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 “slabbed” coins)?
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:
|GOOD||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 visible.|
|VERY GOOD||Well worn, but with all lettering and devices outlined and with some detail beginning to show.|
|FINE||Approximately 50% of the detail will remain.|
|VERY FINE||Approximately 75% of the detail will remain, but the coin will have no luster.|
|EXTREMELY FINE||Approximately 80-90% of the detail will remain, and the coin must have some luster.|
|ABOUT UNCIRCULATED||Light friction on the high points, must have luster and smooth, original surfaces.|
|UNCIRCULATED||Must have no wear, but may have bagmarks.|
Uncirculated coins may be broken down further, as follows:
|UNCIRCULATED||Unworn, but lots of bagmarks, hairlines, and the luster or toning may be dull. This is a low-end Uncirculated coin.|
|CHOICE UNCIRCULATED||Nice luster, some bagmarks, good eye appeal, may have attractive toning. This is a typical Uncirculated coin.|
|SELECT UNCIRCULATED||Excellent luster and eye appeal, very clean surfaces. This is a high-end Uncirculated coin.|
|GEM UNCIRCULATED||A gorgeous coin with great eye appeal and virtually perfect surfaces. These are the best collectible coins.|
|SUPERB UNCIRCULATED||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 the finest.
Here’s a useful conversion chart showing the American adjectival grade followed by its numerical American counterpart, then it’s European counterpart:
|AMERICAN ADJECTIVAL GRADE||AMERICAN NUMERICAL GRADE||GERMAN EQUIVALENT|
|GOOD||G-4 to G-6||no equivalent|
|VERY GOOD||VG-7 to VG-11|
|FINE||F-12 to F-19||schon or “s”|
|VERY FINE||VF-20 to VF-39||sehr schon or “ss”|
|EXTREMELY FINE||EF-40 to EF-49||vorzuglich or “vz”|
|ABOUT UNCIRCULATED OR ALMOST UNCIRCULATED||AU-50 to AU-59||fast stempelglanz or “vz-st”|
MINT STATE (MS)
|MS-60 to MS-62||bankfrisch or “bf”|
|CHOICE UNCIRCULATED||MS-63||stempelglanz or “st”|
|GEM UNCIRCULATED||MS-65 to MS-66|
|SUPERB UNCIRCULATED||MS-67 to MS-70|
|PROOFLIKE OR DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE||erstabschlag or “ea”|
(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 collector.
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 the mail.