A range of grades is used to describe the condition of coins. Valuation of a coin is impossible without a sound knowledge of the grading of coins. For this there is no real substitute for experience. However, the following is a guide to the main grading scheme used.
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. Normally the fields are highly polished, with the design matte, however matte proofs where the whole coin is matte are know (for example all the 1902 GB proofs), and sometimes even the designs is polished. A characteristic of proof coins is that they have very shape edges.
Fleur De Coin (FDC)
Perfect mint state, with no abrasions or marks and full luster. Usually applied to proof coins only, as coins intended for circulation are in contact with others during production.
Brilliant Uncirculated (BU)
Usually implies full mint luster, in other words no toning or tarnish.
No wear, although it is possible for design not to be fully struck up in the minting process. There may be bay abrasions. Older coin may be tarnished or toned.
Extremely Fine (EF)
Slight wears on high spots on close inspection, and other details clear and sharp. Much mint luster may remain.
Very Fine (VF)
Worn over, but obvious evidence of limited circulation. High spots warn but detail remains. Traces of mint luster may linger amongst the letters of the inscription.
Worn over whole area, but only the highest spots are worn completely through.
Very Good (VG)
Considerable wears over the coins and highly spots worn through. Coins this or previous grades are really only collectable if extremely rare.
Inscriptions and date considerably worn but legible.
Date and denomination legible, type recognizable. Very little detail visible.
Inscriptions worn off, date illegible, only outline of design visible, such coins are generally of no value to a collector.
Many coins fall in between grades, and so terms such as ‘nearly VF’, ‘good VF’, gem BU’ are encountered. The numerical system popular in the USA is not used in the UK.