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Who Grades Coins?

Updated on March 12, 2017

The Mercury Dime

Mercury dimes were minted between 1916-1945
Mercury dimes were minted between 1916-1945 | Source

Why Do I Collect Coins?

My husband and I have always collected coins, even in childhood. Some of my oldest memories involve asking the cashier at the local store if she had any old coins I could buy from her. Cashiers were the prime resource for me in my youth due to my limited income opportunities.

As I grew to an adult and started earning real wages, I ventured to the local coin dealer shop in my hometown. I remember my first purchase was two Mercury dimes dated 1916. I still have them. Those two dimes were thrown into a bowl of other small coins and I had to sift through the entire bowl to see what I could get.

That memory stays with me today, as I realized later in life that I have no idea what the real value of those coins is. I soon came to understand what the word "intrinsic" meant. My Mercury dimes are made of 90% silver and 10% copper. The intrinsic value of my dimes is determined only by the amount of silver and copper used to make them. The fact that they are from 1916, the first year these dimes were minted, means nothing to intrinsic value.

To me however, 1916 is another key year. It is the year both of my grandmothers were born. That is why I chose them. I was too young to understand anything else about them, other than they are pretty. So for me, coin collecting started at a young age and I collected coins that had personal meaning to me.

What is the Real Value of My Coins?

As already discussed, intrinsic value of coins only concerns itself with the precious metal content. This value is more appropriate to use when determining the current value of gold or silver bullion bars or rounds.

Coins have unique art and date stamps related to them. Coins are also minted for a specific number of years, and in limited quantities. The fewer coins that still exist today that were minted in the 1800's will have a good dollar value. The better the "mint state" rating of the coin, the higher the dollar value. Mint State relates to the current quality of the coin comparing to the original quality at the time it was created, or minted.

Here is where we find various packaging and descriptions concerning the perceived mint state of a coin. These packaging and descriptions are not always consistent, and that leaves me doubting the authenticity of the person who rated the coin.

If your coins have an actual mint state rating on the package, you could go to a coin dealer and ask them to verify it. A fee is normally charged for this service. The coin dealer needs to make a living too! The coin dealer, or a referral to a professional numismatist, can also rate your coins that are loose.

What if you just want to sell some old coins without having to go through all that trouble? You could use the popular online auction sites to compare your coin to similar ones for sale or on auction.

Very Fine vs Brilliant Uncirculated

I purchased these from a coin dealer at a Florida Flea Market.
I purchased these from a coin dealer at a Florida Flea Market. | Source

How Do I Know?

As a coin collector, you may have come across coins that are encased in a small cardboard holder. These holders keep the coin in plastic to help protect them the damage and corrosion our oily human fingers can cause.

The picture to the right is an example of two recent coins I purchased from a coin dealer at a flea market near Orlando, Florida this past summer. You will notice that the coins look nice, but there are markings on the cardboard holders.

The coin on the left is a rare 1921 Peace dollar. The coin is labeled as VF. This acronym means "very fine" grade per Mint State comparison.

The coin on the right is a 1976 Kennedy half-dollar. The coin is labeled as BU. this acronym means "Brilliant Uncirculated" grade per Mint State comparison. I have no idea what the "TY1" represents. I found no reference to it on the coin grading chart.

Both coins have a suggested price (coin dealers will "deal", so I paid less than the suggested price).

Interesting to note is that neither coin has any labeling on the reverse.

What does this mean? This means that these coins were graded by someone other than a professional service. Does this mean the grading is incorrect? No. This means that you can either trust the dealer to sell reputable goods, or you can take the coin to another dealer for a second opinion (after you have paid for it of course).

What are NGC, PCGS, and ANACS?

If you are shopping for coins of high mint state, you may have found some coins in very nice containers with the Mint State and description on the case.

There are three highly regarded coin grading companies that you may have seen. The first is the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). The second is the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). The third, and oldest, is the American Numismatic Association Certification Service (ANACS).

The goal for each of these three companies is to provide integrity, assurance, and to promote high standards for grading all coins, ancient and current. This goal is to help stop fraud and counterfeit coins from being sold at unfair prices to unsuspecting consumers.

Each of these companies have their own well developed website with access to a large source of online resources that coin collectors can use for free to research the history of their coins and help determine rarity and quality.

Those coins that are sent to these companies are graded using the highest standards and consistent methods to ensure proper labeling and storage (they come back in nifty containers).

As an avid collector, the more I researched coin fraud, the more I started looking specifically for coins graded and packaged by one of these three companies.

If you are looking for more information on coin grading, here is a link to The Official Guide To Coin Grading Book on ebay.

How Do You Like Your Coins?

Do You Buy Loose Coins, or Only Those Graded By a Professional Service (Snob)?

See results

What About Fraud?

Unfortunately, fraud and phoney coins can be found everywhere. In my example to the right, you see two coins encased in hard plastic coins holders.

The coin on the left is a 1878 7/8TF Morgan Silver Dollar minted at the Philadelphia mint. This part is true. Notice the "NCG" stamped on the top? That does not represent any current or past numismatic guaranty company. When I researched this I did find references to NCG as being possibly a fraudulent attempt to represent "NGC".

For comparison, the coin on the right is an actual coin that was inspected and graded by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. On the reverse of the case you will find their nifty hologram stamp.

For more detailed information on coin grading - see the PCGS Webinar - Coin Grading 101 YouTube video at the end of this article.

Coin Grading Scale

Provides List of Mint State Descriptions, Grade, and Prefix.
Provides List of Mint State Descriptions, Grade, and Prefix. | Source

What Can You Find on the Websites?

  • Collectors Society Links to online chat groups and boards..
  • Coin Registry to look up coins graded by that company for more information.
  • Coin Explorer Tools to research your coins.
  • Coin Submission Instructions to submit your coins for grading.
  • Glossary List of terms specific to numismatic interests.
  • Grading Scale Chart to explain their grading standards.
  • And More .....

PCGS Webinar - Coin Grading 101: Introduction to Coin Grading


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