Standards for Grading Circulated Coins

Coin Grading 102 - Learn The Grading Standards That Apply to Circulated Coins

A Variety of Circulated U.S. Coins.
A Variety of Circulated U.S. Coins. Image Copyright: © James Bucki

When it comes to coin grading, circulated coins are easier to grade than uncirculated coins. This usually works out well because beginning coin collectors usually start collecting circulated coins instead of uncirculated coins. As you advance in your coin collecting skills, you will want to learn how to grade all of the coin series that you collect.

The grade that a circulated coin receives depends upon several factors as described below.

However, the grading process is not scientific and is subjective to the interpretation of the person that is looking at the coin.

In other words, if we could define each coin grade using some sort of scientific measurement, we could program a computer to grade all of our coins. Since there are so many factors involved in grading a coin, some people will value one aspect of a coin's grade more important than another. Unfortunately, what one person may view as a "very good" coin, another person may only consider "good."

Wear and Remaining Detail

The major factor that determines the grade of a coin is the amount of wear that the coin has received when circulating in commerce. The more wear and tear that a coin has received, the less desirable it is to coin collectors. Additionally, a coin may be damaged in circulation. Damage can range from small hairline scratches to moderate nicks and dings to deep gouges and heavy scratches.

How a coin wears depends upon its size and individual design. Small coins are lighter and possess a smaller surface area that is exposed to the damaging effects of circulation. Larger coins such as silver dollars, have a larger surface area and are heavier and tend to possess more nicks and scratches from circulation.

If a coin's design also includes a high and deep rim around the edge of the coin, this can act as a shield to protect the coins designed during circulation. Incuse, or sunken, design elements will be the last to wear off of a coin and are usually visible even on coins that grade poor or fair.

Eye Appeal

Eye appeal is one of the most subjective categories in grading coins. The old adage of, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," definitely applies to this area of coin grading. However, most coin collectors and coin dealers agree that there are certain factors that detract from the eye appeal of a coin and other factors that enhance the eye appeal of a coin.


  • Splotchy uneven and dark toning
  • Deep obvious scratches in prime focal areas


  • Pleasing even color
  • Attractive toning; maybe rainbow
  • No distracting problems in prime focal areas
  • Over all even and balanced look

Standard Grades for Circulated Coins

Every type of coin has specific coin grading definitions. For example, a Washington quarter has different grading standards than a Morgan dollar. Here is a list of standard circulated grades with common descriptions that can be applied to all coins.

PoorPO-1Identifiable date and type
FairFR-2Mostly worn, though some detail is visible
About GoodAG-3Worn rims but most lettering is readable though worn
GoodG-4Slightly worn rims, flat detail, peripheral lettering nearly full
GoodG-6Rims complete with flat detail, peripheral lettering full
Very GoodVG-8Design worn with slight detail
Very GoodVG-10Design worn with slight detail, slightly clearer
FineF-12Some deeply recessed areas with detail, all lettering sharp
FineF-15Slightly more detail in the recessed areas, all lettering sharp
Very FineVF-20Some definition of detail, all lettering full and sharp
Very FineVF-25Slightly more definition in the detail and lettering
Very FineVF-30Almost complete detail with flat areas
Very FineVF-35Detail is complete but worn with high points flat
Extra FineEF-40Detail is complete with most high points slightly flat
Extra FineEF-45Detail is complete with some high points flat
Almost UncirculatedAU-50Full detail with friction over most of the surface, slight flatness on high points
Almost UncirculatedAU-53Full detail with friction over 1/2 or more of surface, very slight flatness on high points
Almost UncirculatedAU-55Full detail with friction on less than 1/z surface, mainly on high points
Almost UncirculatedAU-58Full detail with only slight friction on the high points