Skip to main content

Viewpoint: Grading system needs linear steps

By Paul Richards

Years ago, I was an active shirt-pocket coin dealer, and I wrote an article about the grading services and about the 70-point coin grading scale.

The original article was published by Coin World, and its subsequent criticism caused me to drop the subject completely. Now, 15 years later, it may be time to dredge it up again!

The article proposes a new “linear” 32-point grading scale in contrast to today’s “non-linear” 70-point scale. Below are a few excerpts from the article, modified slightly, which introduce an idea called “one discernible step in grade.”

From its inception, today’s 70-point numismatic grading system attempts to link numismatic grade to numismatic value. In his original work, Dr. Sheldon asserts that an XF40 coin carries approximately 10 times the value of a G4 coin. That is, if a G4 coin costs about $1, an XF40 coin should cost about $40.

The desire to couple grade and value in one numeric system causes non-linearity in that system.

Enthusiasts at Early American Coppers (those fusspots!) can discern a technical grading difference between Good 4 and Good 5. Similarly, many careful numismatists can detect subtle differences within the Very Fine range of grades, from VF20 to VF25, for example.

In the first case, one discernible step in grade represents one numeric point from G4 to G5. In the second case, one discernible step represents five numeric points from VF20 to VF25. The point discrepancy between these two cases is known as non-linearity.

To give another example, moving from MS63 to MS64 represents one discernible grade step for Mint State coins. But for AU coins, moving from AU55 to AU58 – three numeric points – represents one discernible grade step.

The focus of the article was about comparing one grading service with another, but you cannot do that using a non-linear grading scale. My proposed 32-point linear grading scale, shown in Figure 4 of the article, attempted to solve the problem.

Since 2003, I have retired and shifted my numismatic endeavors to a website called Today, I read only one numismatic periodical: yours!

Please consider my work on a 32-point linear grading scale as you discuss the proposed 100-point scale.

This “Viewpoint” was written by Paul Richards, a hobbyist from West Melbourne, Fla.

To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 5225 Joerns Drive, Suite 2, Stevens Point WI, 54481. Send email to

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

If you like what you've read here, we invite you to visit our online bookstore to learn more about Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1701-1800.

Learn more >>>

 SCWC 1701-1800