Grading is the most controversial component of paper money
collecting today. Small differences in grade can mean significant
differences in value. The process of grading is so subjective and
dependant on external influences such as lighting, that even a very
experienced individual may well grade the same note differently on
To facilitate communication between sellers and buyers, it is
essential that grading terms and their meanings be standardized and
as widely used as possible. This standardization should reflect
common usage as much as practicable. One difficulty with grading is
that even the actual grades themselves are not used every place and
by everyone. For example, in Europe the grade “About Uncirculated” (AU)
is not in general use, yet in North America it is widespread. The
European term “GoodVF” may roughly correspond to what individuals in
North America would call “EF”
The grades and definitions as set forth below cannot reconcile all
the various systems and grading terminology variants. Rather, the
attempt is made here to try and diminish the controversy with some
common sense grades and definitions that aim to give more precise
meaning to the grading language of paper money.
How to look at a Bank note
In order to ascertain the grade of a note, it is essential to
examine it out of a holder and under a good light. Move the note
around so that the light bounces off at different angles. Try
holding it up obliquely so that the note is almost even with your
eye as you look up at the light. Hard-to-see folds or slight creases
will show up under such examination. Some individuals also lightly
feel along the surface of the note to detect creasing.
Cleaning, Washing, Pressing of Bank notes
Cleaning, washing or pressing paper money is generally harmful and
reduces both the grade and the value of a note. At the very least, a
washed or pressed note may lose its original sheen and its surface
may become lifeless and dull. The defects a note had, such as folds
and creases, may not necessarily be completely eliminated and their
telltale marks can be detected under a good light. Carelessly washed
notes may have white streaks where the folds or creases were (or
Processing of a note which started out as Extremely Fine will
automatically reduce it at least one full grade.
Glue, tape, or pencil marks may sometimes be successfully removed.
While such removal will have a cleaned surface, it will improve the
overall appearance of the note without concealing any of its defects.
Under such circumstances, the grade of the note may also be improved.
The words “pinholes”, “staple holes”, “trimmed”, “writing on face”,
“tape marks”, etc. should always be added to the description of a
note. It is realized that certain countries routinely staple their
notes together in groups before issue. In such cases, the
description can include a comment such as “usual staple holes” or
something similar. After all, not everyone knows that such-and-such
a note cannot be found otherwise.
The major point of this section is that one cannot lower the overall
grade of a note with defects simply because of the defects. The
price will reflect the lowered worth of a defective note, but the
description must always include the specific defects.
The Term “Uncirculated”
The word “Uncirculated”: is used in this grading guide only as a
qualitative measurement of the appearance of a note. It has nothing
at all to do with whether or not an issuer has actually released the
note to circulation. Thus the term “About Uncirculated” is justified
and acceptable because so many notes that have never seen
hand-to-hand use have been mishandled so that they are available in,
at best, AU condition. Either a note is uncirculated in condition or
it not; there can be no degree of uncirculated. Highlights or
defects in color, centering and the like may be included in the
description but the fact that a note is or is not in uncirculated
condition should not be a disputable point
Grading Guide -
Definition of Terms
Thank you Joel Shafer for the image scans. Joel cautions scans can
be misleading as far as accurate grading is concerned (with either
over or under grading, although a scan usually inflates the grade of
UNCIRCULATED (UNC): A perfectly preserved note, never mishandled by
the issuing authority, a bank teller, the public or a collector.
Paper is clean and firm, without discoloration. Corners are sharp
and square, without any evidence of rounding. (Rounded corners are
often telltale sign of a cleaned or “doctored” note.) An
uncirculated note will have its original natural sheen.
NOTE: Some note issues are most often available with slight evidence
of counting folds (creases). Also, French-printed notes usually have
a sight ripple in the paper. Many collectors and dealers often refer
to such a note as AU-UNC.
ABOUT UNCIRCULATED (aUNC or AU): A
virtually perfect note, with some minor handling. May show evidence
of bank counting folds at a corner or one light fold through the
center, but not both. An AU note cannot be creased, a crease being a
hard fold which has usually “broken” the surface of a note. Paper is
clean and bright with original sheen. Corners are not rounded.
NOTE: Europeans will refer to an About Uncirculated or AU note as
“EF-UNC” or as just “EF”. The extremely fine note described below
will often be referred to as “GVF” or “Good Very Fine”.
FINE (EF or XF): A very attractive note, with light handling. May
have a maximum of three light folds or one strong crease. Paper is
clean and bright with original sheen. Corners may show only the
slightest evidence of rounding. There may also be the slightest sign
of wear where a fold meets the edge.
VERY FINE (VF): An attractive
note, but with more evidence of handling and wear. May have a number
of folds both vertically and horizontally. Paper may have minimal
dirt, or possible color smudging. Paper itself is still relatively
crisp and not floppy. There are no tears into the border area,
although the edges do show slight wear. Corners also show wear but
not full rounding.
FINE (F): A note which shows considerable
circulation with many folds, creases and wrinkling. Paper is not
excessively dirty, but may have some softness. Edges may show much
handling with minor tears in the border area. Tears may not extend
into the design. There will be no center hole because of folding.
Colors are clear but not bright. A staple hole or two would not be
considered unusual wear in a Fine note. Overall appearance is still
on the desirable side.
VERY GOOD (VG): A well used note, abused
but still intact. Corners may have much wear and rounding, tiny
nicks, tears may extend into the design, some discoloration may be
present, staining may have occurred, and a small hole may be seen at
center from excessive folding. Staple and pinholes are usually
present, and the note itself is quite limp but NO pieces of the note
can be missing. A note in VG condition may still have an overall not
GOOD (G): A well worn and heavily used
note. Normal damage from prolonged circulation will include strong
multiple folds and creases, stains, pinholes, and/or staple holes,
dirt, discoloration, edge tears, center hole, rounded corners and an
overall unattractive appearance. No large pieces of the note may be
missing. Graffiti is commonly seen on notes in Good condition.
FAIR: A totally limp, dirty and very well used note. Larger pieces
may be half torn off or missing, beside the defects mentioned under
the Good category. Tears will be larger, obscured portions of the
note will be bigger.
POOR (PR): A “rag” with severe damage because
of wear, staining, pieces missing, graffiti, larger holes. May have
tape holding pieces of the note together. Trimming may have taken
place to remove rough edges. A Poor note is desirable only as a
”filler” or when such note is the only one known of that particular