Coin Grading and Explanation - UK, US, CGS, PCGS NGC

Written by Lawrence Chard - Company Director and Expert Numismatist • Last updated 29 Nov 2018

As for most coins, collectors generally prefer coins in higher grades of preservation.

Although gold sovereigns possess an intrinsic value based on their gold content, their desirability, and therefore their premium value to a collector, will depend also on the condition or grade.

The better the grade, the higher will be the value of its premium over its gold content. Here is a key to the following images:

  • The first abbreviation is the British grade
  • The next alphanumeric reference is the CGS grade
  • The final alphanumeric abbreviation is the Sheldon grade used in PCGS and NGC slabs. Note no grades on or below "aFine". 

We have tried to use the same coin obverse where we can to illustrate the differences between the grades.  Enjoy! 

Coin Grading Examples

2019elizabethiisovereignfifthportraitroyalmintgoldproofrev500-B-2

FDC

CGS 90 - 100 / MS 66-70

Fleur-de-coin

Normally only applied to proof coins. Literally means "Fleur-de-Coin", absolutely perfect, without any marks, wear or blemishes.

2018elizabethiisovereigngoldrev500-B-1

Unc

CGS 75 - 88 / MS 62-66

Uncirculated

In new condition as issued by the mint, but owing to mass production methods, not necessarily perfect. Due to "grade inflation", there may nowadays be some very slight abrasion or "cabinet polish" on the high points for both UNC and aUNC.

1959sovereign2rev500-B-1

aUNC or A.U.

CGS 70 / MS 60 - 61

Almost Uncirculated

Not quite Uncirculated condition as issued by the mint, but owing to mass production methods, not necessarily perfect. Possibly downgraded from Uncirculated due to heavy bagmarks. edge knocks, or some other undesirable feature, but without the slight signs of wear which would render it as only in EF grade.

 

EFgEF-1864victoriayoungheadshieldxxincusesecondlargerheadEFgEFobv500

gEF

CGS 65 / MS 60 - 61

Good Extremely Fine

Showing very few signs of having been in circulation, almost none. There may be slight surface marks or faint wear on close inspection which would prevent the coin being UNC.

EF-1871victoriayoungheadsovereignefobv500

EF

CGS 60 / AU 58 - MS 60

Extra Fine

The coin shows few signs of being in circulation. The presence of a couple of marks would prevent the coin grading gEF though its often a very close call. All in all a fantastic grade of coin to be in one's possesion. 

aEF-1864victoriayoungheadshieldxxincusesecondlargerheadaEFobv500

aEF

CGS 55 / AU 55

Almost Extra Fine

This coin shows more wear than its EF counterpart and if you do find an old coin in this grade you know its a good specimen. 

 

gVFaEF-1864victoriayoungheadshieldxxincusesecondlargerheadgVFaEFobv500

gVF

CGS 45 - 50 / AU 53 - 55

Good Very Fine

This coin doesnt quite make the extra fine categories and shows more wear especially on the raised sections. Wear starts to appear on the hair and facial features. 

VFgVF-1864victoriayoungheadshieldxxincusesecondlargerheadVFgVFobv500

VF

CGS 40 / AU 50

Very Fine

Some wear on the raised surfaces, but still retaining much detail. If you come across an old coin with this grade still expect to pay a lot for it especially if it is rare. 

aVFVF-1864victoriayoungheadshieldxxincusesecondlargerheadaVFVFobv500

aVF

CGS 35 / EF 45

Almost Very Fine

More wear and tear appears on these coins with wear on the hair, face and even in the field around the portrait. 

 

gFineVF-1864victoriayoungheadshieldxxincusesecondlargerheadgFineVFobv500 (1)

gFine

CGS 25 - 30 / F 35 - EF 40

Good Fine

There is clearly a lot of wear on the raised surfaces but the features are sharp and sufficient detail reamin to make out the facial detail, waves of heair and just about the hair bands in this obverse.

aFineorFine-1853victoriayoungheadsovereigngoldobv500

Fine

CGS 20 / F 30

Fine

Considerable wear on the raised surfaces, all main features still sharp.

1880ssovereignshieldobv500

aFine

CGS 15

Almost Fine

This coin shows more wear again with facial features becoming "smudged" and detail in the hair and even in the field harder to make out. The field often has scratches and the edges often with knocks. 

`1845sovereignshieldobv500fair

Fair

CGS 1-4

Badly Worn

Significant wear on the features on the coin. Usually with the inscriptions and main features of the design still distinguishable, or a piece which is very weakly struck.

worn-1845victoriahalfsovereigngoldwornobv500

Poor

No CGS etc

or Worn

A very worn coin, with some lettering worn away, or parts of the design not visible. Of no value to collectors unless extremely rare.

What Is CGS Coin Grading

In the UK CGS stands for  "coin grading service" and the services (with associated products) are sold with a promise of an independent assesment of grade, authenticity and attribution. The attribution bit is regarding any "type" or "variant" status and we imagine this would include, but is not limited to, anything from different portraits, inscriptions or commemorative one off designs. 

What Is PCGS Coin Grading

In the US PCGS stands for "professional coin grading service" and is marketed as the "standard for the rare coin industry". Dating back to the 80's it was a recognition that the industry needed a standard approach to grading scores and descriptions. The grading follows the sheldon framework described below under NGC grading. . 

What Is NGC Grading

NGC stands for "Numismatic Guaranty Corporation" and has been used in the US since the 1940's, with grading based on the Sheldon scale. This scale allows numismatists to grade coins on a number from 1 (denoting poor quality) to 70 (proof like). Coins with imperfections cannot be assigned a number but a "details" grade. For those that qualify the number has a prefix as follows:

 

Grade Prefix Description Numerical Range
MS Mint state usually referring to uncirculated coins straight from the mint 60-70
PF Proof which is a special strike method used for collectors coins.  60-70
SP A hybrid of mint and proof.  60-70
  Gem Uncirculated 65-70
  Choice Uncirculated 60-70
  Brilliant Uncirculated 60-70
AU About uncirculated 50-58
XF Extremely fine 40-45
VF Very fine 20-35
F Fine 12-15
VG Very good 8-10
G Good 4-6
AG About good 3
FR Fair 2
PR Poor 1

 

A "+" means the coin is close to being in the grade above whilst a "★" is given for eye-appeal....possibly for toning on coins and pretty features.

Further words are added to describe the coin.......as you can see this gets rather complicated quite quickly. We prefer the standard UK grading protocols used in spink. 

 

Character Description
RD Red. A coin with full mint red luster.
RB Red Brown. A coin with a mix of red luster and brown patina.
BN Brown. A coin with full or nearly full brown patina.
Ultra Cameo Applies only to PF coins. The fields are deeply mirrored and the devices are heavily frosted for bold contrast on both sides of the coin.
Cameo Applies only to PF coins. The fields are deeply mirrored and the devices are frosted for moderate contrast on both sides of the coins.
DPL Deep Prooflike. Applies only to circulation issues. The fields are deeply mirrored and the devices are heavily frosted on both sides.
PL Prooflike. Applies only to circulation issues. The fields are mirrored and the devices may be frosted on both sides.

 

Finally! At last! There are 2 terms occasionally added which are "early releases" and "first releases" which are quite self-explanatory.

Comparing Grades: UK Vs CGS Vs Sheldon

Through our own observations on products, online research and via some literature we have tried to compile a comprehensive conversion table. As you can see it is rather difficult to populate fully and we will keep working to add more as we find it! 

 

UK Descriptive UK Abb. UK CGS PCGS / NGC / Sheldon  US Descriptive French  German Italy Spain Netherlands Portugal Design Remaining
Fleur-de-coin FDC 100 MS 70 Perfect Mint State (MS-70) FDC (Fleur de Coin) STGL (Stempelglanz) FDC (Fior di Conio) FDC FDC  FDC (Flor de Cunho) 100%
Fleur-de-coin FDC 99 MS 70 Specimen Proof (SP-70 or PF-70)              
Fleur-de-coin FDC 98 MS 70                
Fleur-de-coin FDC 97 MS 70                
Fleur-de-coin FDC 96 MS 69                
Fleur-de-coin FDC 95 MS 68 - 69                
Almost Fleur-de-coin aFDC 94 MS 68                
Almost Fleur-de-coin aFDC 93 MS 67 - 68                
Almost Fleur-de-coin aFDC 92 MS 67 Superb Mint (MS-67)              
Almost Fleur-de-coin aFDC 91 MS 66 - 67                
Almost Fleur-de-coin aFDC 90 MS 66                
Brilliant Uncirculated BU 88 MS 65 - 66                
Choice Uncirculated Unc 85 MS 65 Gem Mint State (MS-65) SPL (Splendide) UNZ (Unzirkuliert) SPL/FDC SC FDC  Soberba 100%
Choice Uncirculated Unc 82 MS 64 - 65                
Choice Uncirculated Unc 80 MS 64                
Uncirculated Unc 78 MS 63 - 64 Choice Mint (MS-63)              
Uncirculated Unc 75 MS 62 - 63 Choice Mint (MS-63)              
Almost Uncriculated aUnc 70 MS 60 - 61     UNZ− (Fast unzirkuliert) MSPL (MoltoSplendido)       95%
Good Extra Fine gEF 65 MS 60 - 61 Typical Mint State (MS-60)              
Extra Fine EF 60 AU 58 - MS 60 Very Choice / About Uncirculated (AU-58) SUP (Superbe) VZ (Vorzüglich) SPL (Splendido) EBC Pr. (Prachtig) Bela 90%
Almost Extra Fine aEF 55 AU 55 Choice / About Uncirculated (AU-55)              
Good Very Fine gVF 50 AU 55                
Good Very Fine gVF 45 AU 53                
Very Fine VF 40 AU 50 About Uncirculated (AU-50) TTB (Très Très Beau) SS (Sehr schön) BB (Bellissimo) MBC ZF (Zeer Fraai) MBC 75%
Almost Very Fine aVF 35 EF 45 Choice / Extremely Fine (EF-45)              
Good Fine gFine 30 EF 40 Extremely Fine (EF-40 or XF-40)              
Good Fine gFine 28 VF-30 Very Fine Plus (VF-30)              
Good Fine gFine 26 VF-20 Very Fine (VF-20)              
Good Fine gFine 25 F 35                
Fine Fine 20 F 30   TB (Très Beau) S (Schön) MB (Molto Bello) BC+ Fr (Fraai) BC 50%
Fine Fine 17 F 12 Fine (F-12)              
Almost Fine aFine 15 VG 8 Very Good (VG-8)              
Very Good VG 10 G 4 Good (G-4) B (Beau) SGE (Sehr gut erhalten) B (Bello) BC ZG (Zeer Goed) MREG 25%
Very Good VG 8                  
Good Good 5 G 4 Good (G-4) AB (Assez Beau) GE (Gut erhalten) M RC G (Goed) REG 10%
Fair Fair 4 AG 3 About Good (AG-3)              
Fair Fair 3 none Fair / Poor              
Fair Fair 2 none Fair / Poor              
Fair Fair 1 none Fair / Poor              


A Price Problem of Slabbed Coins

We completely acknowledge that the industry should have a standard approach to grading, this is a no brainer. We also recognise that the grading of coins helps to preserve high quality coins, as any coin graded is sold on as a graded specimen rather than in a bucket of other similar type coins. This is where things change as once coins enter this slabbed state, we find companies are charging above the odds. For example, we became privy to a 2018 gold Britannia for sale the other day roughly £1500 in a slab. The selling price of this coin is about £950!! Therefore, that is about £550 for a piece of acrylic plastic with some fancy words and "independent authentication". Unreal I hear you say but 100% true. Companies (particularly coin marketing companies) are pushing slabbed coins as a "luxury product" or something like that to get unexpecting customers to part with extra money and we see this type of marketing dishonest and misleading at best. You are simply not getting a higher quality product but are led to believe you are.

Like we said we are advocates of graded coins, but we disagree with hefty mark-ups. If you can buy a slabbed coin for say £5 or £10 higher than do it as this is the value we assign to a slab but anything more is scandalous! Customers who wish to sell slabbed coins back to us are sometimes disappointed as we would pay the same amount for unslabbed coins. We often remove the coins from the slab as they are tedious, add no value and make storing of large volumes difficult. Why not buy a capsule for 50p and achieve the same level of protection for your coins? We have coins valued upwards on £10,000 in a capsule which provides adequate protection, why you would want a newly minted Britannia slabbed rather than a capsule is rather perplexing unless you have more money than sense!

We say that in jest as on a serious note we are here trying our best to educate our readers. We want you to get the best possible deal either from us (or elsewhere) without getting ripped off. There is a growing body of consumer style marketing and hype in numismatics and where we find it we try to share it on our website. So finally, grading coins and protecting them in plastic is a good thing just avoid buying from anyone who tries to sell you an overpriced coin because of its presentation case!

More Terms

Proof or Uncirculated - Proof is not a grade, but a type of specially produced coin. If you are not sure about the difference between proof and non-proof sovereigns, you may wish to look at our Proof or Uncirculated page.

Grade C - We have some items available which are too good to scrap but not good enough for bullion. To read more about Grade C, read our blog here.