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How to Grade Indian Head Pennies – What is The Grade of My Indian Head Cent?

How to Accurately Grade Indian Head Pennies

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Grading Indian Head pennies is a skill that will take years of experience to perfect and this guide will get you started. Remember that coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of a specific coin that a most dealers and collectors would agree with. Grading Indian Head pennies is not an exact science where a precise method can be applied and everyone comes out with the same result. But over the years, numismatists and coin grading services have agreed upon certain definitions, descriptions and Sheldon's numeric values that help all coin collectors describe their coins correctly (to a certain extent). This guide will help you understand those terms and descriptions so you can accurately grade your Indian Head pennies.

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".

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Topographic Coin Map

Design High Points on the Indian Head Cent (a.k.a. Lincoln Wheat Penny)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

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)

Indian Head Penny Graded About Good (AG03)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: The coin is very heavily worn and barely legible. Some of the devices, lettering, legends and date may be worn smooth, but the date is readable. Portions of the rim blend into the lettering.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded Good (G04)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: The coin is heavily worn overall. The devices, lettering, legends and date are readable but may have some faintness in a few areas. All major features are visible in at least outline form and the rim is mostly complete but may be incomplete in a few spots.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded Very Good (VG08)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: The coin is well-worn. The design is clear and major elements are defined but are flat and lacking in detail.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded Fine (F12)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: The coin shows moderate even wear over the entire surface of the coin. The major design elements are bold and all lettering, legends and date are clear and readable.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded Very Fine (VF20)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: Moderate to minor wear exists only on the highest parts of the design where a slight flatness is beginning to show. The overall condition of the coin is pleasing and attractive.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded Extra Fine (XF40/EF40)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: Has only the slightest wear on the very highest points of the coin. All details are sharp and all design elements are well defined. Some traces of mint luster may still exist.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded About Uncirculated (AU55)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: Very minor traces of wear or abrasions are visible on only the highest points on the coin. Mint luster is almost complete and the surfaces of the coin are well preserved.
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)

Indian Head Penny Graded Mint State 63 Brown (MS63BN)
Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com
Summary: No traces of wear from circulation exist. Mint luster is complete but shows minor impairments. Many contact marks, bag marks and hairline scratches exist on the coin's field and major design elements and are visible without magnification. Overall, the coin has an attractive eye appeal.
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.
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