The Basics of Coin Grading and Mint State

Coin grading is an essential aspect of numismatics, the study or collection of coins, tokens, and related currency items. Understanding the basics of coin grading and mint states can help investors and collectors make informed decisions when purchasing or selling gold coins. In this article, we will delve into the fundamentals of gold grading, coin grade definitions, examples of coin grading, the highest grade for a gold coin, different grading systems worldwide, and tips for understanding the grading system for better purchasing decisions.

The Basics of Gold Grading: Understanding the Purity Scale

Gold Purity:

Gold purity is typically measured in karats, with 24 karats representing pure gold. Gold coins can be made from various gold alloys with differing purity levels, depending on the issuing mint and the specific coin. The purity of a gold coin directly impacts its value and desirability among investors and collectors. 

Coin Grading Scales:

Coin grading scales are used to determine the condition and quality of a coin based on a set of standardized criteria. The most widely recognized coin grading scale is the Sheldon Scale, which ranges from 1 (Poor) to 70 (Mint State). The higher the grade, the better the coin’s condition and the more valuable it is.

Mint State:

Mint state refers to the condition of a coin that has not been circulated and exhibits no signs of wear or handling. Coins in mint state are considered in their original condition, as when they left the mint. Collectors and investors seek after mint state coins due to their pristine condition and rarity.

Coin Grade Definitions

The Sheldon Scale provides a comprehensive set of coin grade definitions to help collectors and investors assess the condition of a coin. Some of the most common grade definitions include:

  • Poor (1): A coin in poor condition is heavily worn, with few details remaining and the date barely legible.
  • Good (4-6): A good coin is well-worn, with significant details visible but flattened by wear.
  • Very Good (8-10): A perfect coin has moderate wear, with most details visible but showing noticeable wear on the high points.
  • Fine (12-15): A fine coin has moderate to light wear, with most details still visible and some high points remaining.
  • Very Fine (20-35): A very fine exhibits light wear, with all significant details sharp and clear.
  • Extremely Fine (40-45): An extremely fine coin has only minor wear, with all details sharp and nearly all high points remaining.
  • About Uncirculated (50-58): An about uncirculated coin has minimal wear, with nearly all details and high points remaining.
  • Mint State (60-70): A mint state coin is in its original condition, with no signs of wear or handling. The higher the number within the mint state range, the more pristine the coin’s condition.

Coin Grading Examples 

To better understand coin grading, let’s look at some examples:

1916-D Mercury Dime:

  • Poor (1): The coin is heavily worn, with only the design outline visible and the date barely legible.
  • Mint State (65): The coin is in its original condition, with full details and no signs of wear or handling.

1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle:

  • Good (4): The coin is well-worn, with the design visible but flattened by wear.
  • Mint State (65): The coin is in its original condition, with full details and no signs of wear or handling.

What is the highest grade for a gold coin? 

Perfect Mint State:

The highest grade for a gold coin is a perfect Mint State (MS70) on the Sheldon Scale. This grade indicates that the coin is in flawless condition, with no signs of wear or handling and no imperfections visible under magnification. Coins in perfect mint state are scarce and highly sought after by collectors and investors due to their pristine condition and exceptional value.

Factors affecting the grade:

Several factors can impact a gold coin’s grade, including the coin’s age, rarity, historical significance, and the quality of the minting process. Additionally, subjective factors, such as the coin’s eye appeal and the grader’s expertise, can also influence the final grade assigned to a coin.

Different Gold Grading Systems Around the World 

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS):

Based in the United States, PCGS is one of the world’s leading coin-grading services. Established in 1986, PCGS uses the Sheldon Scale to grade coins and guarantees the authenticity and grade of the coins they certify.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC):

NGC, founded in 1987, is another prominent coin-grading service in the United States. NGC also utilizes the Sheldon Scale for grading coins and offers a guarantee of authenticity and grade for the coins they certify.

European Grading Systems:

Several grading systems are used in Europe, which often differ from the Sheldon Scale. These systems may include adjectives such as “Good, Very Fine” (GVF) or “Extremely Fine” (EF) to describe the coin’s condition. Additionally, some European grading services use a numerical scale that differs from the Sheldon Scale.

Tips for Buying Gold: Understanding the Grading System for Better Purchasing Decisions

Learn the basics of coin grading:

Understanding the fundamentals of coin grading, including the Sheldon Scale and the various grade definitions, can help you make informed decisions when buying gold coins.

Use reputable grading services:

Consider using reputable grading services like PCGS or NGC when purchasing graded gold coins. These organizations guarantee authenticity and grade, ensuring you receive the coin in the described condition.

Examine coins in person:

Whenever possible, examine gold coins in person before making a purchase. It allows you to assess the coin’s condition and eye appeal, which can impact its value.

Consider the coin’s rarity and historical significance:

In addition to the coin’s grade, consider factors such as its rarity, historical importance, and the quality of the minting process when determining its value and desirability.

Educate yourself on market trends and values:

Stay informed about the latest market trends and values for gold coins. This knowledge can help you make better purchasing decisions and identify potential investment opportunities.


Understanding the basics of coin grading and mint states is crucial for anyone interested in collecting or investing in gold coins. By familiarizing yourself with the grading systems, coin grade definitions, and the factors that impact a coin’s grade, you can make informed decisions when buying or selling gold coins. With this knowledge, you can confidently navigate the world of numismatics and make wise choices for your investment portfolio or coin collection.

If you are interested in learning more about gold and other precious metals, American Bullion is a great resource. They offer a wide range of products and services, including gold and silver coins and bars, as well as gold IRA services. They also have a team of knowledgeable professionals who can help you navigate the market and make informed decisions about your investments. Contact American Bullion today to learn more about how you can diversify your portfolio with precious metals.