Learn Grading: British Gold Sovereigns

Posted on 5/12/2020

British Gold Sovereigns have been struck for more than 200 years and are extremely popular with collectors. Most collectors seek examples in Uncirculated grade range, which starts at MS 60. This article explores the subtle differences between these grades.

NGC uses a numeric grade to succinctly describe a problem-free coin's condition. NGC's Coin Grading Scale is based on the internationally accepted Sheldon Scale, which runs from 1 to 70.

The numeric grade is typically preceded by an abbreviation that indicates the way the coin was struck and, for circulation issues, its approximate condition. The numeric grade is sometimes followed by a designation called a "strike character" that sheds further light on the coin's condition. Examples of NGC grades include NGC MS 62 and NGC PF 68 Ultra Cameo.

First struck in 1817, the famous British Gold Sovereign once circulated throughout the British Empire. Today, they no longer circulate, but they continue to be issued and are extremely popular with collectors around the world. These coins, however, can be quite challenging to grade because they have been struck at numerous mints across the British Empire for more than 200 years. Here we examine the grades typically seen for British Gold Sovereigns.

MS 67

An MS 67 gold sovereign must have strong luster and strike but, considering the manner in which they were often stored, some bag marks and very light abrasions are still acceptable.

  • Luster: Must be very strong and unimpaired. The coin should be flashy.
  • Contact Marks: Minor abrasions in the prime focal areas might be seen along with contact marks in less visible areas.
  • Strike: Must be complete and full.
  • Eye Appeal: Must be very good.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 66

At the MS 66 level, the luster and strike must still be strong. More abrasions are acceptable, however, even in the prime focal areas. An MS 66 must still have strong eye appeal, but it can have negative issues, such as luster grazes or bag marks.

  • Luster: Must be strong and unimpaired.
  • Contact Marks: Minor to moderate abrasions in the prime focal areas might be seen, along with some contact marks in the fields.
  • Strike: Must be strong but some minor weakness is permissible.
  • Eye Appeal: Must be good.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 65

MS 65 is commonly called Gem Uncirculated or simply Gem. An MS 65 sovereign must still have strong luster and strike, although more contact marks are permissible. The eye appeal must be good as well.

  • Luster: Must be strong and unimpaired.
  • Contact Marks: Minor to moderate abrasions in the prime focal areas might be seen, along with contact marks in the fields.
  • Strike: Must be strong, but very slight weakness on the high points is allowed.
  • Eye Appeal: Must be good.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 64

At this level, a sovereign should still be attractive. While the luster may not be as strong as on a Gem coin, it should still be pleasing to the eye. Some slight strike weakness on the high points of the design is acceptable, as well as a more abraded appearance.

  • Luster: Moderate abrasions in the prime focal areas might be seen that could affect the luster, along with scattered contact marks and abrasions in the fields.
  • Contact Marks: Some post-production contact marks are permissible.
  • Strike: Slight weakness on the high points is allowed.
  • Eye Appeal: Must be good.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 63

At this level, the luster becomes further muted because of the soft nature of gold and the fact that these coins generally were stored in bags for decades. This storage also resulted in more contact marks. The strike may or may not be weak. By this level, it is usually the luster, contact marks or lack of eye appeal that lower the grade.

  • Luster: Can be slightly weak or impaired by abrasion or contact with other coins in bags.
  • Contact Marks: Moderate-to-heavy abrasions in the prime focal areas are acceptable, along with more scattered contact marks in the fields.
  • Strike: Weakness on the high points is allowed.
  • Eye Appeal: Will clearly be diminished at this grade but will still be attractive.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 62

In MS 62, a sovereign will really begin to show a loss of luster due to contact marks and abrasions from years of mishandling in bags. Because of these abrasions, the eye appeal will also suffer.

  • Luster: Can be weak or impaired.
  • Contact Marks: Heavy abrasions in the prime focal areas are permissible, along with many scattered contact marks in the fields and on main parts of the design.
  • Strike: Weakness on the high points is allowed.
  • Eye Appeal: Usually relatively low as the luster is lost due to abrasions.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 61

In MS 61, the luster becomes even more impaired and there are heavy abrasions on the surfaces, which affect the eye appeal.

  • Luster: Very weak or impaired.
  • Contact Marks: Heavy abrasions in the prime focal areas will be seen throughout the coin, along with numerous scattered contact marks in the fields.
  • Strike: Weakness on the high points is normal in this grade.
  • Eye Appeal: Usually low because the luster has been diminished by abrasions.

Click images to enlarge.

MS 60

In this uncommon grade, a sovereign is still technically Mint State, but it likely has extremely poor luster or is completely covered in abrasions. It might also have a very weak strike or have some very light rub on the high points that nearly places the coin in the About Uncirculated range.

  • Luster: Might be extremely weak or even impaired but is still present.
  • Contact Marks: Heavy abrasions and contact marks ssall over the coin are permissible.
  • Strike: Weakness on the high points is normal in this grade, but no real wear should be seen.
  • Eye Appeal: Usually quite poor.

Click images to enlarge.

You can explore British Sovereigns in the NGC Census for Great Britain coins.

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