Look at the change in your purse or pocket and you’ll see some coins are bright and new looking, while others look worn and battered. For collectors, the condition of a coin is very important – the difference in price between a “Fine” condition coin and an “Uncirculated” condition coin can be huge. The grading system used in the UK is:
- Poor – considerably worn, of little value to the collector unless of very rare type or date
- Fair – Worn but with dates and legends still visible
- Fine (F) – Considerably worn on raised surfaces, caused by circulation or faulty striking in older coins
- Very Fine (VF) – some limited circulation wear
- Extremely Fine (EF) – very little circulation or wear, only visible on close examination
- Uncirculated (UNC) – in new condition fresh from the mint, probably not absolutely perfect because of mass production and handling methods
- Brilliant Uncirculated (FDC) – absolutely flawless, produced and handled apart from the main coin production line – sometimes known as “Fleur-de-Coin”
- “Proof” coins are produced in limited quantities – called an “Edition Limit” in a separate process from that used to produce circulation coins. They are struck several times with special highly polished dies and usually have a mirror lustre back ground, with frosted relief.
These aren’t hard and fast rules and even experts might disagree on differences but as you build your knowledge and examine more coins, you’ll learn to recognise and assess coin quality. It’s a good idea to get a good magnifying glass to examine your coins for signs of wear and damage and assess their condition.
Displaying and protecting your coin collection
As you add to your coin collection, it’s likely to grow in value so you will want to protect it. Normally your collection should be covered by your household insurance, but if you have high value coins, especially gold coins, these will have soared in value so you should notify your insurers. They might advise you to keep them in a bank but you may want to protect your coins at home where you can enjoy them. Avoid keeping coins jumbled together, as they will become scratched. The Westminster Collection usually supplies coins in some form of protective capsule, sleeve or presentation case, depending on their value.
Albums with protective transparent sleeves, including individual coin envelopes, are a low-cost starting point, protecting your coins while allowing you to examine them. You can later progress to plastic or wooden display cases. When storing copper or bronze coins it’s important to keep them in a dry atmosphere, since damp may turn them green. In fact, avoid cleaning if possible, since even minute abrasion can affect values. Dirty gold and silver can be gently washed in soap and water. Avoid handling coins, but if you need to, handle them by the edges.
Useful coin collecting terms
- Obverse – the side of the coin with the monarch’s head – hence “Heads”
- Reverse – the other side, “Tails”, usually bearing an emblem or other design
- Type – the main design on a coin
- Field – the part of a coin between the Type and Legend or edge
- Legend – the words around the edge of a coin, often the monarch’s name and a motto or title
- Exergue – the section of a coin containing the date, usually on the reverse below the main design
- Die – the block of hardened metal with a design or effigy engraved on it, used to impress the design onto a coin blank
- Hammered Coin – the earliest method of striking a coin, by placing a coin blank between two dies and hammering the top die. Used in Britain up to 1662
- Milled Coin – a machine made coin struck in a coining press. First used in 1560, hand powered, steam powered from c.1800, electrically powered from 1895
- Mint – an organisation authorised to strike coins and medals. The British Royal Mint is one of the oldest and most respected in the world dating back to the 7th century
- Condition – the state of wear on a coin, graded inBritain from “Poor” or very worn, to “Uncirculated”, or fresh from the mint
- Proof – not a coin grade or condition but a type of coin, struck using polished dies in a separate minting process, to produce an immaculate coin