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||As struck, with full strike.|
|Mint State or Proof 69||MS/PR-69||Virtually as struck with minuscule imperfections, near full strike necessary.|
|Mint State or Proof 68||MS/PR-68||Virtually as struck with slight imperfections, slightest weakness of strike allowed.|
|Mint State or Proof 67||MS/PR-67||Virtually as struck with minor imperfections, very well struck.|
|Mint State or Proof 66||MS/PR-66||Few minor marks/hairlines not in focal areas, good strike.|
|Mint State or Proof 65||MS/PR-65||Minor marks/hairlines though none in focal areas, above average strike.|
|Mint State or Proof 64||MS/PR-64||Few marks/hairlines or a couple of severe ones, strike should be average or above.|
|Mint State or Proof 63||MS/PR-63||Moderate number/size marks/hairlines, strike may not be full.|
|Mint State or Proof 62||MS/PR-62||No wear. Slightly less marks/hairlines, strike may not be full.|
|Mint State or Proof 61||MS/PR-61||No wear. Multiple heavy marks/hairlines, strike may not be full.|
|Mint State or Proof 60||MS/PR-60||No wear. May have many heavy marks/hairlines, strike may not be full.|
|About Uncirculated 58||AU-58||Full detail with only slight friction on the high points.|
|About Uncirculated 55||AU-55||Full detail with friction on less than 1/2 surface, mainly on high points.|
|About Uncirculated 53||AU-53||Full detail with friction over 1/2 or more of surface, very slight flatness on high points.|
|About Uncirculated 50||AU-50||Full detail with friction over most of surface, slight flatness on high points.|
|Extremely Fine 45||XF-45||Detail is complete with some high points flat.|
|Extremely Fine 40||XF-40||Detail is complete with most high points slightly flat.|
|Very Fine 35||VF-35||Detail is complete but worn with high points flat/|
|Very Fine 30||VF-30||Almost complete detail with flat areas.|
|Very Fine 25||VF-25||Slightly more definition in the detail and lettering.|
|Very Fine 20||VF-20||Some definition of detail, all lettering full and sharp.|
|Fine 15||F-15||Slightly more detail in the recessed areas, all lettering sharp.|
|Fine 12||F-12||Some deeply recessed areas with detail, all lettering sharp.|
|Very Good 10||VG-10||Design worn with slight detail, slightly clearer.|
|Very Good 8||VG-8||Design worn with slight detail.|
|Good 6||G-6||Rims complete with flat detail, peripheral lettering full.|
|Good 4||G-4||Slightly worn rims, flat detail, peripheral lettering nearly full.|
|About Good 3||AG-3||Worn rims but most lettering is readable though worn.|
|Fair 2||FR-2||Mostly worn, though some detail is visible.|
|Poor 1||PO-1||Identifiable date and type.|
|Ungradable||None||Date 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.
Coin has a drill hole through it that may or may not have been plugged. Plugged coins are usually then tooled to help cover up the noticeable plug.
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.
This No Grade covers anything added 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. Whizzing is the use of a high-speed, rotating wheel to buff the surfaces of a coin, which actually moves the metal on the surface and leaves ridges on many of the devices.
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)
- Surfaces tooled (major metal movement- whizzing, lasering, tooling)
- Machine damage (either: counting machine or coin wrapping machine)
- Rim damage (either: rim gouge or test cut)
- Surface damage (either: large gouge/scrape, drill or chop mark)
- Mount removed (located on either the edge or surface of coin)
|82||Filed Rims||Rim(s) and/or edge is filed. (more)||Yes||Yes|
|84||Holed and/or Plugged||Any filled or non-filled hole. (more)||Yes||Yes|
|91||Questionable Color||Any artificial re-toning & dipped copper. (more)||No||Yes|
|92||Cleaning||Harsh cleaning or polishing. (more)||No||Yes|
|93||Planchet Flaw||Generally large & prominent flaw(s). (more)||No||Yes|
|94||Altered Surfaces||Any applied substance (wax, putty, lacquer). (more)||No||Yes|
|95||Scratch(s)||Large & prominent scratch(s). (more)||No||Yes|
|97||Environmental Damage||Corrosion, excessive toning, verdigris. (more)||No||Yes|
|98||Damage||Any metal movement. (more)||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)||Yes||No|
|86||Authenticity Unverifiable||Coin's status inconclusive. (more)||Yes||No|
|90||Counterfeit||Fake coin or altered mintmark, date, variety. (more)||Yes||No|
|96||No Service||PCGS does not currently grade this item. (more)||Yes||No|
|99||PVC Residue||Oily polyvinylchloride substance. (more)||Yes||No|