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Coin Grading: The Sheldon System

At Manhattan Gold & Silver, we determine the value of items sent to us by measuring purity and weight. We accept coins for refining (often from our pawnbroker clients), but our standards for value aren’t the same as professional collectors.

Coin collectors, or numismatists use a process called “coin grading” to determine the overall collectible value of a coin. It is complex, with a number of factors including quality, liquidity, rarity, and more. In this post, we’ll talk about coin quality, which is the factor most closely associated with the discipline of coin grading.

A coin’s quality or grade is based on a close visual evaluation of the coin. Early in the history of coin collecting, coin grades were sporadic because no set system was in place. In 1948, a famous a respected numismatic, Dr. William Sheldon, created a standardized system for coin grading now known as the Sheldon System. Coins measured by the Sheldon System are given a “Mint State,” or MS number between 1 and 70. The scale looks like this:

•    Basal – (Mint State 1) An extremely worn piece of metal that was a coin at some point, but is now unidentifiable.
•    Fair – (Mint state 2) Much like MS 1, but identifiable and may or may not have a legible date
•    Almost Good (AG) – (Mint State 3) The date is legible, but most of the coin is worn smooth.
•    Good (G) – (Mint state 4 and 6) Legends, designs and dates are visible but are mostly worn down from circulation.
•    Very Good (VG) – (Mint State 8 and 10) The elements of the coin are clear, but  lacking details. The full “rim” (the line around the edge of the coin where it was raised up) must be visible to count as “Very Good.”
•    Fine (F) – (Mint state 12 and 15) All major details of the coin are virtually complete.
•    Very Fine (VF) – (Mint state 20, 25, 30, and 35). Even more design details are complete when compared to a “Fine” coin.
•    Extremely Fine (XF or EF) – (Mint state 40 and 45) Only the highest points on the coin show light wear. Usually, some traces of mint luster are still present on the coin.
•    Almost Uncirculated (AU) – (Mint state 50, 53, 55, and 58) Like extremely fine, but with at least half of the mint luster still present.
•    Uncirculated (UNC) – (Mint state 60 to 70) The coin has virtually no wear, but some small nicks or marks may be present.
•    Proof (PF) – Proof coins are struck purely for collectors. They are often flawless because they go straight from minting press to collector’s case.

Thanks to the Sheldon System, numismatists are able to get fair prices for their collectible coins.

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