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Introduction to Coin Grading
Coins are normally made for public circulation to enable commerce to take place. In general they are made in large quantities and are not usually rare (there are, of course, many exceptions).
Collectors generally want to acquire examples of a coin in as nice condition as they can.
As soon as a coin is minted it begins to suffer damage and wear. When it enters circulation in begins to deteriorate in three significant ways:
Wear - Normal use causes the surface of a coin to be smoothed and for the detail to be gradually lost.
Damage - Coins often suffer damage beyond normal wear, from being used for other purposes than intended, for example holes and edge damage from being made into jewellery. Particularly of importance for good quality collectors coins are edge knocks which heavy coins get from being dropped.
Corrosion - Most coin metals begin to react with the environment as soon as they are minted. This reaction initially results in toning of the coin's original colour but subsequent corrosion will result in pitting of the surface and loss of metal from the coin.
Coins are normally graded initially based on the amount of wear. This grade should then be modified or qualified to indicate any damage or corrosion.
Grading coins is not a precise science, however over the years a method and associated terminology has evolved to describe coin grades.
These pages use the 'European Grading' Scale - It is important to distinguish between this scale and the 'American' or 'Sheldon' Scale. The European Grading scale will usually grade a mid range coin about a grade lower than the American scale. The principle differences occur in the Good Very Fine to Extremely Fine range. Because the American scale is very liberal with these grades they have a significant gap between Extremely Fine and Uncirculated which is filled with an additional grade: Almost Uncirculated.
As well as the distinct grades a series of interval grades have been developed to modify the higher grades, it is important to distinguish between terms which qualify a grade and terms which are used to show the grader's opinion of a coin for its grade.
For example ' Good Very Fine ' is a coin which is better than 'Very Fine' and is a grade in its own right in The European scale. Whereas ' Nice Very Fine ' means the coin is in 'Very Fine' condition but is particularly nice for this grade (perhaps because of attractive toning or being particularly free of the normal minor scratches a coin in this grade would have). Sometimes 'Nice Very Fine' means that the grader would have liked to grade the coin 'Good Very Fine' but the level of wear indicated it is only 'Very Fine'.
Some terms are defined below the table:
Mint Bloom : When a coin is minted the surface generally has a sheen or bloom which shows as softly lustrous in light - after circulating this lustre gradually dulls. A polished coin usually has a hard or harsh shine to the surfaces so polishing is easily distinguishable from original lustre or mint bloom. After light circulation the bloom is often lost from the higher surfaces but remains on areas of the coin's surface which are protected such as in the crevices of the design or in the field around the legends. Further circulation finally removes all traces of this lustre. On Irish modern coins the gaps between the harp strings can often remain lustrous after the rest of the surface is dulled.
Design : I have used this term to mean the main objects and legends on the coin. In the case of an Irish modern coins the term design refers to the harp and the reverse animal as well as the legends.
Details : I have used this term to mean the smaller components within the objects on the coins surface. In terms of an Irish modern coins this means features such as an animal's eye or feathers or on the obverse harp it means the pattern on the sound box or the bow. Some details are worn very early in the life of a coin (perhaps by GVF grade) while some survive until the main design is little more than a silhouette.
: The harp strings on an modern Irish coin are design not detail. They are usually visible along with the rest of the harp silhouette until a coin is worn beyond Fair.