Grading Standards

Grading Standards

PCGS Gold Shield Grading uses a 70-point numerical scale universally accepted by all collectors. Below is a brief description to show how a note is evaluated and assigned a grade by PCGS Gold Shield Grading. Please note that all banknotes graded MS65 and higher must also meet the criteria for Optimal Paper Quality (OPQ).

PCGS Gold Shield Grading: Written Grading Standards

MS70 OPQ – Superb Gem Uncirculated
To qualify for the 70 OPQ grade, banknotes must have no evidence of handling*, packaging marks, or any significant paper disturbances visible under 5x magnification. The margins and registration must appear perfectly centered to the unaided eye. Corners will be fully sharp and eye appeal will be phenomenal.

MS69 OPQ – Superb Gem Uncirculated
At first glance a banknote graded 69 will appear the same as a 70. There will be no evidence of handling to the unaided eye. Upon closer inspection the margins may appear the smallest bit off center or a tiny imperfection or evidence of the lightest handling may be noted under 5x magnification. The paper quality will be pristine with excellent color and outstanding eye appeal.

MS68 OPQ – Superb Gem Uncirculated
A nearly flawless note that after brief inspection with the unaided eye, will have some evidence of a very minor imperfection such as slightly off center margins, a small packaging mark, a small crinkle in the paper, or a very light ink smudge. This is still essentially a flawless banknote, with any distraction being trivial in nature.

MS67 OPQ - Superb Gem Uncirculated
Centering can now be slightly off center to the unaided eye, but still well above average. Minor handling marks and small flaws may now be visible, but will not distract from the overall superb eye appeal of a banknote in this grade.

MS66 OPQ – Gem Uncirculated
Centering will be above average, but if the rest of the banknote is essentially flawless allowance of tighter margins is acceptable. Slightly more handling may be noted such as small edge or corner bumps, light ink smudging, or a few other imperfections that keep the note from achieving the 67 OPQ grade. Eye appeal and paper quality must be above average to excellent.

MS65 OPQ - Gem Uncirculated
A gem quality banknote with above average eye appeal that may exhibit more noticeable and numerous imperfections, although none too distracting. Depending on the paper quality and amount of visible flaws, centering in this grade can range from slightly below average to excellent. If more handling is evident the centering will need to be well above average. If the note has very few flaws noticeable and the paper is crisp and appealing, centering can be slightly below average.

MS64/MS64 OPQ– Choice Uncirculated
Centering can now be significantly off center. Some or all of the corners will have lost their full sharpness. Handling can be more significant with counting crinkles, packaging issues, and minor corner folds that will not enter the design. There may be smudging of the ink, some minor staining, and color fading. This is still a choice quality note and any major distractions may keep it from achieving this grade.

MS63/MS63 OPQ – Choice Uncirculated
Centering can range from poor to average, depending on the amount and severity of other flaws on the note. Flaws will be immediately noticeable in this grade with potentially rounded corners, heavier staining, faded ink, and flat design elements. There may be more pronounced pinching and minor folds, but no fold can span the length or width of the note.

MS62/MS62 OPQ - Uncirculated
Centering can be well off center. There will be numerous flaws and distractions that render this note out of the choice category. There may be staining and heavy handling marks with wrinkles and pinches readily evident. Corners can be rough with some creasing, however any fold that spans from edge to edge will not be classified as uncirculated. This note may have been lightly washed and pressed but not so severely as to warrant a “details” grade.

MS60-61/MS60-61 OPQ- Uncirculated
The same basic problems associated with a 62 but the flaws being even more numerous and severe in nature. Often a note in this low of uncirculated grade will have folds that may cause the note to be given an AU grade.

AU58/ AU58 OPQ – About Uncirculated
A note that appears to grade uncirculated, but upon closer observation, a vertical fold, often a light centerfold, is noted. Other ways to arrive at this grade are clear corner folds that enter the design, or simply a note that while it does not have a centerfold, has clearly worn corners and edges that suggest a circulated note. Please note, a banknote with a very slight bend in the note from storage (not a clear fold), but the note is clearly crisp and new, will often still qualify for a low uncirculated grade if it does not have any other AU qualities.

AU55/AU55 OPQ – About Uncirculated
Often a note that has two light vertical folds. A note could also grade 55 due to a more pronounced centerfold, a horizontal fold, or a combination of a light vertical fold and one or two corners with folds that enter the design. A note with a severe center crease will often only qualify for an AU 50 grade.

AU53/AU53 OPQ – About Uncirculated
Similar characteristics as a 55 but with slightly heavier folds and possibly a small pinhole, light staining, and more corner wear.

AU50/AU50 OPQ – About Uncirculated
A note can obtain this grade due to a heavy and impairing centerfold, two moderate vertical folds, or a note with both a light horizontal and vertical fold. Corners may now exhibit more folds and wear can be obvious. A note could also grade AU50 if it has three extremely light vertical folds, but the rest of the note still has the general characteristics of an uncirculated piece.

EF45/EF45 OPQ – Extremely Fine
The classic case for this grade is a note with three clear vertical folds, although not heavy in nature. There also may be a clear horizontal and vertical fold, but heavier than seen on an AU50 note. The note will still have full body, and any note with two or three severe folds will likely only qualify for an EF40 or VF35 grade.

EF40/EF40 OPQ – Extremely Fine
Similar to an EF45 note but with heavier folds and less body. Note will start to appear more clearly circulated, including heavier wear and corner folds.

VF35/VF35 OPQ – Very Fine
Possibly a few more folds than an EF40 note, or three or four very heavy folds. Generally there will be less than seven folds, but if the folds are extremely light, there may be around ten folds. Paper will still be sturdy and not limp. Paper will show clear circulation with possible staining and toning typical for the grade.

VF30 – Very Fine
Usually four to ten folds varying in severity and location. Note is beginning to be clearly worn with some staining, but this is still a note with solid paper and no splits. A small pinhole or two is acceptable for this grade with a “details” grade being given.

VF25 – Very Fine
An intermediate VF grade given to notes with a few more impairments than a VF30 or VF35 notes, such as heavier staining or toning, very heavy folds, and the paper is now losing much of it’s body.

VF20 – Very Fine
A note that is starting to show clear signs of circulation with obvious and numerous folds, worn and folded corners, and just enough body to keep it out of a F15 grade. Staining can be slightly more obvious. Full color of the note should still remain. There will be no pieces missing and only the slightest signs of splitting at the folds may start to be apparent, although not obvious.

F15 – Fine
A just miss VF note that will have lost much its body and is showing more signs of circulation such as numerous folds, slight splitting, heavier toning, and a general loss of integrity of the paper quality.

F12 – Fine
A note that has seen considerable time in circulation, but the paper will still be solid with no missing parts. A limp note with no body remaining would not qualify for a Fine designation. The corners may be well rounded and the edges can be frayed and showing minor splitting, but splits will not usually enter the design for a F12 note. There is allowance for several small pinholes and a stray pencil mark or light private stamp. Some staining is allowed but anything heavy and obtrusive will still be designated with a “details” grade.

VG10 – Very Good
Nearly a fine note that exhibits some negative aspect that keeps it from achieving a higher grade, such as heavier staining, many heavy folds, and an overall limp feel to the note. The note will not be missing any parts.

VG08 – Very Good
A note that shares more good characteristics than it does fine attributes. The note will be limp with more tears and possibly heavier staining. There may be some markings and private stamps on the note as long as they are not too dark or damaging. Pinholes are acceptable as long as they are not to severe or numerous.

G06 – Good
A fully limp note that will have heavier splitting and may even be missing some corner pieces. A center hole may be evident in this grade due to its heavy folding and circulation. The note may be considerably stained and showing signs of other damage and markings common in this grade. Pinholes will likely be evident and numerous. However, any major missing part will still be mentioned with a “details” grade.

G04 – Good
Very heavy circulation and damage are noted in a G04 note. Multiple minor pieces will be missing and splitting will be extensive and extend into the design. The note is completely limp and can have heavy staining, markings, and pinholes. The note will have negative eye appeal and numerous problems, but will still be identifiable.

PCGS Banknote Designations
Beyond using the 70 point grading scale, PCGS Gold Shield Grading also uses OPQ and DETAILS designations to qualify certain notes.

OPQ stands for Optimal Paper Quality. This designation is given to notes that the PCGS Banknote graders feel have maintained their original qualities without having been physically, chemically, or materially altered or processed in anyway. There can be no foreign paper or other materials added to the note. For OPQ, the note in our opinion has not been trimmed, repaired, washed with chemicals, or pressed in an attempt to conceal folds or other problems. The note must also have positive eye appeal for the given grade with bold ink, no significant smudging, and full embossing. Only notes graded 25 and above will be eligible for the OPQ designation. Notes exhibiting typical wear and environmental degradation for their respective grade are still eligible for OPQ as long they don't violate any of the factors mentioned above.

“DETAILS” Grading
In some instances a banknote is impaired enough that a standard numerical grade does not accurately describe the condition of the note. A “details” grade is assigned if the note exhibits damage or problems exceeding what is expected for any particular grade. Generally speaking the lower the grade of the note the more impairments will be allowed without using a “details” designation. If the graders determine a “details” grade is necessary, the note will be assigned a numerical grade based on its attributes independent of the designated problem, and the reasons for the “details” grade will be clearly noted on the label. This allows an accurate grade of the note while clearly indicating the reason that a details grade had to be used. Reasons for assigning a “details” grade may include, but are not limited to the following: