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