Frequently Asked Questions About Coin Appraisals

In the world of coin appraisals, coin purchasing, and coin buying, Numismatists offer real experience and knowledge to help the new or well-seasoned collector or seller realize their best outcome.  Numismatic is the science of coins as well as the economic, cultural, artistic, and social trends of the times that are associated with those coins.  It can take years of study and exploration for a person to become an expert Numismatist and an ongoing commitment to maintain and expand that knowledge to become a successful collector, or to help others find, value, sell and purchase quality coins for their portfolios.

Dave Wnuck has gained decades of professional numismatic expertise and has gained numerous certifications and associations in the field.  Contact Dave Wnuck.

At a minimum, collectors and appraisers have a magnifier, a suitable light source, and applicable coin reference books with information on dates and mintmarks, major varieties, grading guidelines, and prices to identify, inspect and appraise coins.  microscope, gloves, mask, velvet pad, additional references, metal detector, scale, and/or photographic equipment are useful for advanced numismatists.  Carefully selected sources on the Internet are also important tools to help spot emerging buying and selling trends, coin popularity, and updated pricing information.

When the coins you’re interested in collecting are not available in circulation, it’s time to look for other sources (see the previous topic). That almost always means purchasing coins. Among places to buy coins are numismatists coin shops, coin shows, on the web, mail order, and from other collectors.  Flea markets and bazaars may also be a source for finding coins if you have the experience to ascertain the quality and potential value of the coins at hand.

Buyer Beware:  Make sure the check and confirm the experience and reputation of any individual or agency before you decide to sell or purchase a coin.  Also, make sure there is a reasonable written return policy.

Collectible coins and currency are more fragile than you might expect so precautions are needed to protect their value.  Mishandling of coins can cause wear or introduce substances that may lead to damage, spots, or color changes.  In general, a coin should remain in its holder unless it is truly necessary to remove it for a deeper inspection.

Never touch an uncirculated or Proof coin anywhere but on the edge, as fingerprints alone may lessen a coin’s grade.  Place coins on a clean, soft surface or velvet pad when outside of their holder.  For high-value coins, consider using a nonabrasive white cloth, surgical gloves, and a mask to reduce exposure to potential moisture particles.

In nearly every case, the best answer is to NEVER attempt to clean a collectible coin.  While some may think that a cleaned, shiny coin brings greater appraisal, the opposite is more the truth as cleaning a coin can reduce its value by half or more.  If the surface appears to be tarnished do not try to alter it since the discoloration is likely the result of a natural aging process.

If cleaning becomes essential, consult a professional numismatist.

The condition of a coin is identified in the form of a grade which can also greatly affect its value and desirability for potential owners.  While there are standards for grading, often relying on standards set forth by the American Numismatic Association (ANS) and other guides in the United States, there is a certain amount of subjectivity in the process as well.  Worldwide, grades come in the form of Fair, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine, Uncirculated, and Fleur-de-coin.

Uncirculated Coins have no wear and are often referred to as in a “Mint State” with grades ranging from MS-60 through MS-70.  Uncirculated coins (often referred to as mint coins) are made using the same die press process as other coins but may include additional enhancements such as a higher coining force, early strikes from dies, and special cleaning of the blanks before stamping to give a more brilliant finish.  The designation of BU (Brilliant Uncirculated) is also sometimes applied to certain uncirculated coins. The value of uncirculated coins varies significantly between grade points.

Over time, a circulated coin will experience wear from contact with hard surfaces and other coins, exposure to moister and other elements, and other forms of damage. Grading measures a coin’s specific condition, or quality, based on the level of wear it shows. The grade has a direct influence on a coin’s value and price.  The American Numismatic Association (ANA) developed a universal grading system to facilitate accurate coin comparisons and trading.

Mintage refers to the overall quality of a given coin.
Circulated Coins are graded based on the overall amount of wear.  ANA  grades include:

  • AU-58, “nearly at the quality of an uncirculated coin”
  • AU-55, “comparable to an uncirculated coin” with small traces of wear
  • AU-50, “close to an uncirculated coin” with very light wear and at least half of the original mint luster
  • EF-45 or XF-45, “extremely fine condition” with all design details remaining sharp and some mint luster remaining
  • EF-40 or XF-40, “extremely fine condition” but with slightly more wear and only traces of mint luster present
  • VF-30, “very fine condition” with light even wear on coin high points, all lettering and sharp design details
  • VF-20, “very fine condition” with most details are still well defined
  • F-12, “fine condition” with major coin elements still clear but some design details are worn away
  • VG-8, “very good condition” with major design elements, letters, and numerals are worn but clear
  • G-4, “good condition” with major design elements are outlined but details are gone and the date may not be sharp or the coin’s rim may not be complete.
  • AG-3, “about good condition” that is heavily worn and the coin’s date may be barely legible.
  • F-2, “fair condition” applies to coins that are very heavily worn and major portions may be completely smooth (These coins on not typically considered collectible)
  • P-1, “poor condition” with the filler or cull with coin details barely recognizable (These coins on not typically considered collectible)


Intermediate grades may also be used by some dealers and grading services. Split grades may also be applied to coins where there is a significant difference in the condition of either side.

Proof coins are specially manufactured by presses fitted with special dies that are presented for sale at a premium price primarily for collectors, exhibitors, or for presentation as a gift or award. A proof set is a themed collection of proof coins often grouped by year or a commemoration packaged together in a protective case or holder.  Proofs are usually struck more than one time so that they stand apart from ordinary coins by their mirror like fields, frosty devices (especially in recent years), and extra sharp details.

For many years the U.S. Mint has sold annual sets of proof coins as well as special sets in various years.

A slab is a certified coin that has been authenticated, graded, and placed in a sonically sealed hard plastic case or holder by a professional certification service.  The coin’s certification remains intact as long as the case is not altered or damaged.

In addition to the condition of the coin, the price can fluctuate significantly based on the market’s overall supply and demand at any given time.  It pays the seller to put in the research before settling on a competitive price for sale.

The level of demand is largely driven by established collectors and investors.  Dealers impact the price as well since they must sell at a rate higher than they originally paid for the coin to turn a reasonable profit in a competitive marketplace.  Retail prices refer to the rate a dealer charges most common collectors and investors, while lower near-wholesale pricing may apply to volume purchasers.  There are published price guides that list typical rates for both retail and wholesale transactions, but these do not definitively reveal the exact pricing that one might expect in each circumstance.

Due to many factors involved in pricing coins (grading, demand, and other considerations), many collectors rely on an experienced and connected numismatist to help determine an appropriate sale or purchase rate for their coins.

Certified coins are graded and authenticated by an established third-party grading service. Two of the leading and most respected grading services are the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).  Once a coin has been certified, it receives a unique identifying serial number, and it is permanently sealed in a tamper-proof holder or case.

In many cases, currency, foreign coins, medals and tokens, as well as error coins may be certified by reliable independent grading services.  Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) is one of the top third-party grading services for coins and currency.  There are other avenues for certification of other items.

A professional numismatist such as Dave Wnuck can provide additional direction and assistance in this area.  Contact Dave Wnuck.

Raw coins are those that have not been certified by an established third-party grading service.

Each coin has two sides.  The front side often referred to as the “head” side of the coin is called the “obverse.”  The backside of the coin, often referred to as the “tail” side is called the “reverse.”

Occasionally, the condition of the obverse or reverse side of a given coin varies significantly from the other.  When evaluating for quality, these coins may receive a “split grade” for price valuation purposes.

On each side, the “field” refers to the flat surface of the coin that includes no design elements or inscriptions.  The coin’s “relief” refers to any area of the design that is raised above the surface.

The “rim” is the raised edge on both sides of the coin, while the “edge” is the outer border located on either side. Edges can be plain (as with a nickel), reeded (grooved, as with a quarter), lettered, or decorated.

Coins that include both a date and a mintmark are rare in the market.  These coins are referred to as having a “key date.”  Because key date coins are extremely scarce, they are often found in high demand by collectors and investors alike, with higher price values to match.

Coins with key dates nay have been caused by a low original mintage count, pulled from circulation to melt them down for their silver content, or due to the incremental loss of similar coins over time.

Dime, quarter, dollar, and many half dollar coins that were typically produced since 1965 were made of a mix of copper and nickel rather than the previous traditional 90% silver composition.  These are referred to as “clad coins.”

Steel cent coins that have had their old original zinc coating stripped off and recoated with fresh zinc for a shiny finish, are referred to as “reprocessed coins.”

The mintmark on a coin shows where it was created.  Coins minted at the West Point Mint in New York display the “W” mark. “D” represents the Denver Mint, “P” stands for the Philadelphia Mint, and “S” indicates the San Francisco Mint.

Before 1979, coins produced at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia did not bear a mintmark, other than Jefferson nickels struck from 1942-1945. In 1980, the “P” mintmark was added to all coins produced by the Philadelphia Mint, except for the cent coin.