Eric G. writes: Could you tell me what F, EF, VF, AU mean. I know they represent the quality of a coin, but exactly what i don’t know. Also on another site, along with those letters, they also had columns headed with the numbers 60 thru 68. what does this mean. Thank you.
The system of grading that we used today in the United States is based on a system for evaluating early Large Cents promoted by Dr. William H. Sheldon in his book Early American Cents, (Later editions were called Penny Whimsy), first published in 1949. Theoretically, a coin graded 70 was worth 70 times more than a coin graded 1. Pricing changed dramatically through the 1950s rendering Sheldon’s price relationships obsolete, however, the idea stuck and today this system is used for all United States Coins.
The grading system is divided into Mint State grades, that is coins with no trace of wear but with varying degrees of marks or other blemishes and circulated grades that describe coins with varying degrees of wear. Generally speaking, grades describe a comparison of a coin just minted and falling from the dies with one that you may be holding in your hand.
As with all subjective comparisons there may be disagreements with others on the precise grade of a specific coin. Grading services have developed to mitigate this problem with varying degrees of success. Here is a general description of the coin grades:
- MS60-70 – “MS” means “Mint State”, that is no trace of wear and having the original mint luster. “Mint Luster” is a scientific term and refers to the flow lines emanating from the center of a coin to the edge resulting from the force of striking the coin in the coin press. Mint luster is what creates the “wagon wheel” effect when you tilt a coin in a bright light. MS70 is theoretical and refers to absolute perfection.
- AU50, 55, 58 -“About Uncirculated” coins have only a light trace of wear on a high spot on the design of the coin. Most of the Mint Luster should remain.
- EF40, 45 – These grades, Extra Fine, show wear on most or all the high spots and only a small part of the mint luster remains.
- VF20, 30 – Very Fine coins show moderate wear on most design features
- F12 – Fine coins have heavy wear with some design features missing.
- VG8 – Very Good coins show heavy wear but on most coins still have design details remaining on the devices.
- G4- Good coins show only the outline of the design but the rim and the surrounding lettering are complete
- AG3 – About Good coins show wear down into the legend lettering and the rim is worn.
- Basel State 1 – A coin just with enough design detail to identify.
For more info, see: U.S. Coin Grading