): PR/PF coins have numbers ranging from 60-70. These are coins that have been struck in a special way, typically as collector’s pieces.
  • MS (Mint State): MS coins are assigned a number from 60-70. These coins are uncirculated.
  • SP (Specimen): SP coins can’t be classified as either proof or mint state coins. They’re typically hybrid coins that fall between the two grades.

Questions? Contact Us for a Free Consultation

A man using a laptop and talking on the phone

If you have any questions about numismatic grading not covered in this coin grading guide, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re overachievers who are known for providing superior customer service. We’ll be more than happy to provide one-on-one guidance.

You can also find more information about numismatics here: How to Find Numismatic Coin Value.

Grow Your Coin Collection Today

We offer an extensive catalog of the world’s most desirable numismatics made from gold, silver, platinum, and palladium

Our coins boast high grades, including many elusive, low-population MS70 pieces that will elevate even the most prestigious collections. If you’re just starting a coin collection, you’ll find plenty of beginner-friendly pieces, too. 

Besides only selling rare coins with authentic numismatic grading from the NGC and PCGS, we offer the industry’s most competitive prices. Why shop for rare coins anywhere else? 

Visit our Brick-and-Mortar Store

If you’re in the West Palm Beach area, you’re invited to stop by our shop in the financial district for in-person viewing. If not, purchase any of our coins online with confidence, knowing we’re a trusted dealer that consistently receives glowing customer reviews. Add beauty and value to your collection today.

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