Search articles

A Look at PCGS Designations


In the upcoming release of Photograde™, we will be adding photographs and information on Designations. Just what are Designations, and why are they important?

For some coins, a numerical grade alone does not suffice. Collector preferences (and consequently market value) demand the use of Designations. Designations are a rating added after the numerical grade to describe a particular attribute of a series which has importance and value to collectors.

Designations fall into three main categories: Color, Strike and Surface Reflectivity or Contrast.


On all Mint State and Proof copper coins (Half Cents, Large Cents, Small Cents, Two Cent pieces and some patterns) one of three color ratings is assigned.

Red (RD) (95% or more original red visible)

Red & Brown (RB) (5% to 95% or original red visible)

Brown (BN) (Less than 5% of original red color visible)

Obviously color is an unbroken continuum, so the three color designations represent ranges of remaining original (red) color. Below is shown a Braided Hair large cent in three different color designation levels.

Full Red copper coins typically demand market prices several times that of their Brown, or Red & Brown counterparts.

Click to enlarge


The second PCGS Designation category concerns strike.

On some Mint State silver and nickel coins, recognition is made of certain portions of the design that contain all of the original detail engraved into the dies.

As the dies wear, often these portions of the design become flattened, and are never struck onto the coin. Weak striking pressure can also contribute to a poor strike.

PCGS currently recognizes four strike designations in five series:

Full Steps (FS) (Jefferson Nickels)

Full Bands (FB) (Mercury and Roosevelt Dimes)

Full Head (FH) (Standing Liberty Quarters - Types 1 and 2)

Full Bell Lines (FBL) (Franklin Halves)

Below is shown a Type II Standing Liberty Quarter showing the various states of strike on the head of Liberty. For these coins, the market value of a Full Head coin is often many times that of the same date with a flat, or partial head.

Click to enlarge

Surface Reflectivity or Contrast

The third designation category concerns the reflectivity or the fields (Mint State coins), or contrast visible on the surface between the devices and fields (Proof Coins).

On some Mint State coins (almost exclusively Morgan Dollars), recognition is given if the fields display a certain degree of reflectivity.

Two levels of reflectivity are recognized:

Prooflike (PL)

Deep Mirror Prooflike (DMPL)

Shown below are three surface reflectivity states of a Morgan Dollar:

Click to enlarge

On Proof coins, recognition is made if there is high visual contrast between the devices and the fields.

This usually appears as frosting on the devices, and mirror-like reflectivity on the fields.

Two levels are recognized:

Cameo (CAM)

Deep Cameo (DCAM)

Shown below are three surface contrast states of a Proof Kennedy Half:

Click to enlarge

Further coverage of Designations are provided in our Grading 102 class, held three times annually at the Long Beach Coin and Stamp Exposition.

For more information, call 1-800-447-8848 or email [email protected].

Grading Coin Collecting: Basics