I. R. Bama's Blog

21 Feb 2021

The British Coin Grading System: Amazing!They Have a Different Numeric Score For Every Grade!

| I. R. Bama

Welcome to another foray into the more scientific aspects of Numismatics, if you will. Today, let us turn our attention to a grading system used widely across the world that is not the Sheldon Scale. I submit for your examination the British Grading System. A grading system is only as utilitarian as it describes as accurately as possible the present state of a coin based on the degree of agreement between observers and the stability of getting the same results over randomly chosen time periods.

I have been considering the British system of coin grading for a while and though I have always been a fan of T.W.A.D.Y. (the way we always did it). So considering another way of grading coins is somewhat novel to me, After all, we are Americans! We have Sheldon!, a 70 point scale to describe our coins. We all need a common way of grading coins so that we can communicate about the condition of a particular coin when we share with our peers about the coin in question. On this we all agree. But what if there was a more accurate system in grading coins? Would we, as a numismatic nation abandon our Old Friend Sheldon and take off with our newly introduced system, replacing it with the new object of our affection, the British Coin Grading System? Of course not! We are going to dance with the girl we brought with us. Will we ever make the move to abandoning Sheldon in favor of the British CGS? If I were a betting man, which I am almost never, I would place 97.5% of my chips on staying with Sheldon. Why that figure, you ask? Because it is the point of statistically meaningful differences between two groups or systems. So I'm saying I'm almost 100% positive we will always be wed to Sheldon. Its "THE Way We Always Did it".

However I hate to admit it, in my opinion, the British system is a better way to go. Let me explain why. The obvious advantage of the British CGS over Sheldon is that instead of a 70 point scale, the British use a decimal system. Coins are scored on a 100 point system. The 100 point system is more accurate in evaluating coins because it is more scientific than a 70 point system. We describe the act of grading as an art and a science. That is because of differences in interobservational reliability, meaning that a different grader may come up with a different grade result than his peer sitting next to him. Moving to a decimal based system does not remove differences in interobservational reliability, but reduces this difference.

But how can I make that claim when I am introducing a system that has 30 more points to score coins with? It is exactly because it has 100 points to score with instead of 70.

Look at the value of a point in the Sheldon scale in relation to the value of a point in the British CGS. Upon comparison we learn that each British point is worth 1.429 Sheldon points. So we need to be aware when grading coins under the Sheldon system, that each point has a higher and more arbitrary value in relation to the grade we assign the coin as opposed to the British CGS. The British system is metric: it is also in line with other metric systems we use to describe coins in the U.S. Consider weight, volume and size. We are all expressing these qualities of coins using the metric system already. Wouldn't it be more convenient and more accurate to grade our coins on a metric system as well.

Another drawback using the Sheldon scale is the descriptors and how they correspond numerically. In this, I believe the Sheldon system reveals a major flaw. The Sheldon scale is not uniform in how it distributes its descriptors to numerical scores. Consider if you will, Sheldon has 11 grades for mint state coins only leaving 59 points to describe circulated coins. There are 9 points for AU coins, there are 9 points for EF coins. There are 17 points allotted to VF coins. Only seven points are assigned to Fine coins and 3 points for Very Good coins. and 6 points for good through poor coins. This means that no two categories can be graded systematically and no coin score reflects its true relationship to another coin. or category.

The beauty of the British system is that it has four categories of coins descriptions that provide 25 points to grade a coin in that category. Already we see an improvement in the ability to more accurately grade coins with better agreement between observers. Common grade terms used in the UK are Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine and Uncirculated.

These grades can be split into divisions, Nearly and About are sub-grades and Good is an over grade e.g. "About Very Fine" is just below "Very Fine" and "Good Very Fine" is just above "Very Fine".

Uncirculated (UNC)

Uncirculated coins are in new condition as issued by the Mint, retaining their brilliance but possibly displaying some imperfections from the production or storage processes.

About UNC

Nearly UNC

Good EF

Extremely Fine (EF)

Extremely fine coins show only minimal marks or faint evidence of circulation, apparent only on close examination.

About EF

Nearly EF

Good VF

Very Fine (VF)

Very fine coins have limited evidence of wear on their raised surfaces but have experienced only minimal circulation.

About VF

Nearly VF

Good Fine

Fine (F)

Fine coins have entered circulation and display considerable wear to the raised surfaces of the design.

About Fine

Nearly Fine

No system is perfect of course and a criticism that could be laid at the door of the British system is that it does not take advantage of its decimal structure in that the ranges of descriptors are not evenly distributed over the 100 point scale, which is one of the problems I find fault with in the Sheldon system. Still, all in all, I believe that the British CGS has much to offer over the Sheldon system in every other way and additionally has the framework in place to evolve in its more accurate use of descriptors in relation to numerical value. I hope this article will bring about some meaningful debate in the numismatic community.

British coin description source:




Level 5

The stuff is good. But cut out that nearly junk. Same here in America. No more MS 66+ junk.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

I'm going to propose something I think is better than either. It would be nice to have a system that allows us more ease of grading due to a better way of evenly weighing the score. Ideally, all the coins we grade should fall under a bell shape curve, a normal distribution. That would more easily happen with a 100 point scale with equal distances between grading point positions


Level 3

Great article. I recently learned about their different system from a podcast. I had no idea.


Level 5

Thanks for posting Bama! I read your post with keen interest. Like your AHEM framework, this makes total sense to me. Do you think it would be possible to have 2 grading systems to share the same space? Great food for thought my friend!

I. R. Bama

Level 5

I don't see why they couldn't exist in the same space. People will gravitate to the system that is most utilitarian on their own. I don't think an autocratic Numismatist authoritarian organization should insist on one system only


Level 3

I really like this blog

Long Beard

Level 5

I've been aware of this system for years and now find myself dealing with it over the past few weeks as I aggressively began the Irish Republic coinage. As a general rule, a grade of fine becomes a very-fine under Sheldon and so forth. In the grade I'm shooting for, uncirculated (Mint state), they break it down into three categories. Uncirculated (MS61), Choice Uncirculated (MS63) and Gem Uncirculated (MS65). Where this all becomes confusing, on my part anyhow, in comparing the two scales comes from third party graders. So I'm bypassing them by cherry-picking based on eye appeal and the surface conditions of my own tired old eyes.


Level 5

Nice blog!


Level 5

This 100 point scale is a very interesting idea... I think that I like it, but I am not quite sure... Thanks for telling us about it!

I could do without the "nearly" and "about" sub-grades. Otherwise than that, it's not bad. But Sheldon is the law of the land over here, and we're sticking with it. The industry/business side of numismatics will fight any major change like that. Besides, everyone would have to re-submit their slabs! It'd be like going from vinyl to cd's again.


Level 5

Either way works for me. I like the 100 point system. I've always wondered why not 100, and it's already being done. The thing that I disagree with is the gimmicks. CAC sticker ? Really ? A plus symbol? First strike nonsense. I enjoy owning a couple coins with the CAC sticker, but seriously? Why not another sticker, let's have two sticker graders! Who says one company grades better? Old holders have coins undergraded? It's always buy the coin, not the holder? Everyone is buying the holder grade, unless it has obvious issues. Try buying any MS70 coin from a dealer at MS 69 price! Tell them its not MS70? They will tell you to take a walk. I did have a dealer tell me his MS70 coins had small milkspots. I couldn't see any. Great dealers are sometimes difficult to expose. Great subject. Anyone that read this far? Quite the rant !

It's Mokie

Level 6

I've got to assume though that the sheldon scale is still pretty familiar in the UK and across Europe since NGC and PCGS are so dominant everywhere? Thanks for the fascinating information, I had no idea.


Level 7

I spoke to my friend Myfryn. The Sheldon scale is used in England also. I had to make sure.


Level 6

Enjoyed your blog very much. This is a huge and confusing subject but you really broke it all down for us! Thanks Bama! ; )


Level 4

Thank you for this article. I learn so much from other members blogs. The British grading system is much broader that the Sheldon. Interesting.... GK

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Mike, I believe that NGC continues to use the Sheldon scale. I don't think that people go back and have their coins resubmitted. It's would be easier to pick an agreed future date and just implement it. But I don't see it happening. BUT... If they did, they should assign the descriptors of coins to point values on the decimal all evenly distributed.


Level 7

They have coins resubmitted everyday!.. People are nuts over grades. They will send it back until there broke. Or they get a grade higher or lower. They are threatened with law suits. No kidding this is very real. . Me if it's an expensive older coin. And a grade will mean hundreds I will think very hard before i send it back or not..


Level 5

Very thorough and interesting post. I'm 100% (Stumpy Scale), in agreement with your logic and decisions arrived at in your post. Feel free to continue enlightening this ole guy with "Scientific aspects" of numismatics! I likes it!


Level 6

Oh man, I enjoyed this read very much. Like it or not I feel, and this is only me, that the TPG's have destroyed the Sheldon scale. What is the deal now with (+) and (*) designations? You have introduced us to the British scale in a very scientific way. Broken down to it's basic parts and compared to Sheldon. I need to further inspect their coins and scales. I have bought currency graded by the Canadian system and have no problem with a crossover in my mind. A few years ago I bought the Mints' Breast Cancer Awareness coin and stamp set. I sent them into NGC for grading. The coin was graded with the Sheldon scale while the stamp had a 100 point stamp scale used on it. I was totally confused but after a little reading figured it out no problem. I'm pretty sure, 97.5%, that people here will fight till the death not to change and I get it. I hate change. It's an old person thing. However, change is good. Change is life. Thanks Bama. Very well done!


Level 7

R. S. Yeoman was asked what makes a good grader. He replied good light. A good loop. And twenty years experience. The training it goes to work for a third party grader takes years. No a courese. Many. They have to keep up to a very high standerd. One must remember personal opinion is included also. That you can't change amongst all graders. . The British scale is very simple. It comes down to a fair market price. A MS 65 here is almost a perfect coin. Now that NGC has moved to England what scale are they using? Me I have been grading very good . It has taken a very long time. Many years. I point on the grading scale can make a very big difference in value. We have been using it for years. I don't think they will change it or go back to the beginning and change every coin graded. Great blog on a very hard subject.

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