Understanding Indian Head Penny Grades
Early Indian Head pennies (1859-1864) were made with 12% nickel and have a slight silver cast to them. This made the metal harder than normal and it was difficult to get a clear strike. Beginning in 1864 the nickel was removed from the composition and replaced with 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This made the metal softer and easier to strike. Grades of mint state or uncirculated also take into account the color of the copper coin. This is designated as red (RD), red/brown (RB) or brown (BN) and listed after the numerical grade. For example "MS63RB".
Topographic Coin Map
The photo illustrates the highest points on the Indian Head pennies design (indicated by the color red). If you think you have an uncirculated Indian Head cent, look at these areas on the coin first to see if you can spot any wear. If there is wear, then it is not uncirculated.
Tip: Clicking on the photo will open a new window with a larger version of the image.
About Good-3 (AG3 or AG-3)
Obverse: The Indian's head shows very few details and is almost just an outline. The date is barely readable and some of the lettering merges with the rim.
Reverse: The wreath and bow are flat and just an outline. The lettering is flat but readable.
Tip: Click on the photos at the left to view a larger and more detailed image.
Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
Obverse: The head shows slightly more detail but is mostly just an outline. The rim is full and complete and does not merge with the field.
Reverse: The wreath is worn flat but the rim is complete and separate from the field of the coin.
Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)
Obverse: "LIBERTY" in the headband is starting to become visible and about three letters are readable. The legend and date are defined but heavily worn
Reverse: The tops of the leaves on the wreath are worn smooth and more detail is starting to show. The bow and ribbon are mostly flat.
Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)
Obverse: "LIBERTY" is readable but weak in spots. A quarter of the details now show in the hair. Details in the feathers are now becoming apparent.
Reverse: Some details are visible in the bow and wreath. The high points of the leaves are worn smooth and some may blend with the lower leaves.
Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)
Obverse: "LIBERTY" is full and complete but may not be extremely sharp. The headdress shows some flatness but details are starting to emerge and finer details of the feathers are now apparent.
Reverse: Only the tips of the leaves on the wreath show signs of wear. The bow shows flatness on the higher points but is distinct.
Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)
Obverse: "LIBERTY" is full and sharp. The tips of the feathers show only minor wear and are well defined. Wear is evident on the hair above the ear but is well defined as are the curls by the neck. The diamond design on the ribbon by the neck is evident.
Reverse: The leaves and bow exhibit wear only on the high points. The leaves and bow are crisp and detailed.
About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)
Obverse: Small traces of wear are detectable only on the highest points of the design (see photo above "Design High Points"). Some mint luster still remains.
Reverse: Minor traces of wear are evident on the high points of the leaves and bow on the wreath.
Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
Obverse: Mint luster is complete over the entire surface of the coin. There may be five to ten marks on the coins surface.
Reverse: Mint luster is complete, even on the wreath and bow. Five to ten marks are permitted on the surface of the coin.