Grading Mercury dimes (also known as Winged Liberty Head dimes) is a skill that has taken even the most seasoned coin collector years of experience to perfect. Study this guide, and it will get you started on becoming an expert coin grader.
Remember that coin grading is the representation of an opinion that describes the condition of an individual coin that most dealers and collectors would agree with. Coin grading is not an exact science where a formula can be applied, and everyone comes out with the same result. But over the years, numismatists, coin collectors, and coin grading services have agreed upon specific definitions, descriptions, and Sheldon's numeric values that help all coin collectors accurately describe their coins' condition.
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Understanding Grades for Mercury Dimes
Mercury Dimes are small coins made of 90% silver that is soft and malleable and consequently can be very difficult to grade. Therefore, one of the first steps in grading your coin is to determine if it is circulated or uncirculated.
This photo illustrates the highest points of the coin's design (indicated by the color red). If you think you have an uncirculated Mercury dime, look at these areas on the coin first to see if you can spot any wear. Even the slightest circulation will cause a disturbance in the mint luster of the coin. If there is evidence of wear, then it is not uncirculated.
However, sometimes these coins were not fully struck. This resulted in incomplete strikes where some finer details were not pressed into the coin. This is usually evident on the highest points of the coin. Therefore, be careful not to confuse a weakly struck coin with a coin that has been circulated.
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About Good-3 (AG3 or AG-3)
Summary: The coin is very heavily worn, the letters and design are barely legible, but they are discernible. Some of the devices, lettering, legends, and date may be worn smooth, but the date is unquestionably readable. Portions of the rim are so worn that it blends into the lettering. If the coin possesses a mintmark, it also must be identifiable.
Obverse: Only the major details are visible in outline form only. The date and legends are worn smooth but readable. The tops of the letters in LIBERTY are beginning to merge with the rim.
Reverse: The entire design is mostly worn away. The letters around the rim of the coin have merged well into the rim. The fasces is just an outline and there are very few details on the olive branches. The rim is almost completely worn away.
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Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
Summary: 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. This is especially true if the coin has a weak strike.
Obverse: The details on Lady Liberty's head are well-worn, but basic shapes can be discerned. Some letters in the word LIBERTY are slightly separated from the rim. The legend and the date are visible but may be weak.
Reverse: The fasces is completely outlined and is nearly worn flat. The bands across the rods are completely worn off. The rim is well-worn but shows some completeness in places.
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Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)
Summary: The coin is well-worn. The design is clear and major elements are defined but are flat and lacking in detail. The overall appearance of the coin has some detail but mostly it is worn off and flat.
Obverse: Lady Liberty's head is weak, and principal design details are outlined, for example, the wing. The letters in the word LIBERTY are separate from the rim.
Reverse: The letters around the rim are separated from the rim. The rim is complete although it may be weak in some areas. Some vertical lines in the rods on the fasces are beginning to show on its sides.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)
Summary: The coin shows moderate even wear over the entire surface of the coin. The primary design elements are bold, all lettering, legends, and date are clear and readable.
Obverse: More details show on the head of Lady Liberty. Some features shown in the hair and the feathers on the wings. But most are flat and indistinct.
Reverse: Most vertical lines in the rods on the fasces are visible but lack detail. The horizontal and diagonal bands are worn but somewhat visible. They may be worn smooth at the very center.
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Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)
Summary: 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: Lady Liberty's hair is worn, but most details are apparent although smooth. Three-quarters of the details in the wing are evident. The hairline on her forehead is beginning to show more clearly.
Reverse: All of the vertical lines on the fasces are distinct. Wear is visible on the horizontal and diagonal bands, and details in the olive branch are strong.
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Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)
Summary: 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.
Obverse: All details on Lady Liberty's head are visible and show only slight signs of wear. Her cheek, midpoint of the wing and neckline may show slight flatness. The hairline on her forehead is well defined. All details are visible and crisp. Some residual mint luster may still exist in the protected areas of the coin.
Reverse: All the rods in the fasces are clearly defined and separated. The horizontal and diagonal bands are visible and distinct but may show some wear.
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About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)
Summary: 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. If a coin has a weak strike, some of the details on the highest points may be missing. Do not confuse this with wear if the mint luster is bold and complete.
Obverse: Traces of wear are evident on only the highest points (Lady Liberty's cheek, the midpoint of the wing and on the curls of hair above her forehead).
Reverse: Only traces of wear show on the horizontal and diagonal bands across the fasces. A majority of the mint luster still exists on the coin.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
Summary: No traces of wear from circulation exist. Mint luster is complete but shows minor impairments. Many contact marks, bag marks, and hairline scratches are visible without magnification and are on the coin's field and major design elements. Overall, the coin has an attractive eye appeal. Tarnished and colorful toning is acceptable at this grade. However, environmental damage such as scrapes, nicks or corrosion will keep it out of an uncirculated grade.
Obverse: The original mint luster covers the entire coin. A few distracting contact marks exist on Lady Liberty's face and in the field.
Reverse: Original mint luster covers the entire surface of the coin. A few distracting contact marks exist on the blade and body of the fasces.
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Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)
Summary: 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 using a magnifying glass. Overall the coin is brilliant and has an above average eye appeal.
Obverse: Light or small contact marks may exist on the coin, but no distracting contact marks are on Lady Liberty's face.
Reverse: A few light and small contact marks may exist on the surface of the coin, but there are no distracting marks on the blade or body of the fasces.
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Mint State-67 (MS67 or MS-67)
Summary: The original mint luster is complete and almost perfect. There are only three or four tiny and unnoticeable contact marks. Overall, the coin has an extraordinary eye appeal that is seldom 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. Eye appeal is outstanding, and the mint luster is radiant.
Reverse: All details of the coin are present even on the highest points of the coin, and the eye appeal is superb. There are no contact marks on the blade or body of the fasces.
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Having been a coin collector for a majority of my life, I have witnessed firsthand the evolution of coin grading standards over the last forty years. I have studied coin grading with professional coin graders from NGC and PCGS. I have read many books and worked with many coin dealers to sharpen my skill in grading coins. Coin grading is an opinion that one person believes reflects and describes the condition of a given coin. The information presented in this article is my opinion on how to interpret the many coin grading standards that you will encounter. This is not a universal, absolute and definitive definition of how this particular coinage series should be graded.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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More Coin Grading Resources
The following books will help you further develop your coin grading skills. Clicking on the links below will find the lowest prices on the Internet for you.