Grading Morgan Dollars (1878-1904 & 1921) is a skill that takes even the most experienced coin collector years to perfect. This grading guide will get you started. Remember that coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of an individual coin that most dealers and collectors would agree with. Grading Morgan Dollars is not an exact science where a formula can be applied and everyone comes out with the same result. Over time, numismatists and coin grading services have agreed upon certain definitions, descriptions and Sheldon's numeric values that help all coin collectors describe their coins accurately (to a certain extent). This guide will help you understand those terms and descriptions so you can accurately grade your Morgan Dollars.
Understanding Grades for Morgan Dollars
Morgan Dollars are large and heavy coins that are made out of silver. While silver is relatively soft and malleable, the large size of the Morgan dollar makes it difficult to strike up the design fully. When grading mint state or uncirculated coins, the hair that covers the upper half of Lady Liberty's ear sometimes does not strike up fully and you may confuse this with wear from circulation. Look closely at the other high points for signs of wear before determining if the coin is uncirculated or not. The photo at the left illustrates the highest points on the Morgan Dollars design (indicated by the color red).
Clicking on the photo will open a new window with a larger version of the image.
About Good-3 (AG3 or AG-3)
Obverse: Liberty's head is almost flat with only the elementary details visible. The stars are flat and the rim is blending into the field.
Reverse: The eagle is just an outline with a few feathers showing. The rim is blending into the field and the letters.
Tip: Click on the photos at the left to view a larger and more detailed image.
Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
Obverse: The rim is mostly complete. Some details in Liberty's cap are starting to appear. Her hairline is barely visible and blends mostly with her face. The stars and lettering are flat but distinct.
Reverse: The eagle is mostly flat but well defined. Some detail in the arrows is visible. All lettering is separate from the rim.
Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)
Obverse: The hair is well-worn and two thirds of the hairline is defined. The cotton bolls are flat and outlined. Details in the hair by the neck are starting to be defined.
Reverse: Half to two-thirds of the eagle's feathers are defined. Details in the leaves of the wreath are starting to appear. The higher points on the leaves are flat.
Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)
Obverse: The hairline along the face is fully visible. The two lines in each of the cotton bolls show clearly. The two cotton leaves are flat but separate from the details in the cap.
Reverse: Three-quarters of the detail in the eagle's wings are now showing. The eagle's head, neck and breast are flat with no fine details showing. The leaves in the wreath are beginning to show more detail.
Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)
Obverse: Details in the hair are evident with the highest spots showing obvious flatness. Cotton leaves and wheat grains show wear but are clearly defined.
Reverse: Almost all of the feathers on the wings are distinct but worn. Feathers on the breast are worn smooth and a few details on the head and neck are beginning to show. The leaves on the wreath are worn but well defined.
Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)
Obverse: Wear is evident on the hair by the neck, the forehead, and ear. The details in the hair are defined with only the high points showing some flatness. The cheek shows a small amount of abrasion.
Reverse: Finer details in the feathers on the wings are well defined. Neck feathers are evident but flat. Breast feathers are worn smooth. Talons are defined, but flat. Only the very highest spots on the wreath's leaves are flat; the rest of the leaves show finer details.
About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)
Obverse: Slight wear is evident on only the highest points (see section above): forehead, eye, ear, cheek and curls by the neck. Mint luster on the cheek is gone and slight rub from circulation is evident.
Reverse: Details in the feathers on the breast are plain. The eagle's head, tops of legs and talons only show the slightest of wear. All finer details on the wreath are obvious.
Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
Obverse: There are distracting contact marks on the cheek and fields. Finer details on the highest point are unmistakable. Mint luster is full and complete.
Reverse: Finer details in the breast feathers are evident. Major contact marks distract from the overall appearance of the coin.
Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)
Obverse: A few contact marks will be evident on the cheek and the field in front of the face. There are no major abrasions or deep contact marks. The overall appearance will be pleasing.
Reverse: Friction from contact with other coins may be evident on the breast. There are few bag marks and none of them are major and detract from the overall appearance.