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Ancient Coin Grading

When it comes to buying and selling a coin, one of the greatest challenges is agreeing on objective quality and the state of preservation. With the 2008 advent of NGC Ancients, NGC has provided a valuable service to the ancient coin market. Each coin we receive is rigorously analyzed and graded, with the end result being our objective, third-party assessment of the most important factors that govern a coin’s quality. Then, each coin is professionally encapsulated to protect it for the ages.

While there are a few coin types that NGC does not grade, we broadly define ancient coins as most of the types struck in the Western World up through circa A.D. 500, as well as the coins of the Byzantine Empire (A.D. 491-1453). NGC does not grade coins it considers to be of questionable authenticity or coins that have been significantly altered. While the majority of the rare coin industry is founded on trust and integrity, there are counterfeit coins (some of them made centuries ago!) that could fool even a seasoned expert. The NGC Ancients service was designed to address this problem.

How does the grading of ancient coins differ from that of world and U.S. coins?

Many of the most valuable ancient coins have survived incredible odds, some having been buried underground, on the floor of the ocean, or pristinely tucked away in a safe place. All of these factors have a direct effect on the grade of a coin.

1 Poor (PR)
2 Fair (FA)
3 About Good (AG)
4-6 Good (G)
8-10 Very Good (VG)
12 Fine (F)
15 Choice Fine (Ch F)
20-25 Very Fine (VF)
30-35 Choice Very Fine (Ch VF)
40 Extremely Fine (EF)
45 Choice Extremely Fine (Ch EF)
50-53 About Uncirculated (AU)
55-58 Choice About Uncirculated (Ch AU)
60-62 Mint State (MS)
63-64 Choice Mint State (Ch MS)
65-70 Gem Mint State (Gem MS)

The grading of all coins—whether ancient or modern—was originally based on a system of adjectives used to describe the state of preservation. Traditionally, collectors have used adjectives like Good, Fine, and Mint State (Uncirculated). Over time, further subcategories like Very Good, Choice Very Fine, and Gem Mint State, were introduced.

In 1949, Dr. William Sheldon introduced a 70-point numeric scale that eventually was correlated to the list of adjectival descriptions. The Sheldon Scale is the grading system currently used for most world, modern, and U.S. coins. This scale, as it has been adopted for ancient coins, as shown below:

If a U.S. coin has been cleaned, scratched, altered, or previously mounted in jewelry, it is not given a numerical grade by the major grading services, but instead receives a net grade that provides its technical grade using one of the adjectives shown above and describing the nature of its defect(s). U.S. and world with these grades sell for less than their equivalent, numeric-graded counterparts.

NGC Ancient Coin Grading

NGC developed a specialized grading system for ancient coins in which adjectival grades are used to describe a coin’s state of wear and a more detailed explanation of the coin’s appearance is created by separately evaluating strike, surface and other attributes. In addition to its standard technical grading criteria, NGC evaluates ancient coins based on:

Strike — NGC rates the quality of a coin’s strike on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. There are many factors that influence the quality of a coin’s strike, including strength, evenness and centering, as well as cracks and other imperfections.

Surface — NGC also rates the surface quality of a coin using a scale of 1 to 5. This rating takes into account a host of surface conditions created at the time of minting, during its circulation, its burial, its recovery, or its subsequent life. This includes many factors, such as the presence (or absence) of luster, test cuts, graffito, clipping, corrosion, patination, cleaning, etc.

Style — The dies used to strike ancient coins were engraved individually, so the quality of the artistry varies in every case. For this reason, NGC applies the “Fine Style” designation to coins struck with dies that were cut in particularly good style – assuming the coin is well enough preserved for the fine artistry to be appreciated.

Star — A star is awarded to coins that NGC considers to have exceptional eye appeal and/or which have some important feature that significantly increases their desirability to collectors.

Surface Features — NGC Ancients also comments on surface features such as banker’s marks, edge marks, smoothing, scratches, graffito, etc., that affect the market value of an ancient coin. This is the primary difference between NGC Ancients grading and that of regular U.S. coins. A U.S. coin with these surface features would either be deemed non-gradable or would receive only an adjectival grade. However, ancient coins usually have experienced so much contact with the world during their long history that they are expected to show the signs of their use and their age. Thus, there is not a separate category for their grading, merely a fuller description.

Net Grade — With this approach, all of the merits and faults of an ancient coin are expressed in a single, adjectival grade, ranging from Poor to Gem Mint State. Unlike modern coins, a “net grade” for ancients is not assigned out of necessity due to problems, but by request of the submitter, who has chosen a more economical grading tier at the time of their submission.

NGC-Graded Ancient Coins In The Marketplace

As the collector and investor base of ancient coins continues to grow internationally and in the U.S., the importance of NGC’s unbiased evaluation is fast becoming of paramount importance. The sense of security derived from knowing that coins have been attributed, graded and evaluated by a third party allows collectors to make more informed and more confident buying and selling decisions.

The U.S. market for ancients is increasingly influenced by NGC-graded coins since it greatly facilitates the valuation and trade of these ancient masterpieces. Just as the U.S. coin market experienced phenomenal growth after third-party grading of U.S. coins began in 1986, we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for NGC-graded ancient coins since 2008, and we foresee further growth as the market continues to mature.

Upcoming Release: The Athena Collection

We are excited to announce a tremendous and rare find of an ancient coin that is nearly 2,400 years old. This Old World find yielded some incredible pieces and have been expertly conserved and certified by NGC. For the first time ever, the coins from this discovery will offered to collectors.