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Grades:

Coins are struck by the U.S. Mint two ways.  The first is called a "Business Strike", that is, coins that are released for general circulation.  The second is called a "Proof Strike" which are coins that are specially polished and are released for sale to collectors.  It should be noted that both Business Strike and Proof Strike coins are legal tender, and will always maintain their face value.

When coins are graded by Grading Service companies (see Grading Services), they are assigned a grade designation based on industry standard Criteria for grading coins.  Grade designations are usually one or two letters followed by a number.  The letters are an abbreviation of a description of the quality of a coin, and the number is a further description of the relative quality level.

Descriptive Category:
Business strike coins can be put into one of ten Descriptive Categories, Poor (P or PR), Fair (F or FR), About Good (AG), Good (G), Very Good (VG), Fine (F), Very Fine (VF), Extra Fine (EF), About Uncirculated (AU), or Mint State (MS).  Proof Strike Coins are always designated as Proof (PR or PF).

Quality Level:
The numeric part of a Grade designation indicates the coin's quality level.  This numeric scale ranges from 1 (identifiable, but of the poorest quality) to 70 (which indicates the coin was perfectly struck and looks as it did when it was released by the Mint).  Not all the numbers between 1 and 70 are used, for instance, a Business Strike coin that is graded as Very Fine (VF) can only have a numeric quality level designation of 20, 25, 30, or 35.  It's possible for a Proof (PR or PF) coin to have any numeric quality level designation.  However it's unusual to find a graded Proof coin designated less than 60, hence the grayed area in the chart below.  Please note that a
s with any commodity or collectable item, it's value is what someone it willing to pay for it...the rarer the item, the more likely it is that the price will be high.  As such it's very possible for a scarce Proof coin with a low grade to be very valuable.

The charts below explain most possible combinations:

Business Strike Criteria

 Proof Strike

Grade
(Abbreviated)
Descriptive
Category
Quality
Level
Quality
Level
Descriptive
Category
Grade
(Abbreviated)

P-1

PO-1

Poor

1

Identifiable type. Date may be identifiable. 
(Also know as Basal State coin)

1

Proof
(circulated)

PR-1

PF-1

F-2

FR-1

Fair

2

Mostly worn, though some detail is visible

2

PR-2

PF-2

AG-3

About Good
(sometimes called
Almost Good)

3

Worn rims but most lettering
is readable though worn

3

PR-3

PF-3

G-4

Good

4

Slightly worn rims, flat detail,
peripheral lettering nearly full

4

PR-4

PF-4

G-6

6

Rims complete with flat detail,
peripheral lettering full

6

PR-6

PF-6

VG-8

Very Good

8

Design worn with slight detail

8

PR-8

PF-8

VG-10

10

Design worn with slight detail, slightly clearer

10

PR-10

PF-10

F-12

Fine

12

Some deeply recessed areas with detail,
all lettering sharp

12

PR-12

PF-12

F-15

15

Slightly more detail in the recessed areas,
all lettering sharp

15

PR-15

PF-15

VF-20

Very Fine

20

Some definition of detail,
all lettering full and sharp

20

PR-20

PF-20

VF-25

25

Slightly more definition in the detail and lettering

25

PR-25

PF-25

VF-30

30

Almost complete detail with flat areas

30

PR-30

PF-30

VF-35

35

Detail is complete but worn with high points flat

35

PR-35

PF-35

EF-40

XF-40

Extra Fine

40

Detail is complete with most high points slightly flat

40

PR-40

PF-40

EF-45

XF-45

45

Detail is complete with some high points flat

45

PR-45

PF-45

AU-50

About
Uncirculated
(sometimes called
Almost Uncirculated)

50

Full detail with friction over most of the surface,
slight flatness on high points

50

PR-50

PF-50

AU-53

53

Full detail with friction over 1/2 or more of surface,
very slight flatness on high points

53

PR-53

PF-53

AU-55

55

Full detail with friction on less than 1/2 surface,
mainly on high points

55

PR-55

PF-55

AU-58

58

Full detail with only slight friction on the high points

58

PR-58

PF-58

MS-60

Mint State
(uncirculated)

60

Few minor marks/hairlines not in focal areas,
good strike

60

Proof
 (uncirculated)

PR-60

PF-60

MS-61

61

No wear. Multiple heavy marks/hairlines,
strike may not be full

61

PR-61

PF-61

MS-62

62

No wear. Slightly less marks/hairlines,
strike may not be full

62

PR-62

PF-62

MS-63

63

Moderate number/size marks/hairlines,
strike may not be full

63

PR-63

PF-63

MS-64

64

Few marks/hairlines or a couple of severe ones,
strike should be average or above

64

PR-64

PF-64

MS-65

65

Minor marks/hairlines though none in focal areas,
above average strike

65

PR-65

PF-65

MS-66

66

Few minor marks/hairlines not in focal areas,
good strike

66

PR-66

PF-66

MS-67

67

Virtually as struck with minor imperfections,
very well struck

67

PR-67

PF-67

MS-68

68

Virtually as struck with slight imperfections,
slightest weakness of strike allowed

68

PR-68

PF-68

MS-69

69

Virtually as struck with minuscule imperfections,
near full strike necessary

69

PR-69

PF-69

MS-70

70

As struck, with full strike

70

PR-70

PF-70

Grade Suffixes:

In addition to the Grade designations above, some Grading companies use suffixes, also known as grade superlatives, to additionally describe the state of a coin.  These descriptive suffixes can vary among Grading companies.  Below are most of the more commonly seen Grade Suffixes:
 

Suffix Refers to Description Applies to
BN Color Brown  Both Business & Proof Strike Cents, Half Cents and 2 Cents
CA Strike Cameo Proof Strike coins only
CAM Strike Cameo Proof Strike coins only
DC Surface Deep Cameo Proof Strike coins only
DCAM Surface Deep Cameo Proof Strike coins only
DMPL Surface Deep Mirror Proof-like Business Strike coins only
DPL Surface Deep Mirror Proof-like Business Strike coins only (used by NGC service only)
FB Strike Full Bands Business Strike & Proof Strike Mercury Dimes only
FBL Strike Full Bell Lines Business Strike Franklin Halves only
FH Strike Full Head Business Strike Standing Liberty Quarters only
FS Strike Full Steps Business Strike Jefferson Nickels only
RB Color Red-Brown Both Business & Proof Strike Cents, Half Cents and 2 Cents
RD Color Red Both Business & Proof Strike Cents, Half Cents and 2 Cents
PL Surface Proof-like Business Strike coins only
* Overall Superior eye appeal Business Strike & Proof Strike (used by NGC service only)
 

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