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International Grading Standards for World Paper Money

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Introduction to International Banknote Grading Standards

Grading is the most controversial component of paper money collecting today. Small differences in banknote 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 separate occasions.

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Nihongo - Japanese Translation

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.

Grade Relating to Price

  Generally speaking, the higher the grade of a banknote, the more money that banknote will command on the open market. Also, original banknotes generally command higher prices than cleaned or doctored banknotes.

Most catalogues will attempt to give pricing information in various grades as a guideline to what the current market will bear, however, most catalogues in the banknote hobby are woefully trailing actual market prices.

Most collectors will attempt to purchase banknotes for
their collection in the highest grade possible and then keep their eyes open for better grades as time goes by upgrading whenever possible.

Hellas - Greek Translation

As the number of banknote collectors increase, this "drive for high grades" tends to push the market prices for scarce high grade notes to levels much higher than expected. For example a banknote may be priced at $100 for a VG, $250 for a VF and $800 for an UNC. The reason for this can be summed up as simple "supply and demand". There are far more banknotes surviving in lower grades.

Most scarce and rare banknotes may not even be available in extremely high grades. In cases such as this, the pricing may be more like $100 for a VG, $250 for a VF and un-priced in UNC. If an UNC banknote does become available, it will normally be sold either at auction or privately to an informed buyer who understands the rarity of this note in this grade.

How to look at a banknote

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 banknotes

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 still are).

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”, "tears", 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.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Grading Guide - definition of terms

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, folding or bending. No light handling is present, no compromise, a perfect note. An uncirculated note will have its original, natural sheen.



NOTE: Some note issues are most often available with slight evidence of very light counting folds which do not "break" the paper. Also French-printed notes usually have a slight ripple in the paper. A banknote that has less than perfect corners is considered nearly uncirculated. Many collectors and dealers refer to such notes as AU-UNC.

ABOUT UNCIRCULATED (AU): A virtually perfect note, with some minor handling. May show very slight evidence of bank counting folds at a corner or one light fold through the center, but not both. An AU note can not be creased, a crease being a hard fold which has usually "broken" the surface of the note. Paper is clean and bright with original sheen. Corners are not rounded.

EXTREMELY FINE (EF/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 several folds both vertically and horizontally. Paper may have minimal dirt, or possible colour smudging. Paper itself is still relatively crisp and 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 excessive folding. Colours are clear but not very bright. A staple hole or two would not be considered unusual wear in a Fine F 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 sometimes be seen at center from excessive folding. Staple holes 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 unattractive appearance.

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 G condition.

FAIR (FR): A totally limp, dirty and very well used note. Larger pieces may be half torn off or missing besides 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 a note is the only one known of that particular issue.



Grade UNC AU EF VF F VG G FR PR
Features Uncirculated About Uncirculated Extremely Fine Very Fine Fine Very Good Good Fair Poor
Edges No counting marks Light counting folds Light counting folds Corners aren't fully rounded Much handling Rounded edges Rounded edges Rounded edges Rounded edges
Folds No folds Light center fold 3 light folds or one strong crease Several horizontal and vertical folds Many folds and creases Many folds and creases Many folds and creases Many folds and creases Many folds and creases
Paper colour Clean paper, bright colours Clean paper, bright colours Clean paper, bright colours Paper may have minimal dirt or some color smudging; still crisp No excessive dirt, but some softness Paper may be dirty, discolored or stained Very dirty, discolored, graffiti Limp, very dirty, discolored, graffiti Limp, extremely dirty, discolored, graffiti
Tears No tears No tears No tears No tears Minor, outside design Tears into the design Tears into the design Tears into the design Tears into the design
Holes No holes No holes No holes No holes No center hole Center hole, staple hole Center hole, staple hole Center hole, staple hole Center hole, staple hole
Integrity No pieces missing No pieces missing No pieces missing No pieces missing No pieces missing No pieces missing No large pieces missing Large pieces missing Taped pieces, a rag, a filler


Standard International Grading Terminology & Abbreviations

Country / Grade Uncirculated Extremely Fine Very Fine Fine Very Good Good Poor
USA & English UNC EF or XF VF F VG G PR
Brazil (1) FE (3) S (5) MBC (7) BC (8) (9) R UTGeG
China - - - - - - -
Czechia - - - - - - -
Denmark 0 01 1+ 1 1- 2 3
Finland 0 01 1+ 1 1- 2 3
France NEUF SUP TTB TB B TBC BC
Germany I (BFR) II (VZGL) III (SS) IV (S) V (SG) VI (G) VII (GS)
Italy FdS SPL BB MB B M -
Japan Mishiyo Goku Bihin Bihin Futsuhin n/a n/a n/a
Lithuania (0) NP (1) YP (2) LP (3) P (4) LG (5) G (6) M
Netherlands FDC / UNC PR ZF F ZG G -
Norway 0 01 1+ 1 1- 2 3
Poland - - - - - - -
Portugal Novo Soberbo Muito Bo - - - -
Romania NC - FF F FBC BC M
Russia - - - - - - -
Spain Lujo SC, IC or EBC MBC BC - RC MC
Sweden 0 01 1+ 1 1- 2 -
Popular New (About New) Lightly Circulated Circulated Very Circulated Heavily Circulated Damaged Rag

Some translations of the abbreviations of the above grading terminology
       
France - Republique Francaise
NEUF - New
SUP - Superbe
TTB - Tres Tres Beau
TB - Tres Beau
B - Beau
TBC - Tres Bien Conserve
BC - Bien Conserve

  Germany - Bundesrepublik Deutschland
BFR - Bankfrisch
VZGL - Vorzüglich
SS - Sehr Schön
S - Schön
SG - Sehr Gur erhalten
G - Gut erhalten
GS - Gering erhalten Schlecht

 
       
Italy - Republica Italiana
FdS - Fiore di Stampa
SPL - Spledido
BB - Bellissimo
MB - Molto Bello
B - Bello
M - Mediocre
  Lithuania - Lietuva
NP - Nepriekaistingas
YP - Ypatingai Puikus
LP - Labai Puikus
P - Puikus
LG - Labai Geras
G - Geras
M - Menkas
 
       
Netherlands - Nederland
UNC - Ongecirculeerd
PR - Prachtig
ZF - Zeer Frai (Zeer Mooi)
F - Fraai (Mooi)
ZG - Zeer Goed
G - Goed
  Spain - España
EBC - Extraordinariamente Bien Conservada
SC - Sin Circular
IC - Incirculante
MBC - Muy Bien Conservada
BC - Bien Conservada
RC - Regular Conservada
MC - Mala Conservada
 
       
The above grading terminology is probably incomplete. Corrections and new proposals are welcome.
       
How Many Grades are there for grading world paper money?

Grades and intermediate grades I have written down that are used by collectors and dealers all around the world: Poor, Fair, aGood, Good, Good+, G-VG, aVG, VG, VG+, VG-F, aFine, Fine, Fine+, F-VF, aVF, VF, VF+, VF-XF, aXF, XF(or EF), XF+, XF-AU, aAU, AU, AU+, AU-UNC, aUNC (or UNC-), UNC, Choice UNC, Gem UNC.

So, how many? Thirty (30)! Should we use all 30 grades when grading banknotes? Yes, we should, although it is not easy to remember all the grades, but as you can see, to properly grade a paper note, at least 30 grade variations are needed and probably even more than thirty. Here's a numerical grading scale which could be used internationally:


10 = UNC
9 = AU
8 = XF
7 = VF-XF
6 = VF
5 = F-VF
4 = F
3 = VG
2 = G
1 = FR
0 = PR
       

(use + or - signs for more precise grades)

         
Sheldon Grading Scale

70 - Superb Gem Uncirculated   To qualify for the 70 grade, banknotes must have no evidence of handling 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.
69 - Superb Gem Uncirculated   This note is nearly visually indistinguishable from a 70 but the margins and registration may appear slightly off center. There is no evidence of handling visible to the unaided eye. Upon closer inspection the margins may appear the smallest bit off center, the slightest imperfection or evidence of very minor handling may be noted under 5x magnification and outstanding eye appeal.
68 - Superb Gem Uncirculated   A nearly flawless note that after brief inspection with the unaided eye, may 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. There may be very minor handling.
67 - 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. A note with above-average margins and registration. There may be minor handling.
66 - Gem Uncirculated   Centering will be above average, but if the rest of the banknote is essentially flawless allowance of tighter margins is acceptable. There may be slightly more handling than a 67 note.
65 - 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 number of visible flaws, centering in this grade can range from slightly below average to excellent.
64 - Choice Uncirculated   Centering may now be significantly off center. Some or all of the corners may have lost their full sharpness. Handling may be more significant with counting crinkles, packaging issues, and minor corner folds in the note’s margin that will not enter the design.
63 - Choice Uncirculated   Centering can range from poor to average, depending on the amount and severity of other flaws on the note. There may be more pronounced pinching and minor folds in the margins, but no fold can span the length or width of the note.
62 - Uncirculated   Centering can be well off center. There may be numerous flaws and distractions that render this note out of the choice category. Corners can be rough with some creasing, however any fold that spans from edge to edge will not be classified as uncirculated. The margins may touch or come into the design.
61 - Uncirculated   The note is poorly centered and the margins come into the design. There may be counting marks, smudges or other signs of handling. There will be no folds through the design.
60 - Uncirculated   A note with problems that may include toned paper, a small stain or fading. There will be handling issues but there will be no folds through the design.
58 - Choice About Uncirculated   A note that appears to grade uncirculated, but upon closer observation a light vertical fold, often a 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.
55 - About Uncirculated   This grade is commonly assigned to a note that has one fold or two to three corner folds through the design. Often it is a note that has two light vertical folds.
53 - About Uncirculated   A note with two vertical folds or a single horizontal fold and possibly more corner wear.
50 - 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.
45 - Choice Extremely Fine   A note with two to three clear vertical folds, one of which may be horizontal, although not heavy in nature, but heavier than seen on a 50 AU note.
40 - Extremely Fine   There are three or more folds, one of which may be horizontal, including heavier wear and corner folds.
35 - Choice Very Fine   Similar to the IBNS grade “VF-XF.” This note looks Extremely Fine, but it will have five to seven light folds.
30 - Very Fine   This note will be lightly circulated and may have light soiling. There will typically be seven to ten folds, but this is still a banknote with solid and quite crispy paper.
25 - Very Fine   A note that shows modest evidence of circulation as well as more folds and/or soiling than a note graded 30. There is heavier staining or toning, very heavy folds, and the paper is now losing much of the body.
20 - Very Fine   The note is moderately circulated with numerous folds, mild soiling. There are no serious detractions but there may be minor defects. A note that is starting to show clear signs of circulation with obvious and numerous folds, worn and folded corners.
15 - Fine   This note may look like a 20 Very Fine note, that will have lost much of 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.
12 - Fine   The evidence of circulation is considerable with rounded corners, minor margin splits, frayed edges and other issues. The note must be whole with solid paper.
10 - Very Good   Nearly a Fine note, a solid, whole note, that exhibits some negative aspect keeping it from achieving a higher grade, such as heavier staining, many heavy folds, and an overall limp feel to the note.
8 - Very Good   The note is heavily circulated, with more tears, but is intact. Some small pieces may be missing. Soiling, light stains or splits are common for this grade. The note is limp.
6 - Good   A fully limp note that is very worn with heavy splits, fraying of the margins and damage and may even be missing some corner pieces. A center hole may be evident in this grade due to its heavy folding and circulation.
4 - Good   A very heavily circulated note with numerous problems. It is totally limp with impaired visual appeal. Multiple minor pieces will be missing, and splitting will be extensive and extend into the design. The note is completely limp and have negative eye appeal but will still be identifiable.
2 - Poor   Notes under this grade are generally not collectible unless the note is very rare. The note is hard to identify due to extensive circulation and abuse and may be missing half or more than a half of its body. Serves as a filler.
         

         
Information sources:
International Bank Note Society Membership Directory. June 1996 Edition.
For information how to join IBNS go to my page at:
http://www.banknotes.com/ibns.htm

"
Standard Catalogue of World Paper Money. Volume II - General Issues to 1960. Eighth Edition". By Albert
PICK, Colin R. Bruce II, Neil Shafer, George S. Cuhaj. Published by Krause Publications, Inc.


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