Grading Walking Liberty half dollars is a skill that has taken even the best coin collectors many years of experience to perfect. Remember that coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of an individual coin that most dealers and collectors would agree upon. Grading is not an exact science where a formula can be applied, and everyone comes out with the same result.
Over the years, numismatists and coin grading services have agreed upon specific definitions and descriptions. Sheldon's numeric values help all coin collectors describe their coins accurately (to a certain extent). This guide will help you understand those terms and descriptions so you can accurately grade your Walking Liberty half dollars.
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Understanding Grades for Walking Liberty Half Dollars
Walking Liberty half dollars are made of 90% silver and 10% copper. The United States Mint added copper to the alloy to strength the coin because silver is soft and malleable. The photo illustrates the highest points on the coin's design (indicated by the color red). If you think you may have an uncirculated Walking Liberty half dollars, look at these areas on the coin first to see if you can spot any wear. Even the slightest wear on a coin will disturb the delicate mint luster in those areas.
To best determine if there is any friction or wear on the highest points of the coin, hold it underneath a desk lamp and tilt it from side to side and front to back. The light will appear to dance on the surface of the coin where the mint luster is undisturbed. If you do not see the light dancing across the highest points of the coin's design, then the coin will be classified as circulated.
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Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
A Good-4 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. If the rim is completely worn into the field and devices of the coin, then the coin would grade AG-3.
Obverse: The date is weak but visible. The rim is worn flat in spots but should be nearly complete.
Reverse: The lettering in the legend and motto is worn but readable. The eagle has very few details and is mostly an outline.
Grading Tip: Do not be concerned with the color or brightness of the silver on the coin. The grade is solely based upon the level of details that remain on the coin. Pay special attention to some of the finer details. Finer details on the Walking Liberty half dollar include the leaves on the olive branch in Lady Liberty's hand and the details remaining on the eagle's feathers on the reverse.
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Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)
This coin is a Very Good-8 as evidenced by the entire design being weak and well-worn but the major design elements are identifiable. Look at the drapery across Liberty's body which should be partially visible but mostly worn smooth.
Obverse: Most of the drapery on Liberty's gown is worn smooth but some details are visible. All letters in the legend and motto are clear. The rim is complete.
Reverse: Approximately one-third of the feathers on the eagle's wing is visible. The large feathers in the lower portions of the wing are separated. The eagle's eye is discernible. The rim is full and complete. All the letters are clear.
Grading Tip: Although most grade decisions are determined by the condition of the obverse, the Walking Liberty half dollar is easier to grade by observing the reverse. Approximately one-third of the feathers on the eagle's wing is visible. The large feathers in the lower portions of the wing are separated. The eagle's eye is discernible. The rim is full and complete. All the letters are clear.
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Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)
This coin is a Fine-12.
Obverse: The lines in Liberty's skirt are clear (except for some coins that were weakly struck, most are dated before 1921). Her right leg is worn slightly and the left leg is nearly flat. Her sandal is visible but worn. Her torso is worn and very few details show.
Reverse: The eagle's breast is worn smooth and about half of the details in the wing feathers are visible. The two layers of feathers in the wing are discernible.
Grading Tip: The eagle's breast is worn smooth and about half of the details in the wing feathers are visible. The two layers of feathers in the wing are discernible.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)
This Walking Liberty half dollar grades Very Fine-20.
Obverse: Liberty's breasts are discernible but weak. Ware shows on her head, breasts, arms, and foot. Lines on her skirt are visible but weak. They are especially weak on top of her left leg.
Reverse: The eagle is lightly worn but most major details are visible. High points on the design are completely flat.
Grading Tip: The eagle is lightly worn but most major details are visible. High points on the design are completely flat. Pay attention to the level of details remaining on the eagle's wings.
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Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)
Obverse: Ware is evident on Liberty's breast, head, leg, and arm. Almost all lines on the skirt are visible except on the high points on her left leg.
Reverse: All of the eagle's feathers are distinct and complete. The high points of the design show evidence of wear. Traces of mint luster may be evident in the protected areas of the design.
Grading Tip: All of the eagle's feathers are distinct and complete. The high points of the design show evidence of wear. Traces of mint luster may be evident in the protected areas of the design.
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About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)
This coin is an About Uncirculated-55
Obverse: Only a slight trace of wear shows on the highest points of the coin.
Reverse: A slight trace of wear is visible on the eagle's left leg and on the upper breast. A majority of the mint luster is still present.
Grading Tip: A slight trace of wear is visible on the eagles left leg and on the upper breast. A majority of the mint luster is still present.
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Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
No traces of wear from circulation exist on a Mint State-63 coin. Mint luster is complete but shows minor impairments. Many contact marks, bag marks, and hairline scratches are visible without magnification on the coin's field and major design elements. Overall, the is has an attractive eye appeal.
Obverse: A few contact marks may be present in the field in front of and behind Liberty, on the sun, or on Liberty's arm, face, torso, legs.
Reverse: A few distracting contact marks may be visible on the eagle.
Grading Tip: At this grade and higher, it is important to ensure that the coin is actually uncirculated. Do this by holding the coin under a desk lamp and ensuring that the mint luster is continuous across all areas of the coin including the design high points.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)
This coin is a Mint State-65 because there is no trace of wear anywhere on the coin. It is nearly perfect coin except for a few small blemishes or minute nicks or contact marks on the surface of the coin.
Obverse: Small blemishes or contact marks may be present but not in the prime focal areas.
Reverse: Small blemishes or contact marks should be confined to the outer areas of the coin and not on the eagle.
Grading Tip: Small blemishes or contact marks should be confined to the outer areas of the coin and not on the eagle.
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Mint State-67 (MS67 or MS-67)
This coin is a Mint State-67.
Obverse: No traces of wear are evident anywhere on the coin. There are no distracting marks and the mint luster is above average.
Reverse: All details of the coin are present even on the highest points of the coin and the eye appeal is superb.
Grading Tip: All details of the coin are present even on the highest points of the coin and the eye appeal is superb.
The information presented in this article is our expert opinion on how to interpret the many coin grading standards that you will encounter. This is not a universal, absolute and definitive definition on how this particular coinage series should be graded.