Brad's Introduction to Ancient Coins

Introduction Brief History Roman Coins Buying and Storage
Fakes and Authentification Identification Roman Coin Denominations Grading
Coin of the Month

A coin's grade is an indication of the amount of wear on a particular coin. This is one factor affecting the value of a coin. Since supply and demand determine coin prices, like most other commodities, the interest in a coin type and its availability set the price. But two coins of the same type, different only in the wear present on the coin, will differ in price, possibly by a very large amount.

In the US, ancient coins are assigned one of the following grades, with their common abbreviations shown in parentheses: Mint State (MS), Extremely Fine (EF or XF), Very Fine (VF), Fine (F), Very Good (VG), Good (G), and Poor (P). As you can see, Good, being near the bottom of the list, is not that good after all -- at least in the coin grading world.

While grading only takes wear into account, a coin's overall condition also looks at defects (e. g., cracks, edge damage, corrosion), centering, and strike (whether the coins was produced with all the detail of the die it was struck with). All of these, along with the rarity, and the style of art of a coin, affect its price. But the rest of this page will concentrate on grading alone.


Mint State (MS)
Mint State coins have been preserved exactly as they were struck. These command a substantial premium over other coins of the same type. I don't own any ancient coins that can be fairly described as mint state.

Extremely Fine (EF or XF)
Extremely Fine Extremely Fine coins show only a small amount wear on the high points. All of the inscription should be easily readable, where present. If the coin is off-center, some of the inscription may be missing. At first glance, an EF coin will appear not to be worn, but upon closer inspection, the finer details will show some wear. The coin shown to the right is EF, but scans of coins often do not show the detail well. As mentioned before, the damage to the edge of a coin, such as this one, affects the desirability and price, but not the grade of the coin. It should, of course, be mentioned by someone describing the coin for sale.

Very Fine (VF)
About Very Fine Very Fine A Very Fine coin shows significant wear, but is still an attractive and desirable piece in most cases. About two-thirds of the detail should be present. All of the inscription should be readable, where present. Note the significant amount of wear in the hair of the first coin shown to the right. Yet the inscription and many of the lines of hair are clearly seen (especially when viewing this coin in person). Note also that this coin has few defects. It is well-centered and has no edge damage, so it is a very attractive coin for its grade. The coin further to the right shows a little less detail, especially in the higher relief area of the empress' hair. Since it is not quite up to the standard for Very Fine, we would call it "about Very Fine" or aVF, for short.

Fine (F)
About Fine Fine A coin with a grade of Fine has about one-quarter of the fine detail present. Most or all of the inscriptions should be readable, though some of the letters may be quite worn. Most of the detail of the coin at near right has been worn away. Yet you can clearly see that it is a standing figure, with an arm pointing to the left. Though it doesn't show clearly in the scan, the inscription AETERNITAS is easily read with the coin in hand. The coin further to the right is quite worn, and might be considered a little weak for the grade of Fine. It also has slight edge damage, but that is a separate issue from the "technical" grade.

Very Good Very Good (VG)
Coins graded Very Good show very heavy wear over the entire surface of the coin. The outline of the main design, however, should be easily seen. In most cases, much of the inscription will be legible, though many of the letters may be quite weak, and some letters may be completely worn away. To identify a coin in Very Good or lower will take much experience. With exposure to many, many coins, and with access to references, you may be able to determine full inscriptions from just a few letters, with help from the design on the coin. For example, a common fourth-century reverse design has an emperor on a horse spearing a soldier on the ground. This reverse often has the inscription FEL TEMP REPARATIO. With only a couple letters visible, a collector who has seen many of these types of coins will know right away what the complete inscription is.

Good (G)
A Good coin is not very good at all. Some of the outline of the design may be present, but not much. Few, if any letters in the inscription will be visible. A coin in this condition is generally worth very little, unless it is a rare variety.

Poor (P)
Poor is the bottom of the barrel. The coin has not detail, and is virtually a smooth disc. No identification is possible.

Split Grades

Often the obverse and reverse of a coin show a different amount of wear. In these cases, the grades for eachs side are shown, as in VF/F. The first grade listed is for the obverse.

When a coin is between two grades, some dealers will list both separated by a hyphen, as in F-VF. Unless a / is present, this applies to both sides of the coin.

Full Descriptions of Condition

A coin listed at auction should have a detailed description of its condition (in addition to identifying information). Some examples from an auction are shown below:

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Last updated January 28, 2001.