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Collecting Coins: How to Value a Specific Coin

In coin collecting, the condition of a coin is paramount to its value; a high-quality example is often worth many times more than a poor example. Collectors have created systems to describe the overall condition of coins.



In the early days of coin collecting extremely precise grades were not needed. Coins were described using only three adjectives: "good," "fine" or "uncirculated". By the mid 20th century, with the growing market for rare coins, the Sheldon system was adopted by the American Numismatic Association and most coin professionals in the North America. It uses a 170 numbering scale, where 70 represents a perfect specimen and 1 represents a barely identifiable coin. The Sheldon Scale uses descriptions and numeric grades for coins is as follows:

1. Mint State (MS) 6070: Uncirculated
2. About/Almost Uncirculated (AU) 50, 53, 55, 58
3. Extremely Fine (XF or EF) 40, 45
4. Very Fine (VF) 20, 25, 30, 35
5. Fine (F) 12, 15
6. Very Good (VG) 8, 10
7. Good (G) 4, 6
8. About Good (AG) 3
9. Fair (FA, FR) 2
10. Poor (PR, PO) 1

While the Sheldon Scale is universally acknowledged, coin experts in Europe and elsewhere often shun the numerical system, preferring to rate specimens on a purely descriptive, or adjectival, scale.

When evaluating a coin, the following factors may be considered:

1) "eye appeal" or the aesthetic interest of the coin;
2) dents on the rim;
3) unsightly scratches or other blemishes on the surface of the coin;
4) luster;
5) toning;
6) level of detail retained, where a coin with full details obviously is valued higher than one with worn details. If the coin is judged favorably in all of these criteria, it will generally be awarded a higher grade.

Damage of any sort can substantially reduce the value of a coin. Specimens are occasionally cleaned or polished in an attempt to pass them off as higher grades or as uncirculated strikes. Because of the substantially lower prices for cleaned or damaged coins, some enthusiasts specialize in their collection.

Type collections:

1. Composition collections: For some, the metallurgical composition of the coin itself is of interest. For example, a collector might collect only bimetallic coins. Precious metals like gold, silver, copper and platinum are of frequent interest to collectors, but enthusiasts also pursue historically significant pieces like the 1943 steel cent or the 1974 aluminum cent.

2. Subject collections: Collectors with an interest in a certain subject (such as, ships or eagles) may collect only coins depicting that interest. 3. Period collections: Collectors may restrict themselves to coins of the 18th or 19th century, while others collect ancient and medieval coins. Coins of Roman, Byzantine, Greek origin are amongst the more popular ancient coins collected. Some collect coins minted during a particular ruler's reign or a representative coin from each ruler. Collectors may also take interest in money issued during the administration of a historically significant bureaucrat such as a central bank governor, treasurer or finance secretary. For example, Reserve Bank of India governor James Braid Taylor presided over the country's move from silver currency to fiat money. Coins reflect the events of the time in which they are produced, so coins issued during historically important periods are especially interesting to collectors.

4. Printed value collections: A currency collection might be modeled around the theme of a specific printed value, for example, the number 1. This collection might include specimens of the US 1 dollar coin, the Canadian Loonie, the Euro, 1 Indian Rupee and 1 Singapore dollar.

5. Volume collections: Collectors may have an interest in acquiring large volumes of a particular coin. These usually are not high-value coins, but the interest is in collecting a large volume of them either for the sake of the challenge, as a store of value, or in the hope that the intrinsic metal value will increase