The grading of a coin can be compared with a referee calling a play. Most plays are routine and easy to call, but some are borderline and, right or wrong, the fans often disagree with the result of such a call.
The same can be said of coin grading. Any two individuals with approximately equal experience in grading will agree on the grade of most coins, but will no doubt disagree on some. The difference of opinion is due to the fact that coin grading is a science with flexible guidelines
The South African Coin and Banknote Catalogue gives you reasonably detailed descriptions of the various numismatic grading terms. Take time to study these. Never be afraid to ask a dealer about the condition of a coin. A good dealer will take time out to explain. It is a subjective matter and often one finds the condition goes up or down a grade depending on whether it is being sold or bought. There is no substitute quite as good as experience but beginners can at least follow the basic guidelines of all collecting areas: know your dealer. Has he been in business for a long time, has he got a shop where you can go back to, what is the general opinion of other collectors and others in the trade.
In grading of coins there are two elements to look for:
- Overall design wear,
- Loss of detail in the design.
Details to look for on the obverse of the coin of the following coin designs are:
Kruger design - Look for detail wear by looking at eyebrow, hair detail above ear and on beard.
George V design - Look for detail wear by looking at eyebrow, ear and hair detail above ear.
Elizabeth II design - Look for detail wear by looking at ear, hair above ear and laurel wreath around head.
Van Riebeeck design - Look for detail wear by looking at eye and eyebrow.
Remember you need to check the detail in the design on the reverse as well when grading the coin.
The age, rarity and type of a coin should not be considered in grading, however it should be borne in mind that with many of the ZAR gold coins dies were used beyond their normal life. Grade each coin by the weaker of the two sides. Split grades i.e. F/VF for obverse and reverse are normally no more than one grade apart. Grade by the amount of overall wear and loss of detail evident in the main design on each side.
Specific characteristics of the coin should be noted such as with excessive hairlines on a proof coin, that coin will be graded an impaired proof (Imp Pr), Rim Nick (R/N), Rim Bump (R/B) and unnatural cleaning or polishing (Pol) should also be noted. A coin removed from a pendant which has solder marks will have added to the grade (ex mount) and is worth only a much smaller percentage of the grade value.
( From lowest grade to highest grade )
AG - 3 Worn rims but most lettering is readable though worn.
G - 4 Slightly worn rims, flat detail, peripheral lettering nearly full.
G - 6 Rims complete with flat detail, peripheral lettering full.
VG - 8 Design worn with slight detail.
VG - 10 Design worn with slight detail, slightly clearer.
F - 12 Some deeply recessed areas with detail, all lettering sharp.
F - 15 Slightly more detail in the recessed areas, all lettering is sharp.
VF - 20 Some definition of detail, all lettering full and sharp.
VF - 25 Slightly more definition in the detail and lettering.
VF - 30 Almost complete detail with flat areas.
VF - 35 Detail is complete but worn with high points flat.
EF - 40 Detail is complete with most high points slightly flat.
EF - 45 Detail is complete with some high points flat.
AU - 50 Full detail with friction over most of the surface, slight flatness on high points.
AU - 53 Full detail with friction over 1/2 or moreof the surface, very slight flatness on high points.
AU - 55 Full detail with friction on less than 1/2 surface mainly on high points.
AU - 58 Full detail with only slight friction on the high points.
MS/PR - 60 No wear. May have many heavy marks / hairlines, strike may not be full.
MS/PR - 61 No wear. Multiple heavy marks / hairlines,strike may not be full.
MS/PR - 62 No wear. Slightly less marks / hairlines, strike may not be full.
MS/PR - 63 Moderate number / size marks / hairlines, strike may not be full.
MS/PR - 64 Few marks / hairlines or a couple of severe ones, strike should be more average or above.
MS/PR - 65 Minor marks / hairlines though none in focal areas, above average strike.
MS/PR - 66 Few minor marks / hairlines not in focal areas, good strike.
MS/PR - 67 Virtually as struck with minor imperfections, very well struck.
MS/PR - 68 Virtually as struck with slight imperfections, slightest weakness of strike allowed.
MS/PR - 69 Virtually as struck with miniscule imperfections, near full strike necessary.
MS/PR - 70 As struck, with full strike.