Grading Walking Liberty half dollars is a skill that has taken even the best coin collectors many years of experience to perfect and this guide will get you started. Remember that coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of an individual coin that most dealers and collectors would agree with. Grading is not an exact science where a formula can be applied and everyone comes out with the same result. But over the years, numismatists and coin grading services have... agreed upon certain definitions, descriptions and Sheldon's numeric values that help all coin collectors describe their coins accurately (to a certain extent). This guide will help you understand those terms and descriptions so you can accurately grade your Walking Liberty half dollars.
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Understanding Grades for Walking Liberty Half Dollars
Walking Liberty half dollars are made of 90% silver and 10% copper. The copper was added to the alloy in order to strength the coin because silver is soft and malleable. The photo illustrates the highest points on the coin's design (indicated by the color red). If you think you have an uncirculated Walking Liberty half dollars, look at these areas on the coin first to see if you can spot any wear.
In order to best determine if there is any friction or wear on the highest points of the coin, hold it underneath a desk lamp and tilt it from side to side and front to back. The light will appear to dance on the surface of the coin where the mint luster is undisturbed. If you do not see the light dancing across the highest points of the coin's design, then the coin would be classified as circulated.
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Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
Summary: A Good-4 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 date is weak but visible. The rim is worn flat in spots but should be nearly complete.
Reverse: The lettering in the legend and motto is worn but readable. The eagle has very few details and is mostly an outline.
Grading Tip: Do not be concerned with the color or brightness of the silver on the coin. The grade is solely based upon the amount of details that are left on the coin. Give special attention to some of the finer details. For example, the leaves on the olive branch in Lady Liberty hand or the details on the eagle's feathers on the reverse.
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Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)Summary: A Very Good-8 coin is well-worn. The design is clear and major elements are defined but are flat and lacking in detail.
Obverse: Most of the drapery on Liberty's gown is worn smooth but some details are visible. All letters in the legend and motto are clear. The rim is complete.
Reverse: Approximately one third of the feathers on the eagle's wing are visible. The large feathers in the lower portions of the wing are separated. The eagle's eye is discernible. The rim is full and complete. All letters are clear.
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Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)Summary: A Fine-12 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: The lines in Liberty's skirt are clear (except for some coins that were weakly struck, most are dated before 1921). Her right leg is worn slightly and the left leg is nearly flat. Her sandal is visible but worn. Her torso is worn and very few details show.
Reverse: The eagle's breast is worn smooth and about half of the details in the wing feathers are visible. The two layers of feathers in the wing are discernible.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)Summary: A coin that grades Very Fine-20 has moderate to minor wear 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's breasts are discernible but weak. Ware shows on her head, breasts, arms and foot. Lines on her skirt are visible but weak. They are especially weak on top of her left leg.
Reverse: The eagle is lightly worn but most major details are visible. High points on the design are completely flat.
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Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)Summary: Extra Fine-40 coins have 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: Ware is evident on Liberty's breast, head, leg and arm. Almost all lines on the skirt are visible except on the high points on her left leg.
Reverse: All of the eagle's feathers are distinct and complete. The high points of the design show evidence of wear. Traces of mint luster may be evident in the protected areas of the design.
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About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)Summary: An About Uncirculated-55 coin has very minor traces of wear or abrasions that are visible on only the highest points of the coin (see: Design High Points above). Mint luster is almost complete and the surfaces of the coin are well preserved.
Obverse: Only a slight trace of wear shows on the highest points of the coin.
Reverse: A slight trace of wear is visible on the eagles left leg and on the upper breast. A majority of the mint luster is still present.
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Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
Summary: No traces of wear from circulation exist on a Mint State-63 coin. Mint luster is complete but shows minor impairments. Many contact marks, bag marks and hairline scratches are visible without magnification on the coin's field and major design elements . Overall, the coin has an attractive eye appeal.
Obverse: A few contact marks may be present in the field in front of and behind Liberty, on the sun, or on Liberty's arm, face, torso, legs.
Reverse: A few distracting contact marks may be visible on the eagle.
Grading Tip: At this grade and higher, it is important to ensure that the coin is actually uncirculated. Do this by holding the coin under a desk lamp and ensuring that the mint luster is continuous across all areas of the coin including the design high points.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)Summary: A Mint State-65 coin has high quality mint luster that 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: Small blemishes or contact marks may be present but not in the prime focal areas.
Reverse: Small blemishes or contact marks should be confined to the outer areas of the coin and not on the eagle.
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Mint State-67 (MS67 or MS-67)Summary: For a coin to grade Mint State-67, the original mint luster must be 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 appeal is superb.
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Author's NoteHaving been a coin collector for a majority of my life, I have witnessed firsthand 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 skill of grading coins. Coin grading is an opinion that one person believes reflects and describes the condition of a given coin. 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 definition on how this particular coinage series should be graded.
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More Coin Grading Resources
I recommend the following books to help you further develop your coin grading skills. Clicking on the links below will find the lowest prices on the Internet for you.
- 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