Grading Washington silver quarters is a skill that is developed over many years of experience. However, getting a good start by understanding how coin grading is accomplished can help you develop that skill a lot quicker. Remember that coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of an individual coin that a majority of dealers and collectors would agree with.
Grading is not an exact science where a procedure can be applied, and everyone comes out with the same grade. Over the years, numismatists, coin dealers, and coin grading services have agreed upon certain definitions, descriptions, and Sheldon's numeric values that help all coin collectors describe their coins accurately (for the most part). This guide will help you understand those terms and descriptions so you can accurately grade your Washington silver quarters.
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Understanding Grades for Washington Silver Quarters
Washington silver quarters are made out of 90% silver, which is relatively soft and malleable. Therefore, this coin series will tend to wear quicker than coins made out of harder metals such as nickel. Grades of mint state or uncirculated are determined by examining the high points of the coin's design. The photo on the left illustrates the design highest points on the coin (indicated by the color red). If you believe you have an uncirculated Washington silver quarter, look at these areas on the coin first to see if you can spot any wear. Even the slightest amount of wear will disturb the mint luster on the highest points of the coin's design. If there is wear, then it will be considered a circulated coin.
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About Good-3 (AG3 or AG-3)
The coin is very heavily worn and barely legible. Some of the devices, lettering, legends, and date may be worn smooth, but the date is readable. Portions of the rim blend into the lettering. However, the coin is identifiable by date and mint mark.
Obverse: Parts of the word "LIBERTY" and the date are merging with the rim. All details on Washington's head are worn away and just an outline remains.
Reverse: The lettering next to the rim is almost worn smooth but somewhat discernible. The eagle's head and torso are completely smooth and just an outline.
Grading Tip: If the rim is full and complete, the coin will grade better than an AG--3.
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Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
The coin is heavily worn overall. The devices, lettering, legends, and date are readable but may have some faintness in a few areas. All major features are visible in at least outline form and the rim is mostly complete but may be incomplete in a few spots. The major features of the coin are well-formed and identifiable.
Obverse: Washington's head is well-worn and very few details remain. The letters in "LIBERTY" and the numerals in the date are starting to merge with the rim but are full and complete.
Reverse: The eagle is worn almost flat but a definitive outline exists. The letters next to the rim are worn to the point where they are beginning to merge with the rim but are complete.
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Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)
The coin is well-worn. The design is clear and major elements are defined but are flat and lacking in detail.
Obverse: The entire head is weak but some major details are starting to show through. All letters are full and complete and separated from the rim.
Reverse: About half of the wing feathers are now clear and distinct. The breast and legs of the Eagle are only an outline. The leaves on the wreath show very little details and the rim is nearly complete.
Grading Tip: If the rim is not full and complete the coin will grade below a VG-8.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)
The coin shows moderate even wear over the entire surface of the coin. The major design elements are bold and all lettering, legends, and date are clear and readable.
Obverse: Details are beginning to show on the hair on the back of Washington's head. The rim is crisp and clear and totally separated from the letters.
Reverse: Major details on the eagle's breast and legs are starting to show but the finer details on the feathers are worn off. About three- quarters of the feathers in the wings are now showing. The rim is full and complete and separated from the letters.
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Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)
Moderate to minor wear exists only on the highest parts of the design where a slight flatness is beginning to show. The overall condition of the coin is pleasing and attractive.
Obverse: Three-quarters of the lines in the hair are now showing. The hairline is separated from the forehead. Some details in the hair over the ear are beginning to show.
Reverse: The eagle's breast is apparently worn but a few details in the feathers are starting to show. The legs are worn smooth and most details in the eagle's wings are evident.
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Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)
Has only the slightest wear on the very highest points of the coin. All details are sharp and all design elements are well defined. Some traces of mint luster may still exist. The overall eye appeal of an Extra Fine-40 will be pleasing without any major defects that attract from the beauty of a circulated coin.
Obverse: Wear is visible on the high points of Washington's hair with all the major details being visible. The hairline that separates his forehead from his hair is crisp and distinct.
Reverse: There is light wear on the high points of the eagle's breast. Most feathers on the breast are now visible. Finer details in the eagle's wings are clearly evident. Wear is evident on only the highest points of the eagle's legs.
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About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)
Very minor traces of wear or abrasions are visible on only the highest points on the coin. Mint luster is almost complete and the surfaces of the coin are well preserved.
Obverse: Slight traces of wear are evident on only the highest points of the coin. This includes the curls of hair that surround Washington's ear and the hair in the center of his head. Nearly the entire mint luster is existent.
Reverse: Only a slight trace of wear is visible on the highest points of the eagle's breast feathers and legs. All finer details in the eagle's wings are clearly visible.
Grading Tip: If a particular coin has many bag marks, but the mint luster is full and complete even on the highest points, it will grade a low Mint State condition.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
No traces of wear from circulation exist. Mint luster is complete but shows minor impairments. Many contact marks, bag marks, and hairline scratches exist on the coin's field and major design elements and are visible without magnification. Overall, the coin has an attractive eye appeal.
Obverse: There is no trace of wear even on the design high points. The mint luster is full and complete but there are significant distracting marks in the field and/or on Washington's face.
Reverse: There is no trace of wear on the eagle's high points including the breast and the upper tips of the eagle's wings. There are a significant number of distracting marks on the eagle.
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Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)
A high quality of mint luster completely covers the surfaces of the coin and is undisturbed. Contact marks and bag marks are few and small. The coin is well struck and a few hairlines may be seen under a magnifying glass. Overall the coin is brilliant and has an above average eye appeal.
Obverse: No trace of wear is evident on the coin and only a few minuscule marks may be seen in the field or on Washington's face or neck.
Reverse: No wear is evident anywhere on the coin. Only a few minuscule marks may be seen on the Eagle.
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Mint State-67 (MS67 or MS-67)
The original mint luster is complete and almost perfect. There are only three or four very small and unnoticeable contact marks. Overall, the coin has an extraordinary eye appeal that is hardly ever seen. A few minor hairlines can be found only with magnification.
Obverse: No traces of wear are evident anywhere on the coin. There are no distracting marks and the mint luster is above average. Pay special attention to Washington's face and the fields of the coin.
Reverse: All details of the coin are clearly visible even on the highest points of the coin. The eye appeal is superb. Pay special attention to the eagle's breast and legs.