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Grading Guidelines for Ancient Coins

Also see: 

Standard Grading
Grading
Describing Ancient Coins
ERIC - Pricing And Grading

Grade is much less important to ancient coin collectors than to modern coin collectors. 

Perhaps the most important reason grade is much less important for ancient coins than for modern coins is that the dies were hand engraved and vary considerably.  Two coins might be of the same type and the same grade, but one might be valued at five times or more than the price of the other.  One coin might have been struck with dies crudely engraved by a mint trainee and the second coin might be a masterpiece in miniature, struck with superbly engraved dies of the finest styleStyle and artistry are not reflected in coin grading but are very important in valuing ancient coins

Ancient coins were struck by hand.  The quality of strike is very important for ancient coins.  Few ancient coins are struck perfectly centered on perfectly round flans.  Flan shape usually must be quite irregular to even be mentioned in the description.  Centering is rarely perfect and strikes are seldom completely even.  A well centered coin, nicely struck on a nice flan is often described as "choice."  Choice is, however, a grade modifier.  Many graders will consider centering, flan shape and the quality of strike when grading but the influence of these factors is completely subjective.  Some graders will not consider strike factors at all.  The typical ancient coin grader will consider strike quality to at least some extent. 

Another grading problem that is more significant for ancient coins then it is for modern coins is die wear.  Ancient mints would sometimes use dies that were quite worn.  Coins struck with worn dies may appear to be worn from circulation.  Some of these coins may appear to be very worn, yet they still show mint luster on surfaces.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine if the apparent wear is die wear or wear from circulation.  Most often die wear and circulation wear are considered identically when assigning a grade.  However, for high grade coins die wear may excluded in assigning the grade but included in the description.  For example, a coin might be described as, "Mint State with luster even on the highest points, but struck with worn dies."

Flaws are usually included in coin descriptions.   The higher a coin is graded the greater the responsibility to identify flaws in the description.  For example, one unstruck letter in the legend of a Mint State coin might be identified in the description but that minor flaw would never be mentioned in the description of a Poor coin. The quality of any photograph may also impact the responsibility to describe flaws.  If a flaw is clearly visible in the photograph, there is less need to include it in the description.  For example, hairline scratches that are not visible in a photograph should be noted for a coin graded aEF; if they are clear in the photo, they might be omitted from the description (though this is not ideal). 

aEF, aVF, and aF, or about Extremely Fineabout Very Fine and about Fine are sometimes described as a "half" grade lower than their respective "full" grade.  Some dealers will use nEF, nVF, or nF, for nearly Extremely Fine, nearly Very Fine and nearly Fine.  gVF and gF, good Very Fine and good Fine, are a half grade higher than VF and F.  For the most part, these half grades reflect slightly more or less wear than the full grade.  Graders will sometimes reflect strike flaws or other subjective factors by lowering a half grade to "about" the grade that would have been assigned to the coin based on wear alone.  

Collectors familiar with the grading standards for modern coins are met with many differences when looking at ancient coins for the first time.  The grading standard for ancient coins is not codified like it is for modern coins.  Style, artistry and the consideration of strike characteristics is so subjective that a truly useful standard is not possible.  Every cataloguer grading ancient coins does so from individual tastes and biases.  Two equally qualified graders will commonly assign a different grade.  The lack of a firm standard sometimes discourages modern coin collectors from collecting ancient coins.  Since, however, grade is much less important for ancient coins, a firm standard really is not necessary.  For ancient coins, eye appeal is much more important than grade.  Eye appeal really is whatever looks good to you!  Every collector has the best possible skill in judging their own eye appeal.  Nobody needs an expert or a number to tell them what they like.    

Despite the limitations of grading ancient coins, it is customary to assign a grade (though some ancient coin dealers do not).  Also, a professional grade assigned by an ancient coin specialist does reflect at least one expert 's opinion of some aspects of a coin. 

The grading standards used by FORVM ANCIENT COINS are described below:

Grade

Name

Description


FDC

 


fleur de coin

 


Mint State plus all characteristics are superb - well centered, mint luster, exceptional strike, and so forth. No flaws will be described because there are none. This grade is very rarely used by FORVM.

 

MS

 

Mint State

 

As struck, often with mint luster, no evident wear, no indication of circulation, no corrosion, no scratches, and no encrustation. May have strike flaws and die wear.  All but the most insignificant strike flaws should be described, especially if a photograph is not provided.  This grade is rarely used for ancient coins.

 

aMS

 

about Mint State

 

As struck with no evident wear, no indication of circulation, no scratches, no corrosion.  May have strike flaws, die wear, light patina or toning and very small bits of encrustation.  Usually some mint luster.  All but the most minor strike flaws should be described, especially if a photograph is not provided.  This grade is rarely used for ancient coins.

 

EF


 

Extremely Fine


 

An exceptional coin with just traces of wear on just the highest portions of the designs.  Even minor features (if struck) are visible and complete.  May have strike flaws, slight encrustation, minor scratches, piercings, slight bends, cracks, and may even have very small spots of corrosion.  All but very minor flaws should be described, especially if a photograph is not provided.

 

aEF


 

about Extremely Fine


 

An exceptional coin with wear only on the highest portions of the designs.  Even minor features (if struck) are visible and complete.  May have strike flaws, slight encrustation, minor scratches, piercings, slight bends, and may even have small spots of corrosion.  All but very minor flaws should be described, especially if a photograph is not provided.

 

gVF



 

good Very Fine



 

An attractive desirable coin with light overall wear.  All major features (if struck) are visible and nearly complete.  Separation between all devices is visible (such as between the ear and laurel on a portrait head) is clear (if fully struck).  May have strike flaws, small encrustations, small spots of corrosion, some scratches, piercings, slight bends, or frosty or grainy surfaces.  Strike flaws that obscure any major features or legends, grainy or frosty surfaces, scratches, piercings, bends, and pitting should be described, especially if a photograph is not provided.

 

VF


 

Very Fine


 

A desirable coin with general overall wear.  All major features (if struck) are visible and nearly complete.  Legends (when present) are readable. May have strike flaws, piercings, slight bends, encrustations, scratches, areas of corrosion, or overall roughness or porosity.  Flaws that obscure major features or legends, overall roughness or porosity, scratches, piercings, bends, and  pitting should be described, especially if a photograph is not provided. 

 

aVF



 

about Very Fine



 

A collectible coin with general overall wear.  All major features (if struck) are visible and but not always complete (most of the laurel wreath is present but the highest 1/4 is worn smooth, for example).  Legends (when present) are visible and readable.  May have strike flaws, encrustations, scratches, areas of corrosion, or overall roughness or porosity.  Flaws that significantly obscure major features or legends, overall roughness or porosity, scratches, piercings, bends, and pitting should be noted, especially if a photograph is not provided. 

 

gF


 

good Fine


 

A collectible coin with much overall wear. Legends (when present) are visible and somewhat readable.  May have strike flaws, encrustations and areas of corrosion, or overall roughness or porosityPitting, overall roughness, scratches, piercings, bends, and significant flaws should be noted, especially if a photograph is not provided. 

 

F

 

Fine

 

A coin with much overall wear present. The overall design is complete but detail is worn or obscured by corrosion.  Legends are visible but may not be fully readable. The bulk of ancient coins available today are in fine condition.  Pitting, overall roughness, large scratches, piercings, bends, and major flaws should be noted, especially if a photograph is not provided. 

 

aF


 

about Fine


 

A coin with a great amount of wear. Legends may not be visible.  Main designs of the coin can be seen.  Severe pitting, overall roughness, large scratches, piercings, major bends, and large cracks should be noted, especially if a photograph is not provided. 

 

Fair

 

Fair

 

A coin with a great amount of wear. Large design features can be seen, identification may be difficult but the type can be identified.  Piercings, significant bends and large cracks should be noted.

 

Poor

Poor

A coin with extensive wear making identification a challenge.  Flaws may not be noted.



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