Over time, coins experience varying degrees of wear from circulation, or marks from contact with other coins or surfaces. Because coins are priced according to their condition, a standard system of grading has been developed to facilitate the exchange of coins between dealers, and between dealers and collectors.
With over 65 years of experience serving collectors, our grading standards at Littleton are widely recognized to be among the most stringent in the business. We strive to bring you the most desirable coins within each grade. A brief introduction to coin grading is found below.
You can also see our complete grading descriptions and standards – which includes some additional sections found in the grading guide we publish in our catalogs.
For a selection of useful books and guides, please see our list of coin grading & general reference books.
Circulated coins have been used to some extent in daily commerce and have some "wear" from handling. Because older or scarcer coins may be very difficult to locate in mint Uncirculated condition, Circulated coins may better suit your needs for some coin series and issues. The grades for Circulated U.S. coins are described below:
Coin will have a fully readable date. The rims will be nearly full and may be worn down to the tops of the letters. The design of the coin will be fully outlined.
Coin will have a fully defined rim and full legends with all the lettering and numerals distinct. Some detail in the design of the coin will begin to show.
Moderate wear will be evident. The date will be bold and all letters and legends will be clear. Major elements in the design will show some separation.
Approximately two-thirds of the coin’s overall design will be visible. The date, letters, and major elements of the design will be sharply defined.
All elements in the design will be clearly visible. There may be mint luster evident, especially around the edges of the design. The high points of the design will be slightly worn.
Wear is evident only on the highest points of the design (points that extend highest above the surface). There may be abundant mint luster.
Uncirculated and Proof Coins
Uncirculated coins are new coins that have never been in circulation. Coins may have been stored for many years in original mint sealed bags, or stored in bank wrapped rolls, or carefully preserved by collectors. As a result, Uncirculated coins exhibit no wear from general circulation. Depending on contact they may have had with other coins and atmospheric conditions during or after coining, blemishes, bag marks and toning may be present. Uncirculated coins may lack luster and still be considered Uncirculated. Because Uncirculated coins represent greater quality and scarcity, they carry higher values. Uncirculated grades range from MS-60 Typical to MS-70 Perfect. Most Uncirculated coins range from MS-60 to MS-63+, as very few coins meet the technical standards for MS-65 or higher. It takes years of experience to become an expert at the grading of Uncirculated coins. Littleton’s veteran buyers have developed great expertise in purchasing and grading Uncirculated U.S. coins.
Proof coins are made by a special process using carefully selected coin blanks and dies, which are meticulously polished and burnished to remove any and all imperfections. The coin blanks are hand-fed into a specially adapted coin press, and are struck twice – at slow speed and with extra pressure – to produce high-relief features contrasted against deep mirrorlike surfaces. The dies are polished frequently, and are replaced after only a limited number of strikes. The finished Proof coins are inspected to rigid standards, handled only with gloves or tongs, and specially packaged for delivery to collectors.