If you collect coins or you've just inherited a collection from a family member, you may be anxious to find out what they're worth. Having them graded is the best way to determine their value, but this isn't something that just anyone can do. You need a professional. While grading is an intricate process, here are the five major factors that can affect your coin's grade.
One of the biggest contributing factors to a coin's grade is the amount of wear it has. Since every coin is designed a little differently, they will all succumb to wear at different rates. For example, some coins' engraved lines are extremely shallow while others are deep. You can take two coins and quickly look at them to see the difference. Pennies, for instance, don't have raised rims like quarters and dimes do. They also don't have ridges along the edge. So pennies will be less likely to wear along the edges as other coins.
A coin grader will also look at the relief, which is the area that's raised above the flat part of the coin. If the relief is excessively worn, the grade will be negatively affected. Ultra High Relief coins have images or busts that extend higher than the outer edge. The 2009 Double Eagle is an example of an Ultra High Relief coin, and they are extremely sensitive to wear.
Having a coin with wear doesn't mean your coin will receive a bad grade. In fact, one of the highest grades you can get for a circulated coin is AU (About Uncirculated). This coin would still have some wear, but it would be very light and mostly concentrated on the highest points of the coin.
Circulated coins are expected to have some marks and abrasions on the surface. But in general, the higher the grade, the less abrasions there are. In other words, you could have a coin with very little wear but more severe abrasions than should be expected. In this case, the grade would probably be lowered due to the marks and abrasions alone.
Uncirculated coins will even get dinged here and there through the process of coming off the mint and hitting other coins as they're bagged. These are known as bag marks. So don't assume that just because you see some marks you're dealing with a circulated coin of lesser value. Expert coin graders can tell if they are true contact marks from the mint or scratches from having been in circulation.
All coins come off the mint with an intense luster or shine. So uncirculated coins will have the highest luster. As soon as they come in contact with hands, the sweat and oils will immediately diminish the sheen. A coin that's graded AU should still have some original luster.
The presence of spots can definitely affect the grade of your coin. "Milk spotting" has been a problem for several years now on silver coins, and it's believed that the problem comes from a detergent residue from the mint itself. Copper spots are commonly seen on copper coins. The amount of spotting as well as the size can all determine the grade.
Eye appeal has the following seven levels, and the better the eye appeal, the more likely you are to get a coin with a higher grade.
Amazing: the coin that makes you say "Whoa!" It has incredible luster, almost a mirror-like finish, and few abrasions.
Positive: great eye appeal as well as luster. This coin should not look splotchy or spotty.
Above Average: above-average luster and/or color.
Neutral: appearance isn't bad but not great. Luster is diminished and there could be some splotches. The grade is not affected if the eye appeal is deemed neutral.
Below Average: coins with a dull luster and toning. Scratches and spots are present. Grade is negatively affected.
Negative: poor eye appeal, dull luster, and many splotches present.
Ugly: coins with extremely poor toning, terrible luster, and many scratches and splotches present. If ugly coins are "ugly" enough, they may receive a "no-grade."