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Coin Grading
 
 
All coins are graded on a 70-point scale, known as the Sheldon system after its introduction by famous coin expert William H. Sheldon.  As a result, the highest
possible grade for any coin is 70.  A grade of 60 is the lowest Uncirculated grade. 
This system is particularly important for high-quality Brilliant Uncirculated and
Proof coins, because often the difference of even a single grading point can make
a huge difference in the rarity and cost of a coin.  Coin grading can be subjective,
but the advent of independent third-party grading services has taken the
guesswork out of grading.
 
A coin’s grade is based on many factors.  The strength of a coin strike, the coin’s
original luster, the number and intensity of contact marks from other coins, and
the amount of wear on the design are all taken into account, along with other
factors.  The more perfect the coin, the higher the grade – and the higher the grade,
the rarer the coin. 
 
 
For a Proof coin, the assumption is that an average coin is Proof 60
(abbreviated PR-60).  Even though all Proof coins are struck using a painstaking
process that attempts to produce only perfect coins, in reality only a tiny
percentage will ever actually achieve the perfect grade of PR-70.  Because Proof
coins do not circulate, grades of less than PR-60 are rarely encountered except
with Proof coins that have been mishandled or improperly stored.  A standard
Brilliant Uncirculated coin is known as Mint State 60 (abbreviated MS-60). 
 
 
It is extremely difficult to find a Brilliant Uncirculated coin in MS-65 or higher,
because coins struck for circulation are not subject to the same stringent quality
controls as Proof coins.  It is very rare, indeed, to find a Brilliant Uncirculated
coin in the perfect grade of MS-70.  Coins that have been in circulation will grade
less than MS-60, and most classic coins will not be available or affordable in
anything less than an average circulated grade such as Extremely Fine (EF-40) or
Very Fine (VF-20). 
 
 
To help collectors and investors understand coin grading, the first independent
third-party grading service opened in 1986.  Today, there are many reputable coin grading services.  Each coin is individually inspected by experts to ascertain its
grade;  it is then encapsulated in a tamper-proof holder that protects the coin. 
A coin that has been independently graded in this manner is certified to be in the
stated grade for as long as it remains in the holder.