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How to grade a banknote

What it is done for

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 collector may well grade the same note differently on different occasions.

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.


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 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).

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.

Here are the common grades of the notes:

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. An uncirculated note will have its original, natural sheen.

AU-UNC: 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. Many collectors and dealers refer to such notes as AU-UNC.

About uncirculated: 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. Corners are not rounded.

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.

Please, refer to the TRADE chapter of my site to see the banknotes available for trade. All banknote conditions are shown in respect to the terms, specified above.

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