Have you ever looked at a coin grade and questions, “Where did they get that number from?”. Well, there is a method to the madness and we have Dr. William Sheldon to thank for the 70-point coin grading system. It has an interesting history and Dr. Sheldon likely never intended it to go beyond what his original intent in 1949.
Dr. Sheldon was a numismatist as well as a physiologist. His particular favorite coins were large copper cents dated from 1793 to 1814. The problem he ran into was the price differentiation between a Mint State coins and a lower grade. In some cases, the cost of a Mint State coin could be two or three times the price of a coin in Very Fine condition. He wanted to effectively standardize coin prices. To do this, he came up with two concepts.
First, was the concept of a basal value. That is the base cost of the coin, be it $1, $5, $10, etc. Second, he created the grading scale itself, a concept we all know.
|4, 5, 6||Good|
|7, 8, 10||Very Good|
|20, 30||Very Fine|
The way the scale worked was simple: You took the basal value and multiplied it by the grade value. So, if you had a Fair-2 coin and the basal value of the coin was $2, you would multiple 2×2 to get a coin value of $4. If the coin had a basal value of $5 and a grade of MS-60, the coins value was $300. In many ways, it was an elegant solution to the problem of wildly varying coin prices.
The problem was, Dr. Sheldon really only intended this for large copper cents. His equation did not take into consideration precious metals like silver or gold nor fluctuations in copper itself. By 1953, the formula was essentially broken and the value elements of it didn’t work any more. The market drove the cost of a Mint State coin over a Very Fine coin once again, with premiums sometimes up to 20-times more for the Mint State coin. But, and importantly, the numbering scale for coin grades stuck around. Many felt it was a reasonably scientific way of indicating the quality of a coin, thus a higher premium.
Fast forward 20-odd years to the 1970s. The American Numismatic Association decided that it would officially adopt the Sheldon 70-point grading system and further expanded upon it. They added interim steps on the scale along with designations for grades and descriptions.
|3||About Good, Almost Good||AG|
|6||Choice Good||G+, G6|
|8||Very Good||VG, VG8|
|10||Choice Very Good||VG+, VG10|
|15||Choice Fine||F+, F15|
|20||Very Fine||VF, VF20|
|30||Choice Very Fine||Ch.VF, VF+, VF30|
|35||Choice Very Fine||Ch. VF, VF+, VF35|
|40||Extremely Fine/Extra Fine||Ex. Fine, EF40|
|45||Choice Extremely Fine||Ch. Ex. Fine, EF45|
|50||About Uncirculated/Almost Uncirculated||AU, AU50|
|55||Choice About Uncirculated||Ch. AU, AU55|
|58||Choice About Uncirculated||Ch. AU, AU58|
|60||Uncirculated||MS-60, MS-61, MS-62|
|63||Select or Choice Uncirculated||MS-63|
|64||Choice Uncirculated||MS-63, MS-64|
|65-66||Gem Uncirculated||MS-65, MS-66|
|67-69||Superb Gem Uncirculated||MS-67, MS-68, MS-69|
Today, this is the basis of all coin grades across the industry and how values are assigned to coins from a market value perspective.
For more information on the history of our coinage history, check out any of the Coin History articles here on USCoinNews.com