U.S. & World Coin News and Articles

A Quick Reference Guide to Grading Mint State Coins

A Quick Reference Guide To Grading Mint State Coins.

by: R.D. Drysdale, R.D. Rare Coin Auctions on Coin Universe.

You are new to collecting. You paid a lot of money for a certified MS65 coin and it has bagmarks. The luster is nice, but not full. It has eye appeal, but nothing to brag about. The strike is all there, but it is not razor sharp? The coin you are describing is a MS65 coin! The description of the condition of the coin described above is a good example of what a typical MS65 coin may look like. But you expected a coin graded MS65 would look better. You thought the surface quality would be better? You thought there would be a complete absence of bagmarks! Well read on, you have something to learn about the eleven grades of mint state coins.

Ever receive a long-awaited-for coin in the mail, tear into the package and find the most beautiful, awe-inspiring coin of the type you have ever laid your eyes on. With your magnifying glass you excitedly examine close-up the coin's beauty and you explore and fascinate at the details of the coin you possess. Adrenalin begins to mount and your heart races as you gaze at the magic displayed by the rare numismatic treasure before you. More than a hundred decades have passed, and time has not lessened the warmth and the freshly-minted appearance of your new acquisition. The luster is sensational. The surface quality is unusually appealing and the surfaces appear undisturbed. You notice there are no obvious marks anywhere on the coin. 'Why, you think to yourself...is this coin in a MS65 holder?' You double check to reaffirm your initial findings. 'Above average luster, great eye appeal and no significant marks?' You think. 'Could it be the strike?' You carefully check the strike and find it to be a trifle weak at the very centermost point of the design. The weakness is hardly noticable. Weakly struck center design details often occur with this issue? Why then, is this coin in a sixty-five holder? It should be in a sixty-six case. So you check again? Your third close examination reveals a small, yet noticable when detected, 'hidden' bagmark just along the edge of the lettering on the reverse rim. The bagmark is above the recessed area of the coin and gouges into the coin's surface at the side of the letter U in UNITED. A small mark has been revealed on the edge of the higher relief area of the coin's lettering. The bagmark appears as part of the coins design until fully detected. Is this hidden mark capable of causing a professional coin grader to drop the grade of the coin a full point, maybe two points to a sixty-five? Probably not! Even if the coin is worth considerably more money from sixty-five to sixty-six, 'hidden' marks should not lower the grade of a coin from a sixty-seven to a sixty-six or from a sixty-six to a sixty-five.

The examples above are meant to show finer points of grading United States mint state coins. Short descriptions of specific grading characteristics of the eleven grades of mint state coins, MS70 through MS60, are listed below. The definitions are designed to be quick reference points and to describe, in general, grade characteristics of coins that fall into each of the eleven specific grade categories of mint state. Many U.S. issues have specific striking characteristics that profesional graders take into consideration before assigining a grade. These brief grade explanations do not address any specifc coin or any one single U.S. Type coin. Instead, they are generalizations.

Make a copy of these grading characteristics. They may come in handy at the next show you attend or you could find them useful when grading your own coins you have currently in your collection.

Listed below are general grade characteristics for United States mint state coins.

MS70: No imperfectons under high magnification. A perfect coin.

MS69: Any imperfection, hairlines, etc, are virtually undetectable under magnification. Finding business strike U.S. coins graded this high is rare.

MS68: An very prominent, well defined strike. Full mint luster. Outstanding eye appeal. No visible marks of any nature are present on the coins primary surfaces under average magnification power. A coin with outstanding surface quality.

MS67: Above average strike. Full mint luster and attractive eye appeal. A few tiny marks may be present and even one single hidden mark near or at an important design area of the coin may exist. No more than one significant mark.

MS66: Above average strike. Full mint luster is required for the MS66 level. A mint state 66 graded coin should have above average eye appeal and be considered attractive for the issue. A few, small scattered marks may be present, but not a single, large obvious mark that detracts from the overall nice appeal of the coin.

MS65: The strike should be at least average for the issue and preferably sharp for the issue. The luster should be above average although full mint luster is not required like MS66 and MS67 grades are. Bagmarks can be present, but should not detract greatly from the coin's overall beauty. Generally, MS65's are above average for the issue with attractive luster and are appealing coins overall.

MS64: The strike is average and preferabally slightly better than average. Luster should be at least average for the issue. Full mint luster is not required. Average strike for the issue. Bagmarks are present, sometimes heavier than others.

MS63: An average uncirculated coin for the issue. Full mint luster is not required, nor is full strike. Average eye appeal is sufficient to make this grade. Bagmarks are present and can be heavy at times, but they should not overwhelm the overall appeal of the coin

MS62: Slightly below average strike, luster and eye appeal. Bagmarks may be heavy and the coin's surfaces may have some large, detracting ones.

MS61: Heavily marked with dull, unappealing luster. A MS61 graded coin may look slightly better than a MS60, but the difference is marginal at best. A very below average, generally 'coin lacking appeal' area of mint state.

MS60: An often unattractive, possibly impaired coin with surface distractions and scuffed, heavily bagmarked surfaces. Yet, no signs of circulation.

Readers can sharpen their grading skills considerably by attending local coin shows and examining as many coins as possible. In addition, the American Numismatic Association offers an excellent home study grading course titled, Grading Coins Today. The ANA can be reached at 1-800-467-5725.

R.D. Rare Coin Auctions are presented on the Coin Universe Dealer Auctions. Please check the listings.

PCGS Library