Collecting coins is a pastime that dates back at least to the Renaissance, and possibly to ancient Greece and Roman civilisation. The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, was known to give gifts of rare coins collected from the various states present at the turn of the first millennium. In 14th century Italy, Petrarch, known as one of the original Renaissance poets built a great collection of Roman coins, and often purchased coins from shepherds and fieldworkers who had found them during their daily life. Of course, in the 21st century, numismatics is a multi-million pound industry and until relatively recently the grading of coins was the domain of expert numismatists who would have to be consulted to ascertain the condition and therefore value of a coin.
At least, that was the case until the mid-1980s when a system of grading was decided upon…
Originally, the classification of collectible coins was based on three definitions – “good”, “fine” and “uncirculated”. In time, collectors desired more specific detail on the coins that they were looking to purchase – this led to the introduction of “very fine” and “extra fine”. However, there was a grading system from the 1940s that ascribed a number between 1 and 70 to each coin (70 being mint condition). Dr William Sheldon’s scale worked on the basis that a coin graded at 70 would be valued at 70 times more than the value of a coin graded at 1. This scale forms the basis of the grading system today.
A brand new release from the Royal Mint, Canadian Mint etc, if untouched and without any minting issues should be graded at 70. However, the likelihood of finding an older coin graded at 70 is close to impossible, so older coins such as Victoria Sovereigns are far more likely to be at 63 or 64, and these would still be worthwhile purchases to a collector. It becomes even more unlikely that a coin will be graded highly if it’s a rare date as well, hence these become the most valuable coins.
Graded coins therefore display the number on the slab to instruct buyers as to the condition of the coin. You will also find that before the number, there is a two letter code to highlight the mintage process involved in creating the coin, ie. MS stands for Mint State, a term used to indicate that the coins are the same issue as circulated coins, but in good enough condition to fall between 60 and 70 on the Sheldon scale whilst PF or PR denotes Proof coins. Occasionally there are coins that are graded as SP – this stands for specimen, and is used to describe those coins that fall between mint state and proof condition, and if the coin isn’t graded between 60 and 70, you will see such descriptors as AU, XF, VF etc.
Of course, coins have to be preserved to ensure that the grade remains relevant. If you were to drop a coin and damage the edge five minutes after it had been graded it would likely be at a lower grade and could mislead buyers! Hence, the coins are slabbed to maintain the condition in a protective case. The slabs are very presentable and handily stack together.
Should I get my coin/s graded?
Naturally, this is a personal choice, but we would advise that grading is a useful tool for coin collectors. If buying or selling bullion coins purely for investment based on gold price movements, it’s not a necessity and we will likely pay the same price for a low-grade slabbed coin as we would for a loose one. However, if the coins have numismatic value, an independent assessment of the coin’s condition is useful, and helps buyers to realise the true value of the coin. Likewise with proof coins, traditionally buyers should keep the coin, box and certificate together intact. This is still best practice but proof coins that are slabbed and of a high grade work as an equivalent presentation and are usually valued the same.
See our Slabbed coins section here.