PCGS Grading Standards
In 1948, Dr. William Sheldon, a renowned numismatist, developed the Sheldon Scale, assigning grades from "1" through "70" to coins. The basis of Sheldon’s theory was that a "70" would be worth 70 times as much as a "1."
PCGS built its grading standards upon the Sheldon Scale when it introduced the concept of encapsulated, third-party grading in 1986. Review the details behind the PCGS grading standards through our visual guide below or the classic table view.
The numerical grades MS-60 through MS-70, used to denote a business strike coin that never has been in circulation. A Mint State coin can range from one that is covered with marks (MS-60) to a flawless example (MS-70).
A coin usually struck from a specially prepared coin die on a specially prepared planchet. Proofs are usually given more than one blow from the dies and are usually struck with presses operating at slower speeds and higher striking pressure. Because of this extra care, Proofs usually exhibit much sharper detail than regular, or business, strikes. PCGS recognizes Proofs (PR) as those struck in 1817 and later.
Special coins struck at the Mint from 1792-1816 that display many characteristics of the later Proof coinage. Prior to 1817, the minting equipment and technology was limited, so these coins do not have the "watery" surfaces of later Proofs nor the evenness of strike of the close collar Proofs.
|Mint State or Proof 70||MS/PR-70||Fully struck and lustrous, free of visual marks under 5X magnification.|
|Mint State or Proof 69||MS/PR-69||Virtually fully struck with miniscule imperfections visible upon close inspection.|
|Mint State or Proof 68||MS/PR-68||Only the slightest weakness in strike with a few tiny imperfections barely visible.|
|Mint State or Proof 67||MS/PR-67||Very well struck with minor imperfections visible without magnification.|
|Mint State or Proof 66||MS/PR-66||Well struck with a few marks or hairlines, not in focal areas.|
|Mint State or Proof 65||MS/PR-65||Above average strike with minor marks or hairlines, mostly out of focal areas.|
|Mint State or Proof 64||MS/PR-64||Average or better strike with scattered marks or hairlines, though none severe.|
|Mint State or Proof 63||MS/PR-63||Average or slightly weak strike with moderate marks or hairlines.|
|Mint State or Proof 62||MS/PR-62||No wear, with average or below average strike. Numerous marks or hairlines.|
|Mint State or Proof 61||MS/PR-61||No wear, with average or weak strike. Multiple heavy marks or hairlines allowed.|
|Mint State or Proof 60||MS/PR-60||No wear. May be poorly struck with many heavy marks or hairlines.|
|About Uncirculated 58||AU-58||Only the slightest friction on the highest points. Virtually full luster.|
|About Uncirculated 55||AU-55||Full detail, with light friction on the high points. Considerable luster remains.|
|About Uncirculated 53||AU-53||Slight flatness and loss of luster visible on high points of design. Some luster remains.|
|About Uncirculated 50||AU-50||Trace of wear now seen on higher points of design. Bits of luster may remain.|
|Extremely Fine 45||XF-45||High points of design show light wear. A bit of luster may still be visible in protected areas.|
|Extremely Fine 40||XF-40||All design elements still show, but high points now worn flat. Little to no luster remains.|
|Very Fine 35||VF-35||Light wear is seen over entire surface though all major detail still visible.|
|Very Fine 30||VF-30||Wear now evident over entire surface. Intricate design detail beginning to flatten.|
|Very Fine 25||VF-25||Entire surface shows some wear, but major design features remain clear.|
|Very Fine 20||VF-20||Moderate wear with some loss of detail evident in design.|
|Fine 15||F-15||Slightly less than half of finer detail worn flat. All lettering remains sharp and clear.|
|Fine 12||F-12||About half of detail now worn flat. All lettering remains visible.|
|Very Good 10||VG-10||Considerable wear has flattened most of the fine detail. Most lettering remains readable.|
|Very Good 8||VG-8||Most central detail now worn flat. Some inner lettering still visible. Rims remain full.|
|Good 6||G-6||Rims and peripheral lettering full but design now flat and visible only in outline form.|
|Good 4||G-4||Rims mostly full but may be flat or slightly worn into peripheral letter in spots.|
|About Good 3||AG-3||Rims worn into tops of lettering but most lettering remains readable.|
|Fair 2||FR-2||Entire coin is worn flat, with only traces of peripheral lettering still visible.|
|Poor 1||PO-1||Identifiable as to type, date and mintmark.|
|Ungradable||None||Date and mintmark of coin must be detectable to be graded.|
Designations are ratings added after the numerical grade to describe a particular attribute of a series that is of importance and value to most collectors.
Copper Coinage: more than 95% original red color. Watch Video
Copper Coinage: between 5% and 95% original red color. Watch Video
Copper Coinage: less than 5% original red color. Watch Video
Jefferson Nickels: MS60 or better, at least five complete steps must appear on Monticello. Any steps that join or fuse together, whether created that way or subsequently damaged, cannot be considered for the Full Steps designation. Watch Video
Mercury Head Dimes: The central bands on the fasces on the reverse should be completely separated from left to right, without any breaks, marks or gaps. Note: PCGS may designate in grades of 60 and higher. Watch Video
Standing Liberty Quarters:
Note: PCGS may designate 1918/7 Quarters as Full Head in grades of XF40 and higher.
Full Bell Lines
Franklin Half Dollars: MS60 or better. Must exhibit complete, uninterrupted lower lines on the Liberty bell. Watch Video
Deep Mirror Prooflike
1950-1970 Proof Coinage:
1950-1970 Proof Coinage:
Branch Mint Proof
A proof coin struck prior to 1968 at a Mint other than Philadelphia.
Branch Mint Cameo
A proof coin showing cameo contrast struck prior to 1968 at a Mint other than Philadelphia.
All Eagles, Gold Buffalos, Gold Spouse Coins and other mint releases struck within the first 30 days of issue.
A smooth, lightly sandblasted look with none of the normal cartwheel effect seen on regular strikes.
Special Mint Set
A set of special coins (neither business strikes nor Proofs) first struck in limited quantities in 1965 and officially released in 1966-1967 to replace Proof sets, which were discontinued as part of the U.S. Mint's efforts to stop coin hoarding. The quality of many of the 1965 coins was not much better than that of business strikes, but by 1967, some Special Mint Set (SMS) coins resembled Proofs. In fact, the government admitted as much when it revealed how the 1967 issues were struck. In 1968, Proof coinage resume. There have been similar issues since; the 1994 and 1997 Matte-finish Jefferson nickels, for example, are frosted SMS-type coins. There also are a few known 1964 SMS coins, these likely struck as tests in late 1964 for the new 1965 SMS strikings.
Struck well like a Proof, but satiny, sometimes matte, semi-granular looking.
No grade coins returned to the submitter with encapsulation.
When rim dents or bumps have been filed to give the edge an even appearance.
Toning is a natural chemical process that occurs as a coin reacts to its environment. Collectors consider colorful, natural toning to be desirable and they often pay premiums for attractively toned coins. However, toning can be added, enhanced or accelerated by artificial means, creating the appearance of natural toning. Copper coins are sometimes stripped of their color to simulate their original, red appearance. In most cases, these treatments result in unnatural colors which the experts at PCGS will reject.
Surface damage due to any form of abrasive cleaning. "Cleaned" covers a wide range or appearances, from a grossly polished coin to one where faint hairlines can be seen only at a particular angle or in only one area on an otherwise perfectly normal coin. This is perhaps the most frustrating of all the No Grades, because subtle cleaning is often difficult to detect in less-than-optimal grading conditions. "Dipping" (the removal of toning with a chemical bath) is not considered cleaning under this definition.
Metal impurity or defect in the planchet. Small, unobtrusive planchet flaws are acceptable. Large, obvious, poorly placed, or distracting flaws are rejected. Context is also important. Planchet flaws on certain U.S. Colonial coins are expected; planchet flaws on Morgan Silver Dollars are not.
Adding anything to the surface of the coin to either "improve" its appearance or to cover marks. Surface alteration methods include adding dental wax, putty, lacquer, nose grease, etc. "Thumbing" is the application of a putty-like material to fill in marks, scratches, and other defects or to haze over portions of the coin. Coatings (such as lacquer), while intended to protect coins, result in a No Grade because it is impossible to determine the quality of the underlying surfaces.
Depends on the severity and/or the quantity of the scratch(s). Faint, old, toned-over scratches may be acceptable; bright, fresh scratches may not. Placement is an important factor.
Coins that are damaged because of improper storage may be rejected. Corrosion is caused by storage in areas of high humidity, sea salvage coins, and coins found in the ground. Toning that is excessively dark or heavy, or which burns into the surface of the coin, may be rejected.
Any form of metal movement, either intentional or accidental. Damage may include excessive or heavy rim dings and bruises, deliberate surface damage such as graffiti, attempts to remove spots, etc. The severity and extent of the damage affects whether it will get a “No Grade” decision.
The following damage descriptions are some of the more common that may be indicated on your 98 graded insert.
- Graffiti (significant distracting etchings- occasionally net graded on early coins)
- Planchet streak removed (usually found on gold coins)
- Spot(s) removed (leaving some form of damage that is evident)
- Machine damage (either: counting machine or coin wrapping machine)
- Rim damage (either: rim gouge or test cut)
- Surface damage (either large gouge, drill or chop mark [except on Trade Dollars], hole, corrosion removed, smoothed or polished)
- Mount removed (located on either the edge or surface of coin)
- Repaired (including plugged holes)
- Surface Plated (Any addition of metal, paint or other material to the surface that materially alters the appearance of the coin. This is sometimes seen on 1943 Steel Cents which have been replated with a fresh coat of zinc, or on American Silver Eagles which have been "colorized" as a collector's item.)
- Smoothed (A coin whose surface has been disturbed in order to give it the appearance of a higher grade. This often involves the use of a rotating wire brush to remove scratches or marks and simulate luster. This treatment is commonly referred to as "whizzing.")
|82||Filed Rims||Rim(s) and/or edge is filed. (more) Watch Video||Yes||Yes|
|91||Questionable Color||Any artificial re-toning & dipped copper. (more) Watch Video||No||Yes|
|92||Cleaning||Harsh cleaning or polishing. (more) Watch Video||No||Yes|
|93||Planchet Flaw||Generally large & prominent flaw(s). (more) Watch Video||No||Yes|
|94||Altered Surfaces||Any applied substance (wax, putty, lacquer). (more) Watch Video||No||Yes|
|95||Scratch(s)||Large & prominent scratch(s). (more) Watch Video||No||Yes|
|97||Environmental Damage||Corrosion, excessive toning, verdigris. (more) Watch Video||No||Yes|
|98||Damage||Any metal movement. (more) Watch Video||Yes||Yes|
No PCGS Holder
No grade coins returned to the submitter without encapsulation.
A coin which has a planchet flaw that is serious enough to flake away in the sealing process. (This no-grade will not be sealed in a PCGS holder.)
Fee not refunded. In the rare instances where the experts at PCGS are unable to determine conclusively that a coin is either genuine or counterfeit, that coin will be returned to the submitter ungraded.
PCGS spends a great deal of time examining coins that have been harshly cleaned, corroded and or tooled. PCGS must be able to positively determine that a coin is both genuine and has not been "holed and plugged". In some situations the surface of the coin is completely destroyed, and in these instances PCGS will not render an opinion on the coin. Many counterfeit coins are harshly altered or intentionally damaged in an attempt to fool the grading services. If a coin is worn or damaged to an extent that makes it impossible to identify the date, mint mark, or variety, an Authenticity Unverifiable will be issued.
Fee not refunded. The coin is either a known counterfeit or exhibits characteristics of known counterfeits and is therefore highly suspect. This category includes otherwise genuine coins which have been altered to simulate rarities (re-engraved dates, added mintmarks, removed mintmarks, etc.).
Grading (Standard or Secure) Service: Fee refunded. These are coins that PCGS does not certify (i.e. medals, some privately made issues, etc.) or cannot certify (i.e. oversized coins that will not fit in a PCGS holder).
Restoration Service: Coins submitted for PCGS Restoration Service that we determine will not benefit from being restored, nor should be restored, will be charged a $10 evaluation fee.
PVC is a plasticizer used to produce vinyl coin holders. Over time, PVC leaches out of these holders and will eventually damage the surface of the coin. PVC is seen as small green specks or a slimy green film. (This no-grade will not be sealed in a PCGS holder.)
|83||Peeling Lamination||Potential for sealing damage. (more) Watch Video||Yes||No|
|86||Authenticity Unverifiable||Coin's status inconclusive. (more) Watch Video||Yes||No|
|90||Counterfeit||Fake coin or altered mintmark, date, variety. (more) Watch Video||Yes||No|
|96||No Service||PCGS does not currently grade this item. (more)||Yes||No|
|99||PVC Residue||Oily polyvinylchloride substance. (more) Watch Video||Yes||No|