How to Grade Indian Head Pennies

How to Accurately Grade Indian Head Pennies

Grading Indian Head pennies is a skill that will take years of experience to perfect but this guide will get you started. Remember that coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of a specific coin that most dealers and collectors would agree with. Grading Indian Head pennies is not an exact science where a precise method can be applied and everyone comes out with the same result. But over the years, numismatists and coin grading services have agreed upon certain...MORE definitions, descriptions and Sheldon's numeric values that help all coin collectors describe their coins correctly (to a certain extent). This guide will help you understand those terms and descriptions so you can accurately grade your Indian Head pennies.

  • 01 of 14

    Understanding Indian Head Penny Grades

    Indian Head Penny
    FromSandToGlass/CC/Flickr

    Early Indian Head pennies (1859-1864) were made of 12% nickel and have a slight silver cast to them. This made the metal harder than normal and it was difficult to get a clear strike. Beginning in 1864 the nickel was removed from the composition and replaced with 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This made the metal softer and easier to strike. Grades of mint state or uncirculated also take into account the color of the copper coin. This is designated as red (RD), red/brown (RB) or brown (BN) and...MORE listed after the numerical grade. For example "MS63RB".

  • 02 of 14

    Design High Points

    Design High Points on the Indian Head Cent (a.k.a. Lincoln Wheat Penny)
    Design High Points on the Indian Head Cent. Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    The photo illustrates the highest points on the Indian Head pennies design (indicated by the color red). If you think you have an uncirculated Indian Head cent, look at these areas on the coin first to see if you can spot any wear. If there is wear, then it is not uncirculated.

  • 03 of 14

    About Good-3 (AG3 or AG-3)

    Indian Head Penny Graded About Good (AG03)
    Indian Head Cent Graded About Good (AG03). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: The coin is very heavily worn and barely legible. Some of the devices, lettering, legends, and date may be worn smooth, but the date is readable. Portions of the rim blend into the lettering.
    Obverse: The Indian's head shows very few details and is almost just an outline. The date is barely readable and some of the lettering merges with the rim.
    Reverse: The wreath and bow are flat and just an outline. The lettering is flat but readable.
     

  • 04 of 14

    Good-4 (G4 or G-4)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Good (G04)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Good (G04). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: The coin is heavily worn overall. The devices, lettering, legends, and date are readable but may have some faintness in a few areas. All major features are visible in at least outline form and the rim is mostly complete but may be incomplete in a few spots.
    Obverse: The head shows slightly more detail but is mostly just an outline. The rim is full and complete and does not merge with the field.
    Reverse: The wreath is worn flat but the rim is complete and separate from the field of the...MORE coin.

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  • 05 of 14

    Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Very Good (VG08)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Very Good (VG08). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: The coin is well-worn. The design is clear and major elements are defined but are flat and lacking in detail.
    Obverse: "LIBERTY" in the headband is starting to become visible and about three letters are readable. The legend and date are defined but heavily worn
    Reverse: The tops of the leaves on the wreath are worn smooth and more detail is starting to show. The bow and ribbon are mostly flat.

  • 06 of 14

    Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Fine (F12)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Fine (F12). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: The coin shows moderate even wear over the entire surface of the coin. The major design elements are bold and all lettering, legends, and date are clear and readable.
    Obverse: "LIBERTY" is readable but weak in spots. A quarter of the details now shows in the hair. Details in the feathers are now becoming apparent.
    Reverse: Some details are visible in the bow and wreath. The high points of the leaves are worn smooth and some may blend with the lower leaves.

  • 07 of 14

    Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Very Fine (VF20)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Very Fine (VF20). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: Moderate to minor wear exists only on the highest parts of the design where a slight flatness is beginning to show. The overall condition of the coin is pleasing and attractive.
    Obverse: "LIBERTY" is full and complete but may not be extremely sharp. The headdress shows some flatness but details are starting to emerge and finer details of the feathers are now apparent.
    Reverse: Only the tips of the leaves on the wreath show signs of wear. The bow shows flatness on the higher points...MORE but is distinct.

  • 08 of 14

    Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Extra Fine (XF40/EF40)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Extra Fine (XF40/EF40). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: Has only the slightest wear on the very highest points of the coin. All details are sharp and all design elements are well defined. Some traces of mint luster may still exist.
    Obverse: "LIBERTY" is full and sharp. The tips of the feathers show only minor wear and are well defined. Wear is evident on the hair above the ear but is well defined as are the curls by the neck. The diamond design on the ribbon by the neck is evident.
    Reverse: The leaves and bow exhibit wear only on the...MORE high points. The leaves and bow are crisp and detailed.

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  • 09 of 14

    About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)

    Indian Head Penny Graded About Uncirculated (AU55)
    Indian Head Cent Graded About Uncirculated (AU55). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: There are very minor traces of wear or abrasions are visible on only the highest points on the coin. Mint luster is almost complete and the surfaces of the coin are well preserved.
    Obverse: Small traces of wear are detectable only on the highest points of the design (see photo above "Design High Points"). Some mint luster still remains.
    Reverse: Minor traces of wear are evident on the high points of the leaves and bow on the wreath.

  • 10 of 14

    Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Mint State 63 Brown (MS63BN)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Mint State 63 Brown (MS63BN). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: No traces of wear from circulation exist. Mint luster is complete but shows minor impairments. Many contact marks, bag marks, and hairline scratches exist on the coin's field and major design elements and are visible without magnification. Overall, the coin has an attractive eye appeal.
    Obverse: Mint luster is complete over the entire surface of the coin. There may be five to ten marks on the coin's surface.
    Reverse: Mint luster is complete, even on the wreath and bow. Five to ten...MORE marks are permitted on the surface of the coin.

  • 11 of 14

    Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Mint State 65 Red Brown (MS65RB)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Mint State 65 Red Brown (MS65RB). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: A high quality of mint luster completely covers the surfaces of the coin and is undisturbed. Contact marks and bag marks are few and small. The coin is well struck and a few hairlines may be seen under a magnifying glass. Overall the coin is brilliant and has an above average eye appeal.
    Obverse: the surface is pristine with only a few small marks evident without magnification. Color may be red, red brown, or brown.
    Reverse: A few small marks on the wreath and bow are permitted. Mint...MORE luster is full and complete.

  • 12 of 14

    Mint State-67 (MS67 or MS-67)

    Indian Head Penny Graded Mint State 67 Red (MS67RD)
    Indian Head Cent Graded Mint State 67 Red (MS67RD). Photo courtesy of Teletrade Coin Auctions, www.teletrade.com

    Summary: The original mint luster is complete and almost perfect. There are only three or four very small and unnoticeable contact marks. Overall, the coin has an extraordinary eye appeal that is hardly ever seen. A few minor hairlines can be found only with magnification.​
    Obverse: No traces of wear are evident anywhere on the coin. There are no distracting marks and the mint luster is above average.
    Reverse: All details of the coin are present even on the highest points of the coin and the eye...MORE appeal is superb.

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  • 13 of 14

    Author's Note

    Having been a coin collector for many years and I have witnessed the evolution of coin grading standards over the last forty years. Most recently, I have studied coin grading with professional coin graders from NGC and PCGS. I have read many books and worked with many coin dealers to sharpen my coin grading skills. The information presented in this article is my opinion on how to interpret the many coin grading standards that you will encounter. This is not a universal, absolute and definitive...MORE definition on how the Indian Head cent series should be graded.

  • 14 of 14

    More Coin Grading Resources

    Grading Books
    Grading Books. (c) James Bucki

    I recommend the following books to help you further develop your coin grading skills.

    • The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards of United States Coins
    • Photograde: A Photographic Grading Encyclopedia for United States Coins
    • Making the Grade: A Grading Guide to the Top 50 Most Widely Collected U.S. Coins
    • Grading Coins by Photographs
    • The Official Guide to Coin Grading and Counterfeit Detection