How to grade a Sovereign gold coin.

Grading is probably the most controversial and by far the most important area of coin collecting and there are almost no grading guides for world coins. Grading issues have caused disputes between buyers and sellers since collecting begun and will continue to do so for ever more. Grading coins accurately is a skill acquired in time and after looking at many similar/identical coins in all ranges of condition. Many coins fall in between grades, and so terms such as ‘nearly VF’, ‘good VF’, ‘gem BU’ are encountered. The numerical system (1 -70) popular in the USA is not common in Europe but it does allow greater flexibility within key grades. We should bear in mind that their grading system is more generous than that of the UK. E.g. the lower ranges of Almost Uncirculated ( AU50 – 57) allows for some wear which is not acceptable in the UK, so care is needed. There are also differences between European countries where FDC (Fleur De Coin) is used to describe an uncirculated coin but in the UK, FDC is a perfect coin that could only be attributed to the best of proofs and is equivalent to the to the top number on the American system (MS70) and is rarely found

We are not numismatists and our concern is only with gold and silver coins as an investment so the grade is not as critical as it is for a collector of rare coins. Nevertheless the condition of a coin is important and numismatists agree that in most cases the condition of the coin is more important than its rarity.

There are key grades and grades between these grades so it is often easier to start with buckets, Circulated, Almost Uncirculated and Uncirculated.

The coin should be graded on its weakest side, look for overall wear and loss of design detail such as strands of hair, feathers or coats of arms.  Detecting wear can be made more difficult where relief is low particularly applicable to coins of Edward VII and George V

Some tips for sovereigns

The majority of Sovereigns since 1820 contain Benedetto  Pistrucci’s fantastic engraving of St. George slaying the dragon and there are some high points that can indicate wear. Look at the helmet above the eye this is the first place wear occurs, the strap across St George’s chest, the fingers on the hand, signs of wear on the reins, relief of the sword against the flank. This reverse covered a number of monarchs on the obverse. In general look for detail of the ears on males and hair on females.

Look at the example below of a 1918 Halfcrown. With examination under magnification the slightest rubbing can be seen on the ear, cheek and moustache. A very nice coin but not Uncirculated

1918 Halfcrown AU (About Uncirculated) American AU58-59


I have listed the Key grades below with some sample coins of various denominations to give an idea of grading but please remember this is subjective and maybe variable in the eyes of the expert who would examine with magnification.

Poor: A very worn coin but better than a smooth disc. Inscriptions worn off, date illegible, only outline of design visible. Such coins are generally of no value to a collector.

Fair: A heavily worn coin but date and denomination legible, type recognisable. Very little detail visible , worth no more than the metal value

Penny Fair American F2

Good (G): (sometimes Mediocre) Inscriptions and date considerably worn but legible. Generally worth no more than the metal value

Very Good (VG): Considerable wear over the whole coin, and high spots worn through. Coins in this or the previous grades are really only collectable if extremely rare and generally worth no more than the metal value

Fine (F): Worn over whole area, but only the highest spots are worn completely through. Some of the hair volume should be visable but not individual strands (US Grade about VF)

Great Britain, George V, Sovereign, 1912, FINE

Farthing F (Fine) American F12-14

Great Britain, George V, Sovereign, 1912, F/VF KM:82

Very Fine (VF): Detail clear, but obvious evidence of limited circulation. High spots worn but detail remains. More hair detail is evident and also detail of other designs. Traces of mint lustre may linger amongst the letters of the inscription. (US Grade about XF)

Extremely Fine (EF): A coin with little sign of being circulated. Slight wear on high spots on close inspection, and all other detail clear and sharp with minimal scratches and marks. Much mint lustre may remain. (US Grade about AU)

Half Penny EF(Extremly Fine) American XF40 – 44

Almost Uncirculated (AU): Not quite in Uncirculated condition could be down graded because of heavy bag marks, edge knocks or other undesirable feature but without the slight wear that determine it to be EF, would usually contain more than half of its mint luster.

Florin gEF (Good Extremly Fine) American AU About Uncirculated AU55

Uncirculated (UNC): No wear, although it is possible for the design not to be fully struck up in the minting process. Not perfect as there may be bag abrasions and knocks through mass production. The coin should have most of its mint luster present. Older coins may be tarnished or toned.

Shilling UNC ( Uncirculated) American MS60-62

Brilliant Uncirculated (BU): There will be no visible signs of wear or handling and ideally no bag marks.  Usually implies full mint lustre, in other words no toning or tarnish.

Half Penny BU (Brilliant Uncirculated) American MS67-69

FDC: (Fleur de Coin) Perfect mint state, with no abrasions or marks, and full lustre. Usually applied to proof coins only, as coins intended for circulation are in contact with others during production.

Penny FDC (Fleur De Coin) American MS70

Proof: Not a condition, but the coin has been struck using specially prepared dies and polished blanks, and the minting process has been carried out usually twice with extra pressure to ensure the die is filled. A characteristic of proof coins is that they have very sharp edges because of the high pressures used to ensure that the metal flows into all details of the design.

The table below attempts to show in detail the Key Grades in bold and grades in between

By Alexandre Laurent

Alexandre Laurentl is working in the jewelry and investment gold since 2002. Alexandre graduated from The Normandy School of Business and from the University of Perpignan a Bachelor of economics in 1995.

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