- (a) Quality of coin die and striking characteristics
- (b) Condition and characteristics of the planchet (coin blank)
- (c) Amount and type of wear, damage, and the overall eye appeal of the coin
Coin Grading ScalesThe most frequently used scale for grading coins is called the Sheldon Scale. It consists of a 70-point scale, ranging from 1 to 70, with an abbreviation for an adjective appended for clarity. Examples of coin grades on the Sheldon Scale include such grades as VF-20 (meaning Very Fine 20,) EF-45 (Extremely Fine 45,) and MS-60 (Mint State 60.) Uncirculated coins are always called "Mint State" on the Sheldon coin grading scale, and abbreviated using MS.
The History of Coin GradingCoin grading has an interesting history that mirrors the evolution of the coin market in general through the years. For example, prior to the mid-1850's, modern coins were generally considered to be Circulated or Uncirculated. More progressive collectors began distinguishing between the more heavily circulated and the less heavily circulated. As collectors became more sophisticated (and observant) additional distinctions were added, until today we have a fairly complex 70-point system that includes additional designators related to the quality of the original strike, such as "Full Steps" (on Jefferson Nickels) and a "Full Head" on Standing Liberty Quarters. Sometimes an asterisk is added after the grade to denote a PQ (Premium Quality) coin in that grade, so that we can have an MS-67*FS Nickel! (This translates as Mint State 67 PQ with Full Steps.)
The journey from "Uncirculated" to "MS-67*FS" is a fascinating one.