[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Bruce Fox. This information was originally published in 1993 in The Complete Guide to Walking Liberty Half Dollars]
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Described below are the various grades most commonly used in the market place. Coins, however, do not wear in discrete steps, but gradually. There really are not a finite number of grades and most dealers use split grades or additional descriptions to further define a coin’s condition. Mint state coins are uncirculated. They have no wear and are judged by a different set of criteria.
AG-2 (ABOUT GOOD)
OBVERSE: The entire rim will be worn down to the letters and date. The motto and date may be partially missing. Liberty will be outlined with no definition.
REVERSE: The entire rim will be worn down to the letters and into “E PLURIBUS UNUM” partially covering the “E” and “U”. The eagle will be outlined with no feather detail showing.
OBVERSE: The rim will be worn down and touching several letters Including the bottom of the date. It may show an edge in a small area. The motto and date can be weak but will be 90% complete. Liberty’s outline will be flat and lack detail.
REVERSE: The rim will be worn down and touching several letters. The eagle will be flat and a few feathers will show on the upper portion of the left wing. All the letters of “E PLURIBUS UNUM” will be complete.
G-6 (GOOD/VERY GOOD)
OBVERSE: The rim will lave an edge in several locations. The date and motto will be mostIy complete and stronger than for a G-4.
REVERSE: The rim will have an edge in several locations. There will be a few more feathers visible in the eagle’s upper and lower left wing.
Note: Generally, this grade is selected by comparing it to VG-8 criteria. If it is very close, but does not meet the minimum requirements of VG-8, the G-6 grade is assigned.
VG-8 (VERY GOOD)
OBVERSE: The rim will be full, not touching any letter. The date and moto will be complete. Skirt lines will be weak on 1916 to 1921 issues and may be lightly struck on other issues as well (see previous section, this chapter, on strike). Skirt lines on early issues are not normally used to determine grade.
REVERSE: The rim will be full, although sometimes weak near the mint-mark area. A few of the large feathers of the eagle’s left wing will begin to show.
VG-10 (VERY GOOD/FINE)
OBVERSE: The branches/leaves carried in Liberty’s left hand will be slightly more bold than in VG-8. Liberty’s breast outline will begin to show.
REVERSE: About 1/3 of the eagle’s large feather and 2/3 of the smaller feathers on the left wing will be visible.
OBVERSE: Liberty’s outline will be bolder than on the previous grade. The branches carried in her left arm will show some detail. The outline of Liberty’s right breast will be 1/3 to I/2 complete. There will not be an outline of her left breast. Liberty’s sandal will be identifiable, but not detailed.
REVERSE: The eagle’s top (two layers) left wing feathers will show. About 1/2 of the left (large) wing feathers will show. The eagle’s breast will be smooth and not rounded. The rim will be complete.
Note: This is a very popular grade with collectors. The early dates are affordable and with a full rim and some design details visible, the grade is desirable from a cost versus aesthetic standpoint.
F-16 (FINE/VERY FINE)
OBVERSE: Liberty’s right breast will be nearly outlined, but not complete. Her left breast will begin to show. The sandal will show more detail and be close to complete. Liberty’s body will look more rounded than for a F-12 and take on a more sculptured look.
REVERSE: The eagle’s feathers will be 2/3 complete and the body will appear more rounded than in the F-12 grade.
Note: The most determining factor of this grade is Liberty’s breast line being nearly complete, but not a full outline as is mandatory for a VF-20 grade.
VF-20 (VERY FINE)
OBVERSE: Liberty’s left breast will have a full, but weak outline. This Is the major determinant of the grade. Liberty’s body will be somewhat rounded, especially her left leg down to her knee. From the knee down to the ankle it will be flat. Weak skirt lines up to and including 1921 will still be the rule and will not lower the grade. REVERSE: All the eagle’s wing feathers will show. The eagle’s body will be smooth but somewhat rounded. The eagle’s pupil will be weakly visible.
VF-30 (VERY FINE/EXTRA FINE)
OBVERSE: Liberty’s left breast outline will be complete without any areas that could be considered weak. Both breasts will begin to exhibit 3-dimensionality. The gown line crossing Liberty will be partially visible. The area from the knee to the ankle of her left leg will begin to exhibit some roundness.
REVERSE: The eagle’s pupil will be clearly visible. There will be separation between the breast and leg. A small number of feathers will be visible on the eagle’s breast.
EF-40 (EXTRA FINE)
OBVERSE: Liberty’s breasts appear to be more raised and rounded than on the previous grades. There is noticeable wear on the head, breast, arm and left leg. The sandal is well detailed and complete. Most of the skirt lines are visible on the post 1921 issues.
REVERSE: All of the eagle’s wing feathers are distinct and bold. Approximately 1/2 of the eagle’s leg and breast feathers are visible. Feathers show on the edge of the eagle’s neck. The center area of the eagle’s breast will be flat.
Note: Traces of mint luster may be present near the rim.
EF-45 (EXTRA FINE/ALMOST UNCIRCULATED)
OBVERSE: This grade has all the qualities of the EF-40 grade, except there will be much less wear on the head, breast, arm and left leg. Unless cleaned or darkly toned, there will be some luster. The sandal will be very bold. The specimen will appear to be AU-50 at first glance, but will exhibit a little too much wear in the above noted areas for the grade as well as not having adequate mint luster.
REVERSE: The eagle’s breast will display over half of the breast feathers in bold fashion. There will be a small flat area at the center of the breast and leg area. The wing feathers will be well outlined and bold and only show a small amount of wear. The eagle’s neck feathers will begin to show definition in the center.
AU-50 (ABOUT UNCIRCULATED)
OBVERSE: Light wear will be present on Liberty’s head, breast, arm and left leg. At least half of the mint luster will be present, even if under heavy toning. Traces of wear are more easily seen by looking for a greyness, or disturbed mint bloom on Liberty’s left breast.
REVERSE: The eagle will have slight wear on the high points of the wings and the center of the head and breast. The leg feathers will be complete.
Note: This grade, as well as all higher grades are the most confusing when it comes to distinguishing between wear and poor detail due to strike. Poor strikes are often mistaken for wear and excessive wear is sometimes explained away as due to a poor strike. Before purchasing higher grade and/or rare date specimens, it is wise to learn the difference between the two or consult an expert in the field until you are comfortable with the distinction.
AU-55/58 (CHOICE ABOUT UNCIRCULATED)
These specimens have the appearance of being mint state, but have very slight wear. “Sliders” (AU58) are noted for having nearly full mint bloom and sometimes the cartwheel luster commonly seen on MS63 or higher coins. Sliders are noted for eye appeal and can make a collection look better than one with MS60-61 coins. Be careful not to pay full MS63 prices for these coins. However, some nice sliders sell for MS60 or better money.
After determining a specimen has no wear and in fact is an uncirculated coin, the key areas to be concerned with are luster and marks. Marks are the easiest to deal with as they are easily described. An initial estimate of grade can be made based on that alone. To fine tune the grade, luster must be taken into account. Examining thousand, of coins first hand is the only way of getting a “feel” for all the different forms luster can take. Coins can be examined at auctions and coin shows. Knowledgeable dealers and coins graded by the major grading services (PCGS, NGG and ANACS) can help develop this knowledge. Key factors are originality and fullness. A coin with impaired luster usually exhibits a gloss which is even across the fields and devices. Coins with original luster have good contrast between the fields and devices. The luster has no breaks and/or dull areas. If a coin with original, unimpaired luster is held to a light and slowly rotated and moved back and forth, a band of light is seen resembling a wheel. This is called the “cart wheel” effect. Even so, some coins are brighter than others and have better eye appeal. Subdued white coins have often been “dipped.” Though dipped coins can sometimes be certified by a major grading service, the grade may be lowered because they lack “freshness.”
As with all mint state grades, these coins have absolutely no wear and no evidence of being in circulation. Normally, there are heavy bag or handling marks with hairlines prevalent throughout. Luster can be consistent as with higher grade coins, but is normally somewhat dull. Eye appeal is nominal at best and usually poor.
A mint state coin with attractive luster and eye appeal. Usually kept from a higher grade because of some distracting bag marks in undesirable areas or some hairlines.
A lustrous coin with only a few minor marks and few, if any, hairlines. Eye appeal is normally well above average. This is the most popular grade purchased by investors and mint state collectors.
A near perfect coin. Only a couple of minor marks in primary focal areas are allowed. Eye appeal is exceptional and exhibits first-glance quality and brilliance.
A perfect coin. No marks or hairlines even under magnification. Luster and eye appeal are outstanding. This grade only exists in modern series. To date no Walker has received an MS70 by a major grading service.
NOTES: In-between grades are just that. There are an infinite number of grades that can exist. The best way to work with this concept is to compare the coin to the criteria of the highest grade the coin doesn’t quite make. For example, if you have a real nice specimen, but it just doesn’t quite make the MS65 grading criteria, it is most likely an MS64.
Grading is subjective, but value in today’s market is determined by “industry standards.” You should be cautious about buying any Walker above an MS63 grade unless it is certified by one of the major grading services. Inexperienced collectors/investors buying “raw” (uncertified) coins in MS64 and above can prove to be an expensive lesson when you go to sell them.