- German coin grading is no simple matter. There
are literally thousands of different coin types
spanning hundreds of years and a variety of
coining techniques. To complicate matters, there
is the myth that European grading standards are
stricter than U.S. standards. Then there is the
complete lack of grading guides for German coins.
What about descriptive grades versus numerical
grades? What do the Germans think of commercial,
third-party grading (certified, or
- Actually, with a little experience and
assistance, German coin grading is no more
difficult than grading American coins. Let's
start with the basics.
- German coins may be graded using the same
terminology as American coins, as follows:
||Very well worn, with
only outlines of the major design elements
visible, but it should be completely identifiable
as to date. Most or all of the legends should be
||Well worn, but with all lettering and
devices outlined and with some detail beginning
||Approximately 50% of the detail will
||Approximately 75% of the detail will
remain, but the coin will have no luster.
||Approximately 80-90% of the
detail will remain, and the coin must have some
||Light friction on the high
points, must have luster and smooth, original
||Must have no wear, but may have
- Uncirculated coins may be broken down further, as
||Unworn, but lots of bagmarks,
hairlines, and the luster or toning may be dull.
This is a low-end Uncirculated coin.
||Nice luster, some bagmarks,
good eye appeal, may have attractive toning. This
is a typical Uncirculated coin.
||Excellent luster and eye
appeal, very clean surfaces. This is a high-end
||A gorgeous coin with great eye
appeal and virtually perfect surfaces. These are
the best collectible coins.
||The ultimate coin,
essentially perfect in all respects. Extremely
rare and usually worth a large premium.
- Proof coins may be graded using the same
standards, but substitute "hairlines"
for "bagmarks", as Proof coins were
never meant to come into contact with each other,
but their surfaces are very fragile and are
easily damaged. American coins may also be graded
on a numerical scale from 1 to 70, with 70 being
Here's a useful conversion chart showing the
American adjectival grade followed by its
numerical American counterpart, then it's
schon or "ss"
stempelglanz or "vz-st"
MINT STATE (MS)
DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE
(literally, "first strike")
- Commercial, third-party grading has not been
accepted by the Germans to any great degree.
However, American collectors place a high degree
of emphasis on quality, thus they actively seek
the highest possible grade for a given coin.
Thus, a certified coin is easier to sell to an
American collector than a "raw" coin;
the opposite is true when dealing with a German
The European coin grading myth: You may have
already heard that European grading standards are
stricter than American grading standards. Most
likely, you heard it from an American coin
dealer, and most likely, you heard it while you
were trying to sell your coins. This is a myth
used by some dealers of questionable ethics to
buy your coins as cheaply as possible. Naturally,
if they can knock the grade, it is to their
advantage. But, I promise you, some German coin
dealers know how to overgrade their coins just as
well as some American coin dealers. I remember
one experience where I visited a German dealer in
his shop and asked to see his best quality coins.
He pulled out a bag of coins, all jumbled
together, and proceeded to deal them out onto a
tray like playing cards. All of the coins were
Extremely Fine or better, but clearly were not
Uncirculated. Thinking there was a
misunderstanding, I repeated my request to see
his best coins. He responded by stating that the
coins on the tray were indeed
"stempelglanz". Naturally, I didn't buy
anything and my advice to you is that the next
time someone tells you that European grading
standards are stricter than American, do what I
did -- walk away quickly.
There are two areas where German coin collectors
are picky about condition. Their Proof coins must
be perfect and if the coins were issued in some
sort of packaging, the packaging had better be
there in perfect, original condition (this refers
primarily to the modern commemorative coins
issued by East and West Germany).
Recently, quality has become an important factor
in the German market. Erstabschlag coins (the
Superb Uncirculated pieces) have begun to realize
fantastic prices at auction, often many multiples
of regular Uncirculated pieces. Thus, it can be
very advantageous for the collector to learn the
nuances of grading Uncirculated coins.
Adjectival grading versus net grading: I prefer
to grade a coin based on the actual detail, then
list any faults. The alternative is to combine
all the faults and derive a "net
grade". Here's an example: A coin that has
Extremely Fine detail, but rim dings could be
graded either adjectivally as "EF, rim
dings" or with a net grade of
"VF". Obviously, the adjectival grade
gives more information and the collector receives
no "surprises" when the coin arrives in