The vast majority of vintage coins exist in circulated condition. Since they were typically made to be used in everyday commerce, they are usually encountered with some degree of wear. The extent of the circulation, however, is a major component of a coin’s value. Lightly worn pieces with minimal loss of detail or luster will command a far higher price than a heavily circulated specimen. To help classify the degree of wear, numismatists have established nine major categories of circulated coin grades.
When a coin begins to circulate, the first change is the loss of luster and a tendency to become dull and lifeless. Then, the coin’s highest points and finest design details will begin to show wear and a loss of definition. On American coinage, these features tend to be hair curls, or feathers on an eagle. Then, as a coin becomes more circulated, the next items to vanish are items like dates, stars and the raised rim. The most heavily worn coins will then lose major design elements and become almost unrecognizable.
Poor 1: Just barely recognizable with just the slightest traces of design detail visible. Essentially “slick” and almost worn to the point of being impossible to identify. Very few coins actually reach this point.
Fair 2: Still recognizable, but with around 80-90% of the major design details missing from extensive circulation.
About Good 3: Most of the design features still visible, but clearly well-worn and showing little definition. May be missing portions of the rim, peripheral stars and legends.
Good 4-6: Heavily circulated, but still retains a full rim and date. The major design features may be close to fading away at this stage.
Very Good 8-10: Extensively worn with just the outlines of the major design elements still visible.
Fine 12-15: Obviously worn with most if not all of the fine design details missing. However, all major design elements still very clearly visible.
Very Fine 20-35: Clearly worn with the finest design elements like hair strands, eagles’ feathers and such no longer visible from wear.
Extremely Fine 40-45: Lightly worn, but no longer lustrous. 90% of the design features remain visible. Many Extremely Fine coins have enough detail to qualify as About Uncirculated, but lack the necessary amount of luster.
About Uncirculated 50-58: Shows just the slightest traces of wear and circulation. Only the highest points of the coin should display any loss of detail. Some luster is expected to remain intact.