I will continue to use the nomenclature and descriptive terms used by Bill McKivor, both because I think they're easiest to understand in translation from the UK to the US, and also because I've grown accustomed to his method from being a customer of his for years. However, I prefer not to use descriptive modifiers that I find to be subjective, such as "nice", or "super". I also don't often use a + or - after a grade (VF+), which I also find to be subjective. My grades will stay a simple VF, EF, AU, or UNC. I will comment on color, surface quality, lustre (cartwheel effect, not reflection), die condition, etc.
However, Bill's quarterly newsletters lacked photographs, so as a customer you were entirely reliant on his grading and his experience. As we all know, Bill is as trustworthy a fellow as you can find and rarely would a token disappoint based on his grading descriptions.
As for my own grading, I will admit that although grading is subjective, I haven't been in the game as long as Bill has. I've done my best to grade cautiously and honestly, but I also have something that will greatly help all of us. MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY!
I used to photograph wildflowers and mushrooms and I have a Nikon 105mm macro lens that I've found with proper lighting, works excellently for tokens. Thus, through much experimentation and trial and error, I am able to give you highly detailed photographs of each token for sale. I have tried to show them as 'True' as possible. What they actually look like and not what I want them to look like. This allows you to form your own opinion on the photo-grade of the piece.
General Information — The English grading system is used on all tokens, but the grading abbreviations are USA. A British EF is an American AU, and can be a token with slight rub or as good as MS62. Complete list of American/British differences sent on request.
Grading — everything you read tells you how "subjective" grading is. And it is. There are some things that are not subjective, and that is actual WEAR. Consider the following:
UNC — Uncirculated. The coin or token has NO rub. No where. No how. It can be a gem, with wonderful luster and no marks, or a token with nicks and a rim cut, spots and marks — but NO RUB.
AU — or "Almost Uncirculated". In the English grading system, this does not exist. However, even the British have started to use the term. I use it when the piece involved is essentially uncirculated, but has a tiny bit of rub on the highest point of the coin or token, usually caused by a sliding coin cabinet drawer many years ago, or by slight mishandling. The piece can be beautiful, or scruffy — but the wear should show only on one or two high spots, not on the whole piece.
EF — or Extra Fine. In the English grading system, this indicates very light rub over more than one high point — it can be over the high points on both sides, but quite light. The piece circulated, but not too much. Detail is still wonderful. This condition is usually considered AU by American graders. Once again, this refers to rub — not eye appeal.
VF — or Very Fine. In the English grading system, the coin or token is beginning to show flatness, but still retains much of the detail. It is very much the average circulated piece.
F — or Fine. The piece exhibits much wear — most of the detail is flat, but all letters and devices are readable.
VG — or Very Good. The piece exhibits much wear — not only is the detail flat, but some of the detail may be missing entirely. The legends have not yet worn into the edge of the rims, however.
G — or Good. Worn to the point where the lettering around the rims may have begun to wear into the rim, and the detail is indistinct.
FAIR. Identifiable, and often not much more. The piece will have much detail missing.
EYE APPEAL. Coins and tokens are graded as above — then priced for their eye appeal. Items that affect eye appeal are color, luster, nice surfaces, and sharpness of strike on the high end — and marks, scratches, stains, corrosion spots, weak strikes, rim dents, and other problems on the low end.
A piece with high eye appeal will sell for the top dollar in its grade range — and a piece with low eye appeal will sell for less money than average in the grade range. This is where subjectivity comes in — many can grade, but what appeals to one person does not always appeal to another. Wear alone does not fix the value of a piece, and should not. My attempt is to describe tokens and coins in such a manner that most problems are mentioned, and the price is fair for the piece being sold.
Courtesy of Bill McKivor