MS-60. AU-55. G-4. What’s next, 007? MI-9? Not quite! When you examine a certified gold or silver coin, you aren’t looking at a secret code or the calling card of a British spy. You’re looking at letters and numbers from the Sheldon Scale, the de facto standard for coin grading that communicates important information to you, the precious metals owner. What is this info and how can you use it to your advantage? We're here to explain!
What is the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale?
The Sheldon Coin Grading Scale is an internationally accepted, 70-point assessment of a coin's condition and quality. It was originally developed by Dr. William Herbert Sheldon in 1949 in order to grade large cents. His scale was slightly modified in the 1970s to account for a wider range of coins.
The Sheldon Scale goes from 1 to 70. The higher the grade, the better the condition of the coin (and the higher the price).
“Seventy is perfect and flawless with absolutely no imperfections, no fine scratches, no hairlines at all,” explains John Rothans, Master Numismatist at U.S. Money Reserve. “That’s basically the top, top, A+++ of the coin grading scale.”
The one or two letters in front of the number provide more information about the overall grade, such as the coin's strike type.
Who uses the Sheldon Scale?
Coin Grading Companies
Nowadays, practically everyone in the coin industry! All of the top third-party grading services rely on the Sheldon Scale, sometimes with very slight modifications, when assigning a grade to a coin. These grading services include:
- Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS): Established in 1986. Represents the industry standard for third-party certification.
- Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC): Established in 1987. Has since graded more than 40 million coins.
- American Numismatic Association Certification Service (ANACS): The oldest coin authentication and grading service, established in 1972. The first major grading service to grade cleaned, corroded, damaged, and other “problem coins.”
- Independent Coin Graders (ICG): Established in 1998. Known for having significantly lower grading fees than other organizations and doesn't deal with the buying or selling of actual coins.
Everyday Coin Buyers
Coin buyers also rely on the Sheldon Scale, since the grade of a coin can play a big role in its overall potential and the power of a precious metals portfolio. As PCGS notes, this idea coincides with the basis of Sheldon’s theory, “that a ‘70’ would be worth 70 times as much as a ‘1.’”
“Over the longer haul, you’re typically going to see better returns in the certified graded pieces and in the low population pieces,” notes U.S. Money Reserve’s Alan Luckett.
Luckett goes on to explain that “it’s not unlike if you or I had a 1965 Mustang in showroom condition with 200 miles on it. You go to auctions now, and you see that car that we could’ve bought for $3,000 in 1965 or 1966. The car now sells for $250,0000. Why? It’s still a ‘65/‘66 Mustang. It sells for that because there aren’t any of them in that flawless condition.”
Zero imperfections. Ultimate beauty. Limited availability. That's the 2018 1/10 oz. Gold American Eagle MS-70. Granted the coveted First Strike label from PCGS, these coins were received for grading within the first 30 days of release. Order yours online or over the phone before inventory sells out!
Sheldon Coin Grades, Explained
Presented in 1949, the original Sheldon Scale was limited in application. It proved satisfactory for grading large cents but didn't include enough detail for widespread application. The original grading scale was adjusted in the 1970s to account for use with any coin series.
|Original Sheldon Scale|
|20, 30||Very Fine|
|7, 8, 10||Very Good|
|4, 5, 6||Good|
|1||Basal State – 1|
Today, virtually all of the professional coin grading companies rely on the same modified Sheldon Coin Grading Scale, as detailed below. These grade explanations align with coin grades given by PCGS.
A quick note: this section is loaded with coin terms, so it may help to brush up on parts of a coin (like the rim) and different strike types (like mint state and proof coins). If you have a certified coin on hand, now's the time to pull it out for reference!
|Modern-Day Coin Grading Scale (PCGS)|
|MS/PR-70||Mint State or Proof 70||Finest quality available; fully struck and lustrous; no visual marks under 5x magnification|
|MS/PR-69||Mint State or Proof 69||Virtually fully struck; minuscule imperfections when closely inspected; MS/PR-69 coins are U.S. Money Reserve's specialty!|
|MS/PR-68||Mint State or Proof 68||Slight weakness in the strike; a few tiny imperfections, barely visible|
|MS/PR-67||Mint State or Proof 67||Very well struck; minor imperfections visible without magnifications|
|MS/PR-66||Mint State or Proof 66||Well struck; a few marks but not in focal areas|
|MS/PR-65||Mint State or Proof 65||Above average strike; minor marks, mostly outside of focal areas|
|MS/PR-64||Mint State or Proof 64||Average or better strike; scattered marks, though none severe|
|MS/PR-63||Mint State or Proof 63||Average or slightly weak strike; moderate marks|
|MS/PR-62||Mint State or Proof 62||Average or below average strike; no wear, but numerous marks|
|MS/PR-61||Mint State or Proof 61||Average or weak strike; no wear, but multiple heavy marks|
|MS/PR-60||Mint State or Proof 60||No wear; could be poorly struck with many heavy marks|
|AU-58||About Uncirculated 58||Only slight friction on highest points; virtually full luster|
|AU-55||About Uncirculated 55||Full detail; light friction on high points; considerable luster|
|AU-53||About Uncirculated 53||Some loss of luster on high points of design|
|AU-50||About Uncirculated 50||Trace wear on high points of design; bits of luster may remain|
|XF-45||Extremely Fine 45||Light wear on high points of design; some luster may be visible in protected areas|
|XF-40||Extremely Fine 40||All design elements show, but high points worn flat; little to no luster remains|
|VF-35||Very Fine 35||Light wear over entire coin surface; all major details still visible|
|VF-30||Very Fine 30||Wear evident over entire surface; intricate design detail beginning to flatten|
|VF-25||Very Fine 25||Entire surface shows wear; major design features remain clear|
|VF-20||Very Fine 20||Moderate wear; some loss of detail evident|
|F-15||Fine 15||Slightly less than half of finer detail worn flat; all lettering is sharp and clear|
|F-12||Fine 12||About half of detail worn flat; all letter is visible|
|VG-10||Very Good 10||Considerable wear; most fine details have been flattened; most lettering remains readable|
|VG-8||Very Good 8||Most central detail worn flat; some inner lettering visible; rims remain full|
|G-6||Good 6||Rims and peripheral lettering full; design now flat and visible only in outline form|
|G-4||Good 4||Rims mostly full but may be flat or worn into peripheral lettering in spots|
|AG-3||About Good 3||Rims worn into tops of lettering; most lettering still readable|
|FR-2||Fair 2||Entire coin worn flat; traces of peripheral lettering visible|
|PO-1||Poor 1||Type, date, and mintmark are identifiable|
|None||Ungradable||Date and mintmark must be detectable to be graded|
Where can I buy graded coins?
At U.S. Money Reserve! Shop our inventory to see the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale in action. Our certified coins have been independently graded for their condition and preserved in sonically sealed plastic cases. They carry a numismatic value in addition to the metal’s melt value. Browse certified coins online to find coins in a variety of exceptional grades, including MS-69 and the coveted, perfect MS-70!