Learn Grading: What Are the SP and PL Prefixes?
Posted on 9/10/2019
NGC uses different one or two-letter codes before a coin’s numeric grade to succinctly describe its method of manufacture and overall appearance. The most common are MS for Mint State coins and PF for Proof issues.
MS refers to a coin struck for circulation—or in the same style as a coin struck for circulation. It also means that the coin grades between 60 and 70. Circulation issues in grades below 60 receive a different prefix based on their adjectival grade range. For example, AU, for About Uncirculated, will precede numeric grades of 50, 53, 55 or 58.
PF refers to a coin struck as a Proof. The numeric grade of Proof coins is preceded by PF even if the grade is below 60. For example, a 50 is described a PF 50 on the NGC certification label.
While the MS and PF abbreviations are by far the most common, there are actually two other types prefixes used by NGC to indicate different methods of coin manufacture. These are: SP (Specimen) and PL (Prooflike).
From its earliest days, the US Mint has occasionally produced coins that fall short of the definition for actual Proofs yet are clearly superior to the normal currency issues. In past generations, such pieces were routinely described as Proofs by coin dealers and catalogers. Since the 1960s, these would-be Proof coins have gradually become accepted under the term "Specimen," which is abbreviated SP on the NGC certification label.
|1878-S Specimen Morgan Dollar, graded NGC SP 64Click images to enlarge.|
SP is a catchall that is applied to a variety of finishes that are distinct from the appearance of circulation issues but do not fit any of the Proof categories. Specimen can describe early US coins with bold strikes, very brilliant fields and semi-frosted devices as well as modern US coins that were produced with matte or other unusual finishes.
|1994-P Nickel, graded NGC SP 70Click images to enlarge.|
Recent examples for which the designation SP has been used are the matte finish 1994-P and 1997-P nickels that were specially produced for inclusion in commemorative silver dollar sets.
Many collectors know that NGC uses the term PL, or Prooflike, after the numeric grade of a coin that exhibits mirrored fields that resemble a Proof coin. For example, a Morgan Dollar might grade NGC MS 66 PL.
Most collectors probably do not know that NGC may also use PL before a coin’s numeric grade, as in NGC PL 66.
The most notable example of these are the Prooflike Canada issues of the 1950s through 1960s. The coins are clearly specially and distinct from both MS and PF issues. The Royal Canadian Mint referred to these coins as Prooflike, and the term was adopted by NGC to describe the method of manufacture for these coins. Therefore, on the NGC certification label, the grade will have the PL in front of the number, such as NGC PL 66.
|1956 Canada S$1, graded NGC PL 67 CameoClick images to enlarge.|
The PL coins issued by Canada sometimes come with deeply mirrored fields and frosted devices. As a result, NGC may assign the Cameo or Ultra Cameo designations to these pieces.
Coins with the SP and PL prefixes are grouped in the PF section in the NGC Census.
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