Ancient Greek & Roman Coins


Grading and Describing Ancient Coins

Coin collectors traditionally attach more value to specimens in an excellent state of preservation than to similar items that show wear or other evidence of the passage of time. To a great degree, modern coins all began life the same. Struck with identical pressure from mechanically cloned dies they tend to have only minor differences in quality that are quickly evened out by wear. Therefore, the collector of Roosevelt dimes can order 'sight unseen' a 'VF' coin and have a reasonable idea what to expect when the coin arrives. Collectors of ancient coins don't share in this benefit. Factors of production and the ravenges of time both induce levels of variability causing two coins, both fairly graded 'VF', to look absolutely nothing like each other.

This page will expand the currently popular grading system with a discussion of factors that help describe ancient coins. The purpose of this page is to suggest the reader consider the factors mentioned when evaluating coins in the marketplace. Grading is very much a matter of opinion. Collectors and dealers frequently disagree on the proper term to be applied to any given coin. What appears on this page is only a general guide and is very much my opinion and nothing more. There is no authoritative photo guide to grading ancient coins. Such a standard would require tens of thousands of photos to cover the subject well. Each collector may have a different opinion on the relative significance of each fault or characteristic. It is not at all unusual for an ancient coin fairly graded 'F' to sell for more than another specimen of the same coin that can be graded 'VF'. The factors that allow this seeming inconsistancy are the subjects of this page.

Standard Grading
Sorry, no illustration MS - Mint State

No! Wear - Perfect in every way!

Septimius Severus
denarius
Rome mint

EF - Extremely Fine

Very minor wear affects only on the finest details of the highest points. Every detail, every hair in the beard, everything!! must be sharp. I would like to been able to show you a sestertius size EF as part of this series but I do not have one.

Julia Domna
denarius
Pietas rx.
Laodicea mint

Septimius Severus
sestertius
Rome mint

VF - Very Fine

Wear shows on fine details but all elements of the design (e.g. the laurel wreath of the portrait) are complete

Julia Domna
denarius
Venus rx.
Rome mint

Domitian
sestertius

F - Fine

Wear erases some details but major design elements are completely outlined and retain some detail. Facial features are still separate but ears and laurel wreaths are not complete.

Julia Domna
denarius
Venus rx.
Emesa mint

Trajan
sestertius

VG - Very Good (UK 'Fair')

Major devices (e.g. portrait) are indicated by a complete outline but little detail remains inside that outline. Facial features on the portrait begin to blend together.

Julia Domna
denarius
Venus rx.
Alexandria mint

Hadrian
drachm
Alexandria, Egypt

G - Good

Major device outlines are mostly complete with no details. The silver example suffers as much from strike as wear but it was what I had at hand. Sorry.

Julia Domna
denarius
Venus rx.
Barbaric mint

Claudius
as
Minerva rx.

fr - Fair (UK 'Mediocre')

Major devices partially indicated. With luck, portraits will be recognizable by veteran collectors.This silver example is a bit too good for this grade; they get much worse! Honest wear to this grade might have taken a century of circulation.

Julia Domna
denarius
Venus rx.
Alexandria mint

Sorry, there is nothing to
show on this grade.
pr - Poor

A slick slug with almost no detail - identifiable by chance or when the other side of the coin is a higher grade

All of the above grades can be preceeded with "a" for "about" to indicate a coin not quite fully deserving that full grade but still too nice to be the next lower grade. Similarly, a "g" (good) prefix can be used to indicate a coin a bit better than that grade but not ready for the next grade. Some use "+" or "-" following the grade as modifiers.

With Ancient Coins it's not that Simple!!!

Additional factors to be considered when grading ancient coins can be divided in two groups: Conditions of Manufacture and Conditions of Preservation. The first are variations produced when the coin was made. The second group covers what has happened to the coin during its periods of circulation, hoarding and retrieval.

If you stop here, you'll miss the best parts:

Go to Conditions of Manufacture Page
Go to Conditions of Preservation Page
Back to Main Page


(c) 1997 - 2002 Doug Smith