Welcome to the Lincoln Cent Forum Grading Guide. This guide was written and compiled by forum member jallengomez. Special thanks to RLM’s Cents for donating many of the photographs.
A note about grading for variety collectors-
Those of us who collect varieties typically live behind the lens of a loupe or scope while we scrutinize coins for the smallest hints of doubling or an RPM. This often leads variety collectors to have a tendency to “micro-grade” and sometimes severely underestimate the grade of uncirculated coins. It should be kept in mind that the TPGs grade coins primarily with the naked eye and when magnification is used, at most it’s done with a 5x loupe. Variety collectors should make an effort to study examples of graded coins in order to understand what permissible contact marks and defects for a given grade look like under the magnification that they normally use, and always remember to put the loupe down and look at the coin. There is no doubt that coins that would command premiums of hundreds if not thousands of dollars pass through the hands of variety collectors as we search through uncirculated rolls. Collectors who search such uncirculated and/or OBW rolls while maintaining an awareness of grading standards will find that they can earn significant premiums from grade alone.
A note about red, red/brown, and brown–
Copper coins are given color designations by all the major TPGs. These designations can significantly impact value and collectors should be familiar with the designation standards. Brown coins will show 5% or less of the original red surface. A red brown coin will show between 5% and 95% of the original red surface. The red brown designation encompasses a wide range and many coins that are sought after for their attractive toning will have the red brown designation. Finally, the full red coin will show 95% or more of the original red luster. Top grades receiving the Red designation can command huge premiums since many collectors want full red coins for their collections.
The date and some letters will be readable. The final digit of the date may be worn almost completely away. The bust of Lincoln will be blended into the fields. Central details on the reverse will be visible but most outer details will be worn and blended into the fields with few letters visible.
Most details will be worn away and the outer letters will merge into the rim. The outline of Lincoln’s head will be complete. The final digit of the date may be very worn. All details on the wheat ears or memorial building will be gone.
The head will have few details left with part of the ear and bow tie still visible. The date will be worn but clearly visible. The wheat is worn almost completely flat with some grains visible. Memorial columns will be outlined, but Lincoln will be missing as will the steps.
Most of the detail of Lincoln will be worn smooth, but some lines in the hair and coat will be visible. Most of the lines in the upper wheat ears are still smooth, but a couple of the lines may be partially visible.
The hair will be smooth, but the outline is visible. Jacket fold will be visible and more than half of the bow tie. Half of the wheat lines are visible and most kernels are visible. Memorial cents will have a few steps visible. FG and Lincoln visible but weak.
A third of the detail in Lincoln’s hair will be visible as well as the jacket folds. The reverse will show about half of the wheat lines at the top of the wheat ear.
There will be some details of the hair visible at the top of the head. The outline of the lower jaw is visible. The earlobe and the knot in the bow tie are visible. There will be separation between the jacket and shirt. 80% of wheat lines will be visible at the top of the stalk. The kernels will be clearly outlined in the lower wheat stalk. Memorial cents will show 1/3 of the steps and most of Lincoln’s body will be visible on the statue.
Parts of the cheek and jaw will show separation. The upper wheat lines will begin to show good detail, and the grains begin to show detail. The Memorial columns will lack detail and half of the steps will be worn smooth.
Most of the hair detail on the top of the head will be visible. The ear will be almost completely visible. The bow tie will be worn, but visible. Some details in the beard. Most separation lines in the tops of the wheat ears will be visible as well as the kernels. Memorial building will have half of the steps visible as well as half of the circles and semicircles at the top of the building. The columns will still be worn smooth.
The hair at the back of the head will be outlined. Only slight wear on the ear and bow tie. There will be hair on the neck visible. The lines in the wheat stalk will show only slight wear. The memorial building will show some detail in the columns and the body statue of Lincoln will be outlined. The legs will be missing or almost missing.
Wear will show on the hair above the ear and some of the high points at the top of the head. The outline of the ear will be complete. The sideburns will be clear as well as the eyebrow ridge. The high points in the wheat stalks will be worn. The memorial building will show more than half of the steps. The columns will show some lines. The details in the top of the building will be outlined.
Slight mint luster will be present. Only a trace of wear will be seen on the cheeks and jaw. There will also be slight wear on the high points of the hair. The wheat lines will be sharp. The memorial building will show only slight wear with the steps visible. Lines on the columns will be visible.
Three quarters of mint luster will be visible. Traces of wear will show on the cheek and jaw. The high points of the hair will show some slight wear. The top of the wheat stalks will show traces of wear. The memorial reverse will show only slight wear on the steps, pillars, and other high points.
Parts of the field as well as the face and jaw will show friction and some contact marks. The high points of the reverse will show friction and contact marks. Both wheat and memorial reverses will show some friction in the fields.
Almost all mint luster will be present with only a trace of wear on the jaw. A trace of wear will show on the wheat stalks or the steps of the Memorial Building.
Minimal signs of abrasion are visible on the high points of the cheek and jaw. Minimal abrasion on the wheat tips or steps of the Memorial. The coin will have no noticeable spots or contact marks.
The MS60 coin will show no traces of wear, but can otherwise show significant spotting, contact marks, and hairlines. The mint luster is generally dull and muted and often the coins are considered unattractive.
The coin will show visible contact marks, spotting, and/or hairlines. The mint luster will be diminished, but not as dull as the MS60 coin. Planchet and striking defects may be visible. Numerous rim dings may be present.
(Choice)-The coin will have slightly diminished mint luster. Numerous small contact marks will be present with several larger ones possible. The fields might show scuff marks. The overall appearance of the coin will be average.
(Superb) The coin will show exceptional mint luster and a sharp strike. There may be very small contact marks present, but no more than three or four. The fields will be clean. MS67 coins will have great eye appeal.
Exceptional mint luster and strike will be present. The coin will show three or four very light contact marks. There will be no hairlines or scuff marks. The coin will have remarkable eye appeal.
The coin will have no more than a couple of very slight contact marks that are almost indistinguishable. The eye appeal will be outstanding.
The coin will show perfect mint luster and strike. There will be no contact marks visible even with magnification. Zero hairlines or scuff marks and no planchet defects. The eye appeal will be perfect.