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J&M's Coin Grading Definitions
There are many factors that interlink to finally decide on a coin's grade. We can't review all the relevant factors here but with the following list of standards given you should be well on your way to understand how to assign initial grades to coins. Our staff would be pleased to explain in further detail to you the specific attributes a given coin in our inventory may have, and why the coin has the grade it does.
- AG1 (About Good) - Coin is not identifiable beyond an educated guess based on the coin's shape, size and any scant outline that may remain.
- AG2/3 (About Good) - Coin is largely worn smooth with only outer details showing. Elements of the design including letters or numbers will be totally missing and/or generally weak.
- G4-6 (Good) - Coin is complete with weak elements. A few of the letters or numbers may be worn off or weak. Outline of the coin's images are discernible, with no center details.
- VG8-10 (Very Good) - Coin mostly worn smooth, with some center details visible. All letters and numbers should be clearly defined. Rims should be full and not worn into the surface of the coin.
- F12-15 (Fine) - Even wear across the surface of the coin on both sides. Center detail more evident. All letters and numbers well defined with weak spots. Highest to mid points of the coin worn off.
- VF20 (Very Fine) - Details are strong with weakness in the highest points of the coins. Strong rims.
- VF30 (Choice Very Fine) - Stronger rendering of VF20.
- EF40 (Extra or Extremely Fine) - All details strong and sharp with very light wear visible only on the highest points of the coin. Close to being Uncirculated, some luster may remain.
- EF45 (Choice Extremely or Extra Fine) - Stronger rendering of EF40.
- AU50 (Almost or About Uncirculated) - Trace wear only, discernible with light magnification. Some remaining luster.
- AU55 (Choice Almost or About Uncirculated) - Essentially an Uncirculated coin, but perhaps some chatter on the surface of the coin not caused by the shipping of the coins from the mint. Trace wear present in one localized area of the coin. Pleasing luster.
- AU58 (Choice Almost or About Uncirculated) - Pleasing luster. To most the coin would appear to be Uncirculated and only under 4-8 power magnification does an area of weakness or chatter on the surface of the coin become evident. Debate may ensue regarding whether a perceived defect is wear or weakness of strike.
- MS60 (Mint State, or Uncirculated) - The lowest grade of Uncirculated coin. The coin has no wear on the surfaces, anywhere. Usually this is backed up with a degree of pleasing luster or toning. Flecks or bag marks may be evident on the surface, although not as a result of circulation. Coin might appear displeasing to the eye when all its attributes are considered, but as long as there is no evident wear the coin can be graded MS60.
- MS62/3 (Choice Mint State, or Brilliant Uncirculated) - Coin obviously new like and flashy, often with a high degree of luster or brilliance. Coin may be toned with patina in various colours. Surface contact marks from other coins while at the mint at a minimum.
- MS64/5 (Gem Uncirculated) - Coin spectacularly preserved with attributes pleasing even to the strictest graders. No marks of any kind, full deep strike. Light attractive toning possible.
- MS66/7+ - A wonder coin, probably without peer in existence. Coins like this are beyond rare. Probably one of the first coins struck from a pair of new dies and immediately properly preserved, i.e. by a museum or V.I.P. given the coin as a presentation on the first day of release or some such situation. Only a few coins total exist in this grade. Normally such a coin would have blazing fiery luster, razor sharp rim edges and all details struck as high and as sharp as the die will allow. Light peripheral toning a possibility.
Additionally, you can add grades for specially struck collector coins. The same numerical grade in an MS (mint state) coin does not translate into a coin of the same value with another prefix. Other grades can be abbreviated as follows:
- SP60-69 - Specimen. Coin minted for special sets using a different striking method. Not in circulation.
- PL60-69 - Proof-Like. Coin minted for collectors using polished blanks rendering a polished coin with cameo frosted highlights. A common mistake among novice collectors is to mistake MS65 and PL65. With most coins, the MS65 coin would be more desirable despite the fact it is less flashy. MS65 coins had to first be released into circulation whereas PL65 was intentionally struck to be a showpiece for a collector set and was protected and saved. Thusly, although PL65 is to many collectors a more eye appealing coin, MS65 is generally a lot rarer and thusly more costly when comparing PL and MS in the same coin.
- PF65 - Proof. Coin struck for collectors with mirror surface and high definition frosted cameo design.
Grading is not a science, but comes with years of practice and it is possible that two qualified graders may disagree about the final grade of a coin. We at J&M do stand behind our grades, and certainly for coins graded MS60 or below their should never be any difference of opinion. Coins which are uncirculated have many different attributes, some of which may appeal to one grader and not another. However, our grading opinions should be bang on, or at the most possibly within one grade level of an independent firm.
We also offer for sale coins already independently graded by non interested parties which take some of the risk out of buying high grade coins. Know your dealer. And familiarize yourself with the standards that individual grading companies utilize to ensure that you yourself are happy with them.
J&M has liberal return policies on all coins we sell, including independently graded ones, however it is becoming an increasingly common practice amongst some coin dealers to consider third party graded coins to be non returnable due to grade.
Third party grading companies all have different standards and it is not unusual for two different grading houses to occasionally arrive at a different conclusion on the grade of the same coin. Sometimes, this difference can be wildly off, resulting in a high price difference. Therefore, it is important when buying third party graded coins that you not only understand their respective methods of grading but also that you yourself understand grading to confirm or contradict their findings and satisfy yourself with your purchase.
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