Lincoln Cent Grading Guide

Grading Lincoln cents can be a very complex and challenging undertaking for collectors.  This guide is meant to serve collectors with the basics
of grading Lincoln Cents.  This guide is adapted from the ANA Grading Standards which were published in 1977.  Grading Lincoln Cents is not a
scientific process.  Opinions of a coins grade can vary from collector to collector based on their interpretations of the grading system.  However,
the ANA Grading Standards have provide collectors with a common system that has served collectors well.  Coin grades are based on "wear".  A
coin with more wear will receive a lower grade than a coin with less wear.  Coins may also have problems such as corrosion, scratches, holes,
cleaning, etc.  Coins with problems are worth much less than coins that are "problem free".   Furthermore, coin collectors need to educate
themselves on issues like die state, strike, luster, and contact marks which all must be considered when grading a coin.

Die State - Lincoln Cents are minted using dies.  As the dies are used, they become worn having less detail.  Cents minted from early dies will
have crisper more defined details than those struck with later dies.  Dies wear from the outside in.  Thus, the words "In God We Trust" will
become blurry before the details in Lincoln's hair.  Because collectors prefer coins with clearer details, early die states are preferred.        

Strike-  Lincoln Cents are minted using two dies.  The lower die (reverse) is referred to as the anvil die, and the upper die (obverse) is referred
to as the hammer die.   "Strike" refers to how well the design of the die transfers to the planchet.  The quality of strike can depend on the
amount of pressure used to strike the cents, the spacing of the dies by the mint technicians, and the thickness of the planchets.   A coin with a
good strike will show the details of the design well.  A coin with a poor strike will show the details of the design poorly.  When a coin is struck, the
highest details are the most effected.  Late die state Lincoln Cents and poorly struck Lincoln Cents are often confused with each other.  
However, the difference between the two is quite clear - cents that are poorly struck will show less detail in Lincolns Hair and Beard and Lincoln
cents that are from worn dies will show less detail in the words "In God We Trust".    Collectors should look for coins that are well struck from
newer dies.  

Luster -  When uncirculated coins are struck at the mint, they exhibit what collectors call "Luster".  Luster  is created from the flow of the metal
when planchets are struck by dies.  Luster is actually microscopic raised lines on the coins surface. Business strike Lincoln Cents with a lot of
luster have a frosty satin appearance.  When business strikes are cleaned the luster is eliminated from the surface of the coin creating a shinny
mirror finish which is objectionable to collectors.  A process called "whizzing" is used to artifically create luster on the surface of a coin.  Like
cleaning, whizzed coins are considered problem coins and should be avoided.  Collectors should familiarize themselves with what the luster of
Lincoln Cents should look like.  The best way to do this is to look at as many Lincoln Cents as possible in higher grades.  All uncirculated (Mint
State) coins should exhibit Luster.  A coin can loose luster in only two ways: wear and cleaning/whizzing.  A coin without luster can not be given
a grade of "Mint State".    Toning can disrupt the effect of luster on a coin, but a toned uncirculated coin will still exhibit luster.  

Contact Marks - When business strike coins are minted, they are sorted and placed in bins and bags at the mint.  During this process, coins
will make contact with each other.  When coins contact each other they become nicked and dinged.  These small nicks and scratches are
referred to as contact marks or "bag marks".  They are not considered wear, because they happen at the mint during the minting process.  A
coin with a lot of contact marks will still be considered "Mint State", but will receive a lower grade than a uncirculated coin with few contact
marks.   Of course, nicks and dings can happen outside the mint as well.    Most Lincoln cents will exhibit contact marks.   Contact marks are an
important factor in grading mint state coins, and less important in lower grades.  

The description below are from
The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins,  Bressett,
Kenneth,  Whitman Publishing, LLC.  

All Photos are courtesy of
Jason Cuvelier.                                  CHECK out Brad's Suggested Grades
AG-3  "About Good"  Outlined design.  Parts of date and legend are worn smooth.
Obverse:  Head is outlined with nearly all details worn away.  Legend and date are readable but weak and merging into rim.
Reverse:  Entire design is partially worn away.  Parts of wheat and motto are merged with the rim.
G-4"Good"  Heavily worn.  Design and legend are visible, but faint in spots.
Obverse:  Entire design is well worn with very little detail remaining.  Legend and date are weak but visible.  
Reverse:  Wheat is worn nearly flat but is completely outlined.  Some grains are visible.  
VG-8  "Very Good"  Well worn.  Design is clear but flat and lacking details.
Obverse:  Outline of hair shows but most details are smooth.  Cheek and jaw are smooth.  Most of bow tie is visible.  Legend and
date are clear.
Reverse:  Wheat shows some details and about half of the lines at the top.  
F-12  "Fine"  Moderate to heavy even wear.  Entire design is clear and bold.
Obverse:  Some details show in the hair.  Check and jaw are worn nearly smooth.  Liberty shows with no letters missing.  The ear and
bow tie are visible.
Reverse:  Most details are visible in the stalks.  Top wheat lines are worn but separated.  
VF "Very Fine"  Light to moderate even wear.  All major features are sharp.

VF-20 "Typical"
:  Head shows considerable flatness.  Nearly all the details still show in hair and on the face.   Ear and bow tie are worn but
Reverse:  Lines in wheat stalks are worn flat and show very few details.  

VF-30 "Choice"
:  There are small flat spots of wear on cheek and jaw.  Hair still shows details.  Ear and bow tie are slightly worn but show
Reverse:  Lines in wheat stalks are lightly worn but fully detailed.  
EF "Extremely Fine"  Very light wear on only the highest points.

EF-40 "Typical"
:  Wear shows on the hair above ear, on the cheek, and on the jaw.  
Reverse:  High points of the wheat stalks are worn, but each line is clearly defined.
Surface: Traces of the mint luster may show.

EF-45 "Choice"
:  Slight wear shows on the hair above ear, on the cheek, and on the jaw.
Reverse:  High points of the wheat stalks are lightly worn, but each line is clearly defined.
Surface: Some of the mint luster may show.
AU "About Uncirculated"  Small traces of wear visible on highest points.

AU-50 "Typical"
:  Traces of wear show on the cheek and jaw.
Reverse:  Traces of wear show on the wheat stalks.  

AU-55 "Choice"
:  Only a trace of wear shows on the highest points of the jaw.
Reverse:  A trace of wear shows on the top of the wheat stalks.
Surface: Much of the mint luster is still present.

AU-58 "Very Choice"  Has some signs of abrasion:  High points of cheek and jaw; tips of wheat stalks.
MS "Mint State"  Absolutely no trace of wear.

MS-60  Uncirculated A strictly uncirculated coin with no trace of wear, but with blemishes more obvious than in higher grades.  May
have dull mint luster; color may be uneven shades of brown.

MS-63  Uncirculated A mint state coin with attractive mint luster, but noticeable detracting contact marks or minor blemishes.

MS-65  Uncirculated No trace of wear; nearly as perfect as MS-67 except for some small blemish.  Has full mint luster but may be
unevenly toned or lightly fingermarked.  A few minor nicks or marks may be present.   

MS-67  Uncirculated  Virtually flawless, but with very minor imperfections.  

MS-70  Uncirculated A flawless coin exactly as it was minted, with no trace of wear or injury.  Must have full mint luster and natural

***Uncirculated coins will be given the designation RED, RED/BROWN, or BROWN.  
MS 63 RB Example:
MS 64 RED Example:
MS 65 RED Example:
MS 67 RED Example: