Collectors, and dealers too, are sometimes puzzled by the many numbers and characters that may appear on an NGC grading label, and I hope to successfully explain herein each of the various elements. All of the data that appear on NGC’s grading labels are there for various reasons.
Collectors, and dealers too, are sometimes puzzled
by the many numbers and characters that may appear on
an NGC grading label, and I hope to successfully explain
herein each of the various elements. All of the data
that appear on NGCs grading labels are there for
various reasons. Some of this information is strictly
for tracking purposes, while certain features directly
affect a coins grade.
of these elements are obvious and do not require explanation.
Anyone who knows something about coins will understand
the denomination, date and mintmark, if any. The abbreviations
MS and PF on NGC certified coins
are easily recognized as standing for Mint State and
Proof, respectively. Those who collect or deal in varieties
will likely recognize certain standardized abbreviations
that appear on the labels of variety coins. An example
would be DDR for Doubled-Die Reverse. On
NGC-certified coins, this abbreviation is typically
accompanied by a number preceded by the letters FS.
This is an abbreviation of Fivaz and Stanton, they being
the authors of The Cherrypickers Guide to Rare
Die Varieties, a popular reference and price guide
for the most widely sought varieties. Along with Yeomans
A Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red
Book), this is the only variety guide recognized by
NGC for attributing varieties on modern coin series.
There is a small additional fee for receiving this variety
attribution, and NGC does not automatically apply such
varieties to coins submitted for grading alone.
appearing on each NGC grading label is that particular
coins identification number. This consists of
six (or more recently, seven) digits followed by a dash
and three more digits. The first sequence of numbers
is taken from the pre-printed invoice number under which
the coins were submitted. (These numbers are entirely
random and are not applied sequentially. Therefore,
they cannot be used to determine when a coin was graded.)
The numbers following the dash may range from 001 to
099 and simply identify the line on which a particular
coin was entered under that invoice number. For example,
if you submit three coins under invoice number 1234567,
the coin on line 3 will be labeled by NGC as 1234567-003.
In addition to a readable identification
number, each label includes a barcode that may be read
only by a computer. This includes the same sort of information
found in written form on the label, but it also permits
coins to be processed quickly while in house and scanned
by our customers for their own inventory tracking.
While it once was sufficient to simply
place a numerical grade on a coins label, the
growing sophistication of the coin hobby and marketplace
has led to the introduction of additional designations.
It is with these designations that some confusion may
still exist. Certain designations are easy to understand,
such as the color designators that follow the numerical
grade on copper and bronze coins: BN stands for Brown
(or a variety of colors other than mint red), RB identifies
a coin having a moderate amount of mint red, while RD
on a copper or bronze coin means that it retains all
or nearly all of its original mint red color.
In a similar manner, the designations FS (full
steps) on Jefferson Nickels, FB (full bands)
on Mercury Dimes, FH (full head) on Standing
Liberty Quarters and FBL (full bell lines)
on Franklin Halves are all important supplements to
a coins numerical grade. For Morgan Dollars and
selected other coin types, the designations PL
(prooflike) and DPL (deep prooflike) may
appear. These indicate only the degree of reflectivity
evident in a coins fields and make no implication
as to other qualities associated with proof coins, such
as frosted devices and superior sharpness. NGCs
use of DPL is equivalent to other grading
services employment of DMPL. These
abbreviations mean the same thing, and their alternative
use is merely a matter of semantics.
All of the above designations are applied
automatically to qualified coins at the time of grading
and at no additional cost. NGC certified coins that
are lacking such designations may be submitted to NGC
for possible addition of them at a small fee.
Another pair of designations important
to collectors of proof coins are the words CAMEO and
ULTRA CAMEO that appear on some of the NGC certified
proofs following the numerical grade. Only the earliest
impressions from new proof dies will reveal frosted
or satiny legends and devices, as these relief elements
quickly became polished by the repeated interaction
of the dies with the planchets. The terms CAMEO and
ULTRA CAMEO simply separate different degrees of the
same contrasting effect, and NGCs UTLRA CAMEO
means the same thing as other grading services
DCAM, or DEEP CAMEO. Once again, this is
just a matter of semantics. NGC automatically applies
these designations to qualified coins at the time of
grading at no additional cost. As with all such designations,
NGC certified coins may be submitted for review of their
CAMEO or ULTRA CAMEO status for a small fee.
Its very difficult to put into
words the difference between CAMEO and ULTRA CAMEO,
other than to say that the latter is clearly more pronounced.
The dividing line is somewhat subjective, but the important
thing to remember is that NGC applies the distinction
as consistently as humanly possible and in accordance
with widely accepted market standards. For a proof coin
to be labeled CAMEO by NGC, it must display contrasting
fields and devices on both sides. For the ULTRA
CAMEO designation, it must have superior contrast on
both sides. One-sided contrast will not earn
a coin the CAMEO designation, though it may be acknowledged
for its superior eye appeal through application of the
NGC Star designation (this is explained more fully below).
Likewise, coins that have ULTRA CAMEO contrast on their
obverses only will not be so labeled, but their premium
value may be recognized through application of the NGC
Star (see below).
In recent years the market for modern (roughly 1940-date) coins
has matured greatly. Where once these were traded only
by the roll or bag, individual pieces are now eagerly
sought in the higher grades. With this growing emphasis
on quality, two distinguishing designations have been
introduced by NGC to segregate these coins not only
by grade but by their appeal to individual tastes too.
These designations are the letter W to indicate
a white or entirely untoned coin and the
NGC star, applied to coins of outstanding appearance.
These follow a coins numerical grade on the NGC
The letter W
on the label of an NGC certified silver, nickel or clad
coin identifies the piece as having no toning whatsoever.
In common marketplace parlance, such pieces are described
as being white and there are a number of
collectors who desire to own nothing else. For that
reason, NGC introduced the W
to distinguish such coins.
Another innovation of NGC is the star ()
for coins having superior aesthetic value, or eye
appeal. It does not apply to so-called PQ (premium
quality) coins that fell just short of the next grade.
Rather, it applies to coins that are what they are in
terms of numerical grade, yet are simply more desirable
to the trained eye than other coins of the same grade.
Among the qualities that can earn a coin the coveted
designation are superior luster and beautiful toning.
In the case of proof coins, the
may be applied to pieces displaying cameo contrast on
one side only. While such coins are not eligible for
the CAMEO designation, the inclusion of a
acknowledges that they do possess superior eye appeal.
In a similar vein, a coin already determined to be CAMEO
on both sides may receive an additional
designation if its obverse displays ULTRA CAMEO contrast.
Finally, a coin designated as ULTRA CAMEO may receive
if the graders believe that its degree of contrast is
truly superior to the more typical specimen.
Both the W and the
are applied automatically by NGCs graders to qualifying
coins at no additional cost. As with all of NGCs
designations, coins already holdered by NGC may be resubmitted
at a nominal cost to be examined for their W