What is the Sheldon Scale of Coin Grading?

US Currency: Stacked quarter dollar coins, close-up
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What is the Sheldon Scale of Coin Grading?

Answer: The Sheldon Scale is a 70-point scale for grading coins, developed by Dr. William Sheldon in 1949. A slightly modified form of the Sheldon Scale has become the de facto standard for grading U.S. coins today, and is used by the major third party grading services when assigning a grade to a coin. The adjectival grading system was the predecessor to today's 70-point grading scale, and the adjectival terms are still used to help clarify the numeric equivalent.

The following are the standard Sheldon numbers and descriptions:

Poor-1 or P-1 (Poor)

The type of coin is barely discernible, but little else, due to the coin being badly damaged or worn smooth.

Fair-2 or FR-2 (Fair)

Type and date are barely discernible, but otherwise the coin is damaged or extremely worn.

AG-3 (About Good)

Type and date are discernible, although some spots may be worn out. Some lettering should be apparent, if not necessarily readable.

G-4 (Good)

Major devices and features are evident as outlines. although the coin overall is heavily worn.

G-6 (Good-plus)

Coin has a full rim plus major devices and features are clearly outlined. Heavy wear.

VG-8 (Very Good)

Full rim with clearly discernible devices and features. Most legends are readable clearly, but the whole coin is still significantly worn.

F-12 (Fine)

Distinct rim, all legends readable, clear devices showing some detail, but the whole coin is moderately, but evenly worn.

VF-20 (Very Fine)

Clearly readable but lightly worn legends, devices show good detail, rims are clean, but the whole coin shows moderate wear on the high points and a little wear below.

VF-30 (Good Very Fine)

Legends are clear, devices show all detail with little wear; high points are lightly worn.

EF-40 or XF-40 (Extremely Fine)

Legends are sharp, devices are clear with slight but obvious wear on the high points.

EF-45 or XF-45 (Choice Extremely Fine)

Legends and devices are clear and sharp, with slight wear on the high points, and great eye appeal.

AU-50 (About Uncirculated)

Sharp legends and devices show only a trace of wear on the highest points. There must be some remaining mint luster.

AU-55 (Good About Uncirculated)

Sharp legends and devices show only a hint of wear on the high points. Remaining mint luster must be at least half; great eye appeal.

AU-58 (Choice About Uncirculated)

Virtually uncirculated, except for minor wear marks on high points. Nearly all mint luster must be present, and must have outstanding eye appeal.

MS-60 to MS-70 (Mint State Basal)

Coins in this grade show no signs of wear from circulation, but they are ugly, dinged-up, bag-marked, ill-toned specimens, but they are in mint condition and free of any wear!

The grades from MS-60 to MS-70, as well as the Proof designations, are all based primarily on eye appeal, quality of luster and/or toning, and the presence or absence of contact marks, hairlines, etc. All coins MS-60 and higher are Mint State coins. It is worth noting that Proof is not a grade, but a type of coin.

Why 70 Points Instead of 100?

Dr. Sheldon created his grading scale based on research that he did to compare the price of a coin to its grade. As he gathered this information on half cents and large cents he concluded that on the average an uncirculated coin (MS-70) sold for 70 times more than a coin that was barely identifiable (Poor-1). Unfortunately, this did not hold true for all half cents and large cents. Additionally, there was more variation with other coin types beyond half cents a large cents.

However, the idea was revolutionary and it really took hold in the mid-1980s with the advent of third party grading services. The Whitman publishing company first teamed up with the American Numismatic Association (ANA) in 1977 to help bring standardization to the coin collecting hobby's non-standard and non-scientific practice of coin grading. The idea for this book began in 1973 when Virginia Culver, president of the American Numismatic Association began the process to solve the grading dilemma. Previous to this book, there were as many different terms to describe a coin as there were coin dealers. Under the guidance of Kenneth E. Bressett and his associate Neil Schaefer, with contributions from Q. David Bowers, coin grading was brought to a new level of consistency. 

Edited by: James Bucki