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U.S. Coin Grading Guide

Updated on March 2, 2009

Guide to U.S. Coin Grading

Grade, or condition, is a measurement of a coin's state of preservation (or quality). In most cases, the higher a coin's grade, the scarcer it is, since the majority of coins find their way into extensive circulation. And the higher a coin's quality, the greater its value, since the original design and appearance are more fully present. Hobbyists collect coins in a variety of grades, based upon their preference and budget. Of course, coins in different grades command different prices, depending on the series, scarcity and demand. Below are general descriptions for circulated grades, as well as attributes of both Uncirculated and Proof coins. There can be a combination of subtle differences that make up various ranges within a grade.

Circulated Coins


Circulated coins have been used to some extent in daily commerce and have some “wear” from handling. Because older and scarcer U.S. coins may be very difficult to locate in mint Uncirculated condition, circulated coins may better suit your need for some coin series and issues. The grades for circulated U.S. coins are described as follows:


Coin will have a fully readable date. The rims will be nearly full and may be worn down to the tops of the letters. The design of the coin will be fully outlined.

Very Good

Coin will have a fully defined rim and full legends with all the lettering and numerals distinct. Some detail in the design of the coin will begin to show.


Moderate wear will be evident. The date will be bold and all letters and legends will be clear. Major elements in the design will show some separation.

Very Fine

Approximately two-thirds of the coin’s overall design will be visible. The date, letters, and major elements of the design will be sharply defined.

Extra Fine

All elements in the design will be clearly visible. There may be mint luster evident, especially around the edges of the design. The high points of the design will be slightly worn.

About Uncirculated

Wear is evident only on the highest points of the design (points that extend highest above the surface). There may be abundant mint luster.

Uncirculated Coins

Uncirculated coins are new coins that have never been in circulation. Coins may have been stored for many years in original mint sealed bags, or stored in bank wrapped rolls, or carefully preserved by collectors. As a result, Uncirculated coins exhibit no wear from general circulation. Depending on contact they may have had with other coins and atmospheric conditions during or after coining, blemishes, bag marks and toning may be present. Uncirculated coins may lack luster and still be considered Uncirculated. Because Uncirculated coins represent greater quality and scarcity, they carry higher values. Uncirculated grades range from MS-60 Typical to MS-70 Perfect. Most Uncirculated coins range from MS-60 to MS-63+, as very few coins meet the technical standards for MS-65 or higher. It takes years of experience to become an expert at the grading of Uncirculated coins. Littleton's veteran buyers have developed great expertise in purchasing and grading Uncirculated U.S. coins.

Proof Coins

Proof is not a grade; it is a method of manufacture. Proof coins are made by a special process using carefully selected coin blanks and dies, which are meticulously polished and burnished to remove any and all imperfections. The coin blanks are slowly fed into a specially adapted coin press, and are struck twice – at slow speed and with extra pressure – to produce high-relief features contrasted against deep mirror like surfaces. The dies are polished frequently, and are replaced after only a limited number of strikes. The finished Proof coins are inspected to rigid standards, handled only with gloves or tongs, and specially packaged for delivery to collectors.

Certified Coins

Some coins have been certified and encapsulated. These must first meet our exacting grading standards and then are graded by an independent service. When adding one to your collection, it’s important to look at the coin within the holder to see if it appeals to you.

Links to Other Coin Lenses - Coin Collecting Help

We have a few different lenses designed to teach you about coin collecting, coins and the coin hobby in general. Please check out the links below!

Littleton Coin Company's Grading Standards

Littleton's grading standards are widely recognized to be among the most stringent in the profession. Our goal is to consistently bring you the highest-quality product within a designated coin grade. Grade: When referring to a coin that has been in circulation, grade represents the amount of wear a coin has received. For Uncirculated coins without rub or wear, grade represents the coin's level or quality of preservation. Coin grading is a subjective measurement. Generally speaking, the higher the coin's grade, the more valuable the coin becomes, and the greater the asking price. A coin's grade is one factor in determining value, while popularity or demand and scarcity are just as important. You don't have to be an expert grader to enjoy collecting coins, but increased grading knowledge can be helpful over time for you to develop an appreciation fo2r the nuances of coin grading. Learning the grading terms utilized is a first step. Please see the end of this grading guide for recommendations of further reading on the subject of grading.

Littleton's Grading Expertise and Consumer Friendly Business Practices let you order with confidence! When you order from Littleton, you will receive a quality coin that is right for the grade, backed by the Littleton 45-day money back guarantee and guaranty of authenticity. Our expert graders have more than 100 years of U.S. coin grading experience among them and through their direction, assure that every coin in our stock is graded accurately and consistently so that you can order with confidence. The grading terms and numerical ratings in the accompanying list of grades below denote a coin that has met Littleton's exacting standards.

Standards Used by Littleton to Grade U.S. Coins- Littleton employs a combination of the Official ANA Grading Standards established by the American Numismatic Association and those utilized in the reference Photograde. These are two of the most respected coin grading standards used today. Many factors make up the grade of a coin, but those of primary importance are wear, marks, luster, strike, and eye appeal. Grading is an expert interpretation of attributes expressed by published authorities in the field. Today, depending on preference, both words and numerals are used to describe a coin and its grade. For coins in circulated condition, Littleton's experts use words or abbreviations, such as VG for "Very Good," XF for "Extra Fine," etc., to describe the appearance of a coin, while certification services use a combination of abbreviations with the addition of a numeric scale for all coin grades. Both are correct. So a coin graded Very Good (VG) by Littleton would be designated a VG-8 by a certification service. A different coin graded Very Fine/Extra Fine (VF/XF) by our staff would be designated VF-30 or VF-35 by a certification service.


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