Grading Pennies: How To Determine The Grade Of A U.S. Penny

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In a previous article I listed information that might help you get an approximate idea of the grade of your coin.

Now, I’ll go into more detail about how you can determine the exact grades for your circulated small cents (pennies).

We’ll start with the more common Lincoln cent, which is still in circulation today.

Listed below are grades for pennies that have the older wheat cent design, but since the obverse is the same on all Lincoln cents you’ll be able to grade non-wheat designs by the obverse.

Lincoln Penny Grades

AU-55
Obverse: Only a trace of wear shows on the highest point of the jaw.

Reverse: A trace of wear on the tops of wheat stalks. Almost all of mint luster still present.

AU-50
Obverse: Traces of wear show on the cheek and jaw.

Reverse: Traces of wear show on the wheat stalks. 3/4 of mint luster still present.

EF-45
Obverse: Slight wear shows on hair above the ear,on the cheek, and on the jaw.

Reverse: High points of the wheat stalks are lightly worn, but each line is still clearly defined. Half of the mint luster remains.

EF-40
Obverse: Wear shows on hair above ear,on the cheek, and on the jaw.

Reverse: High points of wheat stalks are worn, but each line still clearly defined. A little of the mint luster still remains.

VF-30
Obverse: Small flat spots of wear on the cheek and jaw. Hair still shows details. Ear and bow tie slightly worn but show clearly.

Reverse: Lines in the wheat stalks are lightly worn but fully detailed.

VF-20
Obverse: Head shows considerable flatness. Nearly all detail still shows on the hair and face. Ear and bowtie are worn but bold.

Reverse: Lines in wheat stalks are worn but plain and without weak spots.

F-12
Obverse: Some details show in the hair. Cheek and jaw are worn nearly smooth. LIBERTY shows clearly with no letters missing. The ear and bowtie are visible.

Reverse: Most details are visible in the stalks. Top wheat lines are worn but separated.

VG-8
Obverse: Outline of hair shows but most details are worn smooth. Cheek and jaw are smooth. More than half of the bowtie is visible. Legend and date are clear.

Reverse: Wheat shows some details and about half of the lines at the top.

G-4
Obverse: Entire design well worn with very little detail remaining. Legend and date are weak but visible.

Reverse: Wheat is worn nearly flat but is completely outlined. Some grains are visible.

AG-3
Obverse: Head is outlined with nearly all details worn away. Legend and date are readable but very weak and merging into the rim.

Reverse: Entire design partially worn away. Parts of wheat and motto merged with the wreath.

Okay, that’s it for the Lincoln cents. Now let’s cover the older Indian head cents…

Indian Head Penny Grades

AU-55
Obverse: Only a trace of wear shows on the hair above the ear. 3/4 of mint luster remains.

Reverse: A trace of wear shows on the bow knot. 3/4 of mint luster still present.

AU-50
Obverse: Traces of wear show on hair above the ear and curl to right of ribbon.

Reverse: Traces of wear show on the leaves and bow knot. Half of the mint luster is still present.

EF-45
Obverse: Wear shows on hair above ear,curl to right of ribbon, and on the ribbon end. All of the diamond design and letters in LIBERTY are very plain.

Reverse: High points of the leaves and bow are lightly worn. Traces of mint luster still show.

EF-40
Obverse: Feather well defined and LIBERTY is bold. Wear shows on hair above ear, curl to right of ribbon, and on ribbon end. Most of the diamond design shows plainly.

Reverse: High points of the leaves and bow are worn.

VF-30
Obverse: Small flat spots of wear on tips of feathers,ribbons,and hair ends. Hair still shows half of details. LIBERTY lightly worn but all letters are sharp.

Reverse: Leaves and bow worn but fully detailed.

VF-20
Obverse: Headdress shows considerable flatness. Nearly half of the details still show in hair and on ribbon. Head slightly worn but bold. LIBERTY is worn but all letters are complete.

Reverse: Leaves and bow are almost fully detailed.

F-12
Obverse: 1/4 of details show in the hair. Ribbon is worn smooth. LIBERTY shows clearly with no letters missing.

Reverse: Some details visible in the wreath and bow. Tops of leaves are worn smooth.

VG-8
Obverse: Outline of feather ends shows but some are smooth. Legend and date are visible. At least 3 letters in LIBERTY show clearly but any combination of 2 full letters and parts of 2 others are sufficient.

Reverse: Slight detail of the wreath shows but the top is worn smooth. Very little outline shows in the bow.

G-4
Obverse: Entire design well worn with very little detail remaining. Legend and date are weak but visible.

Reverse: Wreath is worn flat but completely outlined. Bow merges with wreath.

AG-3
Obverse: Head is outlined with nearly all details worn away. Legend and date readable but very weak and merging into rim.

Reverse: Entire design partially worn away. Bow is merged with the wreath.

The Bottom Line…

It takes a lot of time and experience to consistently grade coins accurately, but you’ll never get there if you don’t start somewhere. Hopefully you’re able to grade your Lincoln pennies and Indian Head pennies yourself now.

This video also has some great tips for grading U.S. coins yourself at home:


Be sure to get yourself a copy of this Coin Grading Standards Book and a good coin magnifier, as well.

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2 thoughts on “Grading Pennies: How To Determine The Grade Of A U.S. Penny”

  1. I have read many of your replies and thanks. This is a great source of information. My question regards ‘color’ of old pennies. Is there a discussion somewhere on how color affects the grade of a coin? I hear the term ‘red’ or ‘brownish red’ or copper. I’m just curious what ‘red’ means. thanks

    Reply
  2. I have what I believe is a fake 1943 copper looking penny that a magnet picks up. It looks like any other penny of the era. Is there any value in a ‘fake’ copper 1943 phila. penny?

    Reply

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