Learn Grading: What Are the Plus and Star Designations?

Posted on 6/11/2019

NGC uses these for coins that are near the next grade or that have exceptional eye appeal.

NGC uses a numeric grade to succinctly describe a problem-free coin's condition. In many cases, the numeric grade is followed by designations that provide a more nuanced description of the coin’s condition and appearance.

Strike characters, as they are commonly called by NGC, can describe the degree of red luster on a copper coin’s surface (BN, RB and RD), the degree of contrast on a Proof coin (Cameo and Ultra Cameo) or other distinctive features.

Besides strike characters, NGC uses the Plus (+) and Star (★) designations to convey further information when appropriate.

NGC Plus (+) Designation

NGC assigns a + to coins at the high end of their assigned grade, approaching the quality requirements for the next grade. For example, a coin graded NGC PF 63+ Ultra Cameo is close to the quality of a coin graded NGC PF 64 Ultra Cameo. In addition to their superior technical merit, coins that receive a + must have above-average eye appeal.

LEFT: A 1905 $20, graded NGC PF 65+ Ultra Cameo. RIGHT: A 1839 Great Britain "Una and the Lion" 5 Sovereign, graded NGC PF 63+ Ultra Cameo.
Click images to enlarge.

Not all coins are eligible for +. Coins grading from NGC XF 45 to NGC MS 68 or NGC PF 45 to NGC PF 68 may receive a +, while lower- and higher-grade coins cannot. The + is assigned when merited to United States coins from 1792 to date, excluding US bullion and modern commemorative coins, and to world coins struck prior to 1970.

NGC Star (★) Designation

NGC assigns its trademarked Star (★) Designation to coins with exceptional eye appeal for their assigned grade.

LEFT: An 1851 Humbert "887" With "50" $50, graded NGC MS 63★. RIGHT: A Seleucid Kingdom Tetradrachm graded NGC Ancients Ch AU★, 5/5 Strike and 4/5 Surface with Fine Style. Click images to enlarge.

Eye appeal is the most subjective attribute of a coin, but there are many standards shared by numismatists. Exceptional eye appeal may include attributes such as vibrant, colorful toning; intense luster; or, in the case of Proof coins, especially strong cameo contrast.

A 1796 Quarter,
graded NGC MS 67+★.

To receive a ★, coins must be free of any obvious planchet irregularities, and display no bothersome spots or blemishes. Toned coins can be of a single color or multicolored but cannot have any areas that are dark brown, approaching black.

Coins with the Star (★) Designation can fall anywhere within the grades to which they are assigned. For example, a coin graded NGC MS 63★ could be at the lower end, mid-range or higher end of NGC MS 63.

NGC Ancients also uses the Star (★) Designation for coins that it grades. In this case, the ★ follows the grade abbreviation (for example, MS★).

A coin may receive a +, a ★, a strike character or any combination of these designations. If a coin receives multiple designations, they will appear in the following order: numeric grade, then +, then ★, then a space, then any strike character (ex: PF 65+★ Ultra Cameo).

NGC evaluates all coins for Plus, Star and strike characters as part of its normal grading process and will assign these designations if warranted automatically for no additional fee. NGC Details-graded coins are not eligible for any of these designations.

By default, the NGC Census groups coins with no designation, Plus and Star under the same numeric grade header. However, the “Filters” option can be selected to see separate columns for the Plus and Star designations.

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