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coin grading





Assigning a grade for the amount of wear is not as complicated as it first appears, if one considers not only the wear on a coin but also the wear on the dies from which it was struck. Basically less detail means a lower grade, and it really does not matter if the details are missing due to coin wear, die wear, or weak strike. One should also consider that the two dies required to strike an ancient coin may have different states of die wear, resulting in the obverse and reverse grading different (when this happens you get a grade like VF/F meaning the obverse is VF and the reverse is F).

It is important to understand the following terminology as you read the grading descriptions:


Main Design:

The central figures or portraits as defined by their outlines, as well as any lettering or inscriptions.

Major Details:

The larger elements by which a main design is given its internal definition. These include things such as laurel wreaths or crowns seen on many portraits, the drapery or clothing and the major facial features.

Minor Details:

The very small elements that create sharpness in major details, such as the raised lines around and internal structures of laurel leaves, the line that defines the upper-most tip on the ear, the fine lines used to define hairs on the beard or forehead on typical Roman portraits.

The real complexity in grading is knowing what would normally have been present on the best examples of an issue, something that can only be learned by examining large numbers of coins, or their images. While this is best done with the coins in front of you, most people do not have access to the specimens in person. Fortunately there are large numbers of coins illustrated on the internet and the information is now far easier to find that in the past.



FDC is short for "Fleur de coin" which is French for "flower of the mint". A coin grades FDC when it is virtually perfectly struck from fresh new dies, and very, very well centered. There can be no actual wear, die wear, and nothing can be off the flan (including the boarders. Ancient coins that meet these requirements are very rare and command very high prices relative to other examples of the same type.

Galba Coin Grading: Mint StateMINT STATE:

A very sharp coin with no wear. The minor details must be present, and be clear and sharp, and the coin's surfaces must look as they did when the coin was first struck. A coin missing some details because it was struck with a worn die, or was weakly struck, does not qualify. Mint State is seldom used with ancient coins, but the term "Near Mint State" can be applied to coins with no wear, but only traces of weakness due to very minor die wear or very slight weakness in the strike, as long as the minor details are still very sharp. It is not unusual to find a coin with was struck from one worn die, and one new die, and which grades near Mint State on only one side.

Galba Coin Grading: Extra FineEXTRA FINE

A sharp coin with all minor details clear, but traces of wear (either on the coin or from the die) at the very highest points. An upper-end XF (or gXF) coin appears mint state at a glance, but a closer examination will show small areas of wear. A lower-end XF (or aXF) will have easily visible wear but no minor details will be worn completely through.



Galba Coin Grading: Very fineVERY FINE

In simple terms, in a grade of VF there will be significant wear to the minor details but no major detail can be completely worn through. Some of the smallest of the major details (such as the leaves in a laurel wreath) may be partially worn through on the aVF specimens. This gives rather broad range of coins that qualify, and the grade of VF does have the broadest range of any grade.



Galba Coin Grading: FineFINE

The grade of Fine also has a wide range, but is easy to define. A coin grades F when there is general heavy wear over the entire surface, with many minor details worn through, and some major details are completely worn through at their highest points.





Galba Coin Grading: Very GoodVERY GOOD

An ancient coin is worn to VG when the minor details are largely gone, and many major details are worn through and only visible around the edges of the design. The portrait will be flat on top, but the eye, mouth, and hair around the edges will still be at least partly defined. You should still be able to read most of any inscriptions present when the coin was struck.





Galba Coin Grading: GoodGOOD

A coin grades GOOD when the major details are worn through leaving only the outlines of the main designs. You should still be able to identify the issue with relative ease, but may not be able to define the sub-variety within the issue. Parts of the inscriptions may be completely worn away.





Galba Coin Grading: FairFAIR

FAIR means a coin so worn that even the largest major details (such as the portrait) blur into the flan. Inscriptions are mostly gone and the coin will be difficult but not impossible to identify, at least to the general issue (ie: you might know which Emperor, but not much else).



Please remember that these pages are only an introduction and will not instantly make you an expert judge of ancient coins. That can come only through time and experience. Neither are they intended to tell you what quality of coins you should or should not collect, as you must decide that for yourself. This page is intended to give you enough information with which you can make reasonably informed decisions and begin the learning process.

Fortunately, experience is a great teacher, and it is no coincidence that very experienced numismatists will normally have no trouble agreeing on which coins are very poor examples, which are average, and which are superb.

Resources: Calgary Coin & Antique


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