U.S. Coin Price Guide

Coin Collecting

Currency Grading


      Grading is the most controversial component of paper Z money collecting today. Small differences in grade can mean significant differences in value.


      To facilitate communication between sellers and buyers, it is essential that grading terms and their meanings be as standardized and as widely used as possible. The standardization should reflect common usage as much as practicable.


The grades and definitions as set forth below cannot reconcile all the various systems and grading terminology variants. Rather, the attempt is made here to try and diminish the controversy with some common-sense grades and definitions that aim to give more precise meaning to the grading language of paper money.


[GemCU] [ChCU] [CU] [AU] [XF] [VF] [F] [VG] [G] [P]

Gem Crisp Uncirculated (GemCU)

  • A perfect note.
  • Perfect margins, front and back.
  • Full embossing.
  • No aging or fading.
  • Bright bold colors.

A GemCU note looks as if it just came off the press. The centering is perfect. It has perfectly square corners, no marks, folds or bends at all, and the colors are as bright as the day it was printed.


Choice Crisp Uncirculated (ChCU)

  • A nice new note, but not quite GemCU.
  • Most embossing still present.
  • Centering may be slightly off.
  • May show some very, very slight aging.
  • Square corners.
  • No bends or folds.

A ChCU note still looks like a brand new note, but the colors may show some very, very minor dulling. The centering may be average or slightly off and it must still have square corners. Absolutely no folds or bends are allowed.


Crisp Uncirculated (CU)

  • No trace of circulation.
  • Can have centering problems.
  • May have counting smudges, wrinkles, close margins.
  • May have a corner tip bend (not into design.)

A CU note still looks uncirculated, but it may have something that kicks it out of being a Choice CU such as a slightly rounded corner, counting smudges or wrinkles, or a minor corner bend which doesn't touch the design. The embossing may be weak and the colors may be mildly faded.


Almost Uncirculated (AU)

  • Much the same as a CU note, but may have a single fold or bends.
  • May have several corner folds.
  • May have rounded corners.

An otherwise CU note may fall into this category because of a single fold, a couple of bends, slightly rounded corners, or mishandling. A Gem CU note with a center fold would technically become an AU note.


Extra Fine (XF)

  • Circulated, but still has most of its crispness.
  • May have a few folds (3, possibly 4).
  • Very Little fading.
  • No stains.

This is my favorite grade since it is still a very nice looking note and should be relatively affordable compared to the better grades. I've recently allowed 4 folds in my definition of XF if all other criteria are met and the note has extremely nice eye appeal.


Very Fine (VF)

  • Moderate circulation.
  • May have lost some crispness and color.
  • May show multiple folds.
  • May be very slightly soiled.


Fine (F)

  • Well circulated with little crispness.
  • Rough edges.
  • Soiled or faded.
  • Many folds.


Very Good (VG)

  • Well soiled.
  • Significantly worn.
  • Rough edges.
  • Minor problems.

May have a center wear hole where folds meet, well rounded corners, minor edge splits, but should have no pieces missing.


Good (G)

  • Very soiled and dark.
  • Extremely worn.
  • Extremely rough edges.
  • Tears, splits, center holes.
  • Small pieces missing.

A generally unattractive note with wear holes, edge splits and tears with small pieces missing. May have dark stains and graffeti from prolonged circulation.


Poor (P)

  • Yuck!
  • Worn thin in spots.
  • Extremely rough and split edges.
  • Major tears, splits, holes.
  • Larger pieces missing or hanging.
  • Taped together.

A rag which has been severely abused, ripped and torn and then taped together. These notes have large pieces missing or hanging loose. It looks like it will fall apart if you touch it.


How To Look At A Banknote

      In order to ascertain the grade of a note, it is essential to examine it out of a holder and under a good light. Move the note around so that light bounces off at different angles. Try holding it up obliquely so that the note is almost even with your eye as you look up at the light. Hard-to-see folds or slight creases will show up under such examination.

Cleaning, Washing, Pressing

      Cleaning, washing or pressing paper money is generally harmful and reduces both the grade and the value of a note. At the very least, a washed or pressed note may lose its original sheen and its surface may become lifeless and dull. The defects a note has, such as folds and creases, may not necessarily be completely eliminated and their telltale marks can be detected under a good light. Carelessly washed notes may also have white streaks where the folds or creases were (or still are).

      Processing of a note will automatically reduce it at least one full grade.

Other Defects

Glue, tape or pencil marks may sometimes be successfully removed. While such removal will leave a cleaned surface, it will improve the overall appearance of the note without concealing any of its defects. Under such circumstances, the grade of that note may also be improved.

      The words "pinholes," "staple holes," "trimmed," "writing on face...... tape marks," etc., should always be added to the description of a note.

The Term "Uncirculated"

The word "Uncirculated" is used in this grading guide only as a qualitative measurement of the appearance of a note. It has nothing at all to do with whether or not an issuer has actually released the note to circulation. Either a note is uncirculated in condition or it is not, there can be no degrees of uncirculated. Defects in color, centering and the like may be included in a description but the fact that a note is or is not in uncirculated condition should not be a disputable point.

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