|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.
To facilitate communication between sellers and
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
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.
Relating to Price
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
(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
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
Overall appearance is still on the desirable side.
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.
(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
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.
International Grading Terminology & Abbreviations
IC or EBC
translations of the abbreviations of the above
- Republique Francaise
NEUF - New
SUP - Superbe
TTB - Tres Tres Beau
TB - Tres Beau
B - Beau
TBC - Tres Bien Conserve
BC - Bien Conserve
- Bundesrepublik Deutschland
BFR - Bankfrisch
VZGL - Vorzüglich
SS - Sehr Schön
S - Schön
SG - Sehr Gur erhalten
G - Gut erhalten
GS - Gering erhalten Schlecht
- Republica Italiana
FdS - Fiore di Stampa
SPL - Spledido
BB - Bellissimo
MB - Molto Bello
B - Bello
M - Mediocre
NP - Nepriekaistingas
YP - Ypatingai Puikus
LP - Labai Puikus
P - Puikus
LG - Labai Geras
G - Geras
M - Menkas
UNC - Ongecirculeerd
PR - Prachtig
ZF - Zeer Frai (Zeer Mooi)
F - Fraai (Mooi)
ZG - Zeer Goed
G - Goed
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
|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
10 = UNC
9 = AU
8 = XF
7 = VF-XF
6 = VF
5 = F-VF
4 = F
3 = VG
2 = G
1 = FR
0 = PR
+ or - signs for more precise grades)