Coin Grading Terms
Coins are rarely exactly one grade or another. The following grading scale is a 'generally accepted' attempt to define 'boundary points' or steps in a continuum starting with the pristine and decending to the pathetic.
Technically, the term proof refers to a coin's method of manufacture, not its state of preservation. However, in reality, the term is used in grading to describe a pristine example of a proof manufactured coin. Lesser graded or damaged examples are described as impaired proofs.
Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) / Fleur de Coin (FDC)
FDC - Fleur de Coin (flower of the die). Although struck with normal dies, a coin described as BU / FDC is as perfect as it gets. A coin in this state of preservation is pristine, almost prooflike in appearance, being perfectly sharp, fully struck up, absolutely flawless with full lustre and showing no signs of wear or bag marks. On the US grading scale, such a coin is described as MS-65.
No coin struck for circulation is ever absolutely perfect. Under strong magnification, even the highest quality coin known will exhibit minute imperfections. The grading of superior, uncirculated coins has been refined in recent years to reflect the degree of these minor imperfections, with distinctions being made between (from highest to lowest state of preservation) - FDC, GEM Uncirculated and Choice Uncirculated.
Gem Uncirculated (GEM)
A coin which shows an almost perfect strike but may have one or two minute detracting marks only. Such a coin has exceptional eye appeal and virtually full lustre. Again, there is no sign of being in circulation. Weakly struck coins, or coins which exhibit an unattractive patina (blotchy or aesthetically unappealing toning) are excluded from GEM or FDC grading.
Choice Uncirculated (CHU)
A coin which shows a very good strike but may have some slight weaknesses or minor detracting marks. Small details of the design, especially on the high points, may not be fully formed, but must not be confused with wear. Moderate die cracks may be present and should be mentioned separately where significant. Such a coin has better than average lustre and a very pleasing eye appeal.
A typical coin which shows no sign of having being in circulation but has its faults. Coins in mint rolls are classed as uncirculated. Due to high-speed production techniques, even uncirculated coins may show slight imperfections such as minor bag marks or tiny rim indentations, especially on larger coins. Significant marks should be mentioned separtately. Lustre is present but may be subdued due to the use of well worn dies or from time in storage. Uncirculated coins may suffer from a weak strike. A slight hint of rubbing or cabinet friction may be seen under magnification. Overall, eye appeal is pleasing.
Almost Uncirculated (aUNC)
Similar to UNC but under magnification, these coins show the faintest amount of wear on the highest points. This should not be confused with a flat (soft) strike. The natural mint lustre common to uncirculated coins will be highly evident.
Good Extremely Fine or Good Extra Fine (gEF or gXF)
At this point we are starting to split hairs but ... wear is slightly more evident and can just be seen with the naked eye, still confined to, but extending to most high points of the design. Natural mint lustre will be still highly evident.
Extremely Fine or Extra Fine (EF or XF)
Light overall wear on the high areas of the design can now be discerned with the naked eye in addition to slight bag marks. Wear is still confined only to the high points and around 90% of the natural mint lustre common to uncirculated coins remains evident. From here on, the importance of the amount of lustre or brilliance exhibited on the coin is superceded by the amount of wear and detracting marks found.
Almost Extremely Fine or Almost Extra Fine (aEF or aXF)
In percentage terms, wear is now becoming significant - 11 to 15%. Under magnification, flat areas are starting to develop of the high points of the design. Edge nicks and other detracting marks aat this grade are common and should be described separately.
Good Very Fine (gVF)
Wear is now affecting all small details of the design - in percentage terms 16 to 25%. This grade is often used when a coin is found in VF condition for wear but has fewer detracting marks than normal or retains some mint lustre or brilliance.
Very Fine (VF)
Slightly more obvious wear will be evident without magnification with small details now rubbed away, but the coin is still in a relatively high state of preservation. A magnifier will show numerous light scratches over the high points and on the fields of the coin. Most of the high points will be affected and only traces of the mint lustre will be present. Detracting marks are now relatively common, but not severe, on a coin which now exhibits wear of around 35%.
Below this grade, definitions for intermediate grades (the one third grades of 'a' - almost and 'g - good) lose their significance, in valuation terms, for all but scarce and rare issues. Klaus Ford discourages their use, instead promoting better use of adjectives to describe the good and/or bad features of the coin.
Considerable signs of wear will be apparent on raised surfaces and the fields of the coin will be quite dull. Almost all sections of the coin will exhibit some forms of wear. Generally there will be no traces of lustre and the rim border will be smooth in parts. Many coins are found at this grade which have been subjected to unprofessional cleaning. In silver coins, this removes their natural patina and leaves a flat, dull, unattractive and unnatural look.
Very Good (VG)
A strange and misleading description for a coin which is rather ordinary. If you see a coin for sale described as 'circulated', you should assume that this is the best it will grade. The whole of the coin is showing significant amounts of wear although all of the main detail is still visible and the design outlines are still sharp. Usually only scarce coins and those of historical significance are worth collecting in this condition.
Again, the wrong word to describe the state of preservation of the coin. Nearly all the fine detail is lost although most of the main detail and lettering is still visible. The surface of the coin will be showing considerable scratching.
This coin is really showing its age or abused life. The design, including most of the main features, have disappeared through many years of handling. At best you can still make out the issuing country.
You can tell what shape the coin is, but that's about all. There is virtually nothing left to see - definitely scrap value only.