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Condition.  State of preservation; or conversely, the degree of lack of wear. An elaborate – and sometimes indistinct – terminology has evolved for expressing this state of preservation, primarily for the purpose of collectors. Some coin series, for example, have as many as ten terms of condition or grade (ranging from poor to proof, although proof is not a condition) to express minute degrees of wear. This is not an exact science and human interpretation of condition often led to disputes between any two individuals particularly during transactions.

            The popularity of coin collecting, and increasing demand for higher grade coins, has led to several attempts to make the determination of condition more precise A scale of about a dozen term names evolved in the early 19th century, followed by a numerical system expressing condition and applied to these terms.  Photographic charts of popular series were published against which to compare specimens; these met with some success. Then computer grading was proposed, with dramatically less success. A new development in the field – of third party grading services (see below) – evolved with the greatest success of all.

    Factors Affecting Condition

Abrasion and coin design.  The primary factor of condition – abrasion

is the "wear" of circulating, as coins pass from one person to another, their storage, transportation and handling at every stage. It includes wear by normal handling, dropping, carried in pockets and purses, every type of rubbing and friction. It also includes every type of mishandling, the scratching, dropping sharp objects on coins, contact with any object that abrades or damages the coin's surface.

Uniform coin abrasion starts on the high point, and the more the item abrades

from handling, the more relief is removed. A few microns of metal – the tiniest amount of weight – is dislodged and carried away. If abrasion continues to the extreme, as a very worn pocket piece, a slick, planchet-like disk would result (of several grains less weight than the original coin).  But where the abrasion first occur, at high points, is of importance, as this has greatly influenced coin design.

Some coin designs have better "wearing" qualities than others, as coin designers have come to learn. The most useful technique is to raise the rim above all relief, in fact most coin designs are slightly basin shaped with the high point of relief actually lower than any point of the rim. In theory, therefore, the entire rim would have to wear away before the first wear appears on the design.

Coin condition factors to consider:

∙ Not all surfaces wear evenly, however, nor do both sides wear uniformly.

∙ In Europe, collectors and dealers grade each side of a coin separately (as: VF/F, meaning obverse very fine, reverse fine); in America one grade is determined for the piece as a whole.

Toning or surface discolorations do not change a grade designation but is mandatory to be mentioned as a favorable or unfavorable aspect.

Factors affecting condition of medals.  A medal's greatest enemy is its own weight. Heavy medals are extremely vulnerable to damage from dropping. Unless the medal has remained virtually undisturbed for its entire life, edge dents are common on large, heavy medals, these are termed EDGE KNOCKS or EDGE NICKS. Medals without these imperfections are said to have sharp edges. 

Very light medals, on the other hand, as some European decorations, or HOLLOWBACK BADGES are pristine after years of use. These may have passed through a successions of owners and collectors and remained pristine, simply because they do not damage as greatly when dropped.

Often medals are issued in their own cases, this helps protect them. When a medal is sold years after its issue and still in its original case, this means that it has had some degree of protection during its lifetime. (It could have been extensively edge nicked or otherwise damaged from mishandling outside the case and returned to its case, but mostly a cased medal implies greater care has been exercised in its handling over the years.)

Another factor affecting medals is their ability to be REFINISHED. Other than perhaps plugging a hole, coins cannot be repaired or their finish changed. Medals, in contrast, can be repaired; upgraded in condition, and completely refinished – converted to pristine condition again.  See repair and refinishing.

            Medal condition factors to consider:

            ∙ Since medals do not circulate like coins they generally have high grade designations.                                      

     ∙ Often a medallic item, as a badge or decoration, or medal in a mounting may have components of differing conditions, and should be noted separately.

Grading Terms

Grading scales.  Various numerical grading scales have been purposed, including the closest to a scientific approach, one devised by Dr. William H. Sheldon for large cents. Dr. Sheldon assigned a numerical value on a scale from 1 to 70; with 1 was what he called basal value – a very worn specimen but one whose precise variety could be detected. Seventy was absolutely perfect uncirculated with mint luster. The scale was heavily weighted on the high side, so you could have an uncirculated coin from 60 through 70 , 55 to 58 almost uncirculated with a, and so on. Attempts to project this numerical grading to other series have varying to moderate success.

Brilliant uncirculated.  Without any evidence of wear and with extensive mint

luster.  Abbreviated BU.

Uncirculated.  Never circulated. No nicks, scratches, dents or wear whatsoever. Perfect. The condition as first struck at the mint. As the coin falls out of the press. Numismatic wags say its uncirculated at the mint, but once it crosses the street its circulatedMint luster and overall appearance play an important part in degree of uncirculatedness. This is also called mint state -- as new as it was made at the mint. In France it is called fleur de coin -- flower of the coin. Uncirculated is abbreviated unc.

The most accepted grading terms -- common in numismatics – and their meaning to collectors and dealers – are as follows:

Word List  #11

Terms of Scale Conditions

PO-1 Poor  A coin in terrible condition, but if rare it still can have a high value. It must have a readable date and mintmark and no damaged or have a hole.

FR-2 Fair  There are some details intact, the date just readable, and there is usually heavy wear into the rims and fields.

G-4 Good  The major details of the coin are worn flat. Minor wear into the rims is allowed, but the peripheral lettering must be readable.

G-6 Good  The rims are complete and the peripheral lettering is full. The rims on some coins are worn to the tops of some of the lettering.

VG-8 Very Good   A slight amount of design detail is still showing on the coin.

VG-10 Very Good  Less worn than the VG-8 coin. Design detail is heavily worn but the major devices and lettering are clear.

F-12 Fine  The coin’s design is still visible but most detail is worn away.

F-15 Fine  Most of the lettering is visible, and about 35-50% of fine details of the coin.

VF-20 Very Fine   Lettering is readable but sometimes indistinct.

VF-25 Very Fine   About 60% of detail is evident, and major devices are clear and distinct.

VF-30 Very Fine   The devices are sharp with only a small amount of blending. Up to 75% of the original detail can be seen.

VF-35 Very Fine  This grade used to be called VF/EF or VF/XF before numerical grading. Devices are sharp and clear, the detail remains visible.

EF-40 Extremely Fine  This grade is also called XF-40. About 90% of the coin’s details are visible. Only the high points are devices remaining sharp and clear.

EF-45 Extremely Fine  About 95% of the details and the devices are sharp and clear. Luster may still be in protected areas.

AU-50 About Uncirculated  From half to all surfaces have luster disturbances, and the only luster may be in protected areas.

AU-53 About Uncirculated  There is wear on the high points and light friction on 50-75% of the fields. There is still luster in small areas.

AU-55 About Uncirculated  Like ‘Choice AU’. There is slight wear on the high points with minor friction in the fields. Luster nearly gone to almost full.

AU-58 About Uncirculated  There is slight wear on high points. Sometimes the reverse of this coin can be uncirculated. Less surface area shows luster breaks.

MS-60 Uncirculated / Mint State  The lowest of the 11 Mint State grades. A coin has some marks and hairlines. The luster is poor to full.

MS-61 Uncirculated / Mint State  There are slightly fewer marks than on a MS-60 coin, or better luster, and more eye appeal.

MS-62 Uncirculated / Mint State  Nearly MS-63, but with excessive marks or a poor strike or unattractive toning. Good eye appeal even with many hairlines.

MS-63 Uncirculated / Mint State  Like Choice BU. Clean fields and devices with hairlines in the fields. The strike and luster mediocre to excellent.

MS-64 Uncirculated / Mint State  Borderline Gem or Very Choice BU. Just a few light abrasions. The strike is full with a few luster breaks.

MS-65 Uncirculated / Mint State  Gem BU. There may be minor scattered marks, hairlines or defects. Minor spots. Must be well struck with eye appeal.

MS-66 Uncirculated / Mint State  A coin with superb eye appeal. Luster is far above average, and toning can not impede the significant way.

MS-67 Uncirculated / Mint State  Any abrasions are light and do not detract from the coin’s beauty. The strike is full and and the luster is outstanding.

MS-68 Uncirculated / Mint State  A nearly perfect coin, with only tiny imperfections visible to the naked eye. The strike is sharp and the luster glows.

MS-69 Uncirculated / Mint State  Perfect in all areas, with unflawed surfaces, a 99% full strike or better, full luster and great.

MS-70 Uncirculated / Mint State  A perfect coin. With 5X magnification there are no marks, hairlines or luster breaks seen, vibrant, a razor-sharp strike with great eye appeal.


Word List  #12

                           Terms of Condition Not of Scale






















Sharp Edges





Grading Services


excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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