Cracking the Code: Understanding PCGS Abbreviations on Coin Holders

Cracking the Code: Deciphering PCGS Abbreviations on Coin Holders

Cracking the Code: Understanding PCGS Abbreviations on Coin Holders

The world of coin collecting can be an exciting adventure filled with unique historical artifacts. But just like any treasure hunt, there can be hidden challenges. Fortunately, the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) exists to help collectors navigate the exciting – and sometimes confusing – world of coins. Founded in 1986, PCGS has become the industry standard for coin authentication and grading. On their coin holders, PCGS uses a variety of abbreviations to convey important details about the encapsulated coins. Understanding these acronyms can be the key to unlocking a wealth of knowledge about your collection.

This brief guide is intended to provide you with the tools to decipher these PCGS abbreviations and make informed decisions about your valuable coins. We embark on a journey of discovery, starting with the basic distinctions between types of minting: Uncirculated (MS), Proof (PR) and Specimen (SP).

Demystifying PCGS Holders: A Look at the Mint Types (MS, PR, SP)

The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) uses abbreviations on its coin holders to communicate important details about the coin. Let’s focus on “types of minting”, especially Uncirculated (MS), Proof (PR) and Specimen (SP). Understanding these differences is crucial for both collectors and investors.

Brilliant Uncirculated (MS):

Grading: MS-60 to MS-70

Meaning: Refers to a circulation coin, i.e. it was intended for circulation in trade.

Graduation scale:

MS-60: Exhibits numerous contact marks and imperfections.

MS-70: A nearly flawless example with exceptional detail and minimal wear.


Equatorial Guinea – 1993 – 30 000 Francs – Protection of the African Elephant – 1oz Gold – PCGS MS68

Grading with MS-68 => Despite a slight weakness in the die strike, which is reflected in some tiny, barely noticeable imperfections, the coin retains its exceptional quality.

Chile – 100 Pesos – ND (1932-1980)-SO – Pattern – 18.3g Gold – Trial Planchet – PCGS MS62

Grading with MS62 => This coin shows no signs of circulation, but the strike detail is average or below average, and there are numerous surface marks and hairline tears.

Proof (PR):

Meaning: A coin minted with specially made dies and plates. Proof coins are embossed with multiple strokes at a lower speed, resulting in sharper details.

Features: Often feature a “mirror-like” finish and a “frosted” design.

PCGS recognition: Applies to proofs from 1817 onwards.

Example: Swaziland – 1968 – 1 Lilangeni – Sobhuza II – Independence Issue – 1oz Gold Proof – PCGS PR68 DCAM

Grading with PR-68 => Despite a slight weakness in the die strike, which is reflected in some tiny, barely noticeable imperfections, the coin retains its exceptional quality.

Specimen (SP):

Meaning: Special coins produced by the mint between 1792 and 1816 that bear similarities to later proofs.

Distinguishing features:

Absence of the “milky-cloudy” surfaces (“watery surfaces”) of later polished plates.

The striking effect may not be as uniform as on coins struck with close collars.


Bophuthatswana – 1977 – The Birth of a Nation – Gold Medal – PCGS SP65

South Africa – 1981 – 20 Years of Republic – Jan van Riebeeck – 1oz Gold – PCGS SP69

By understanding these mintage designations (Uncirculated, Proof, Specimen), you can better interpret the information on PCGS holders and make informed decisions about your coin collection.


PCGS additional designations (Cameo, Deep Cameo, Prooflike, First Strike, etc.)

In addition to grading, PCGS uses additional designations to identify special features of a coin series.

Cameo Designation

For a coin to be called a “Cameo,” both the front (obverse) and the back (reverse) must have a frosted appearance on their raised design elements (motif). This matting creates a clear contrast to the smoother background areas (fields) of the coin. The level of matting may vary, with some areas possibly being less matted or even slightly shiny. Interestingly, a coin can qualify as a “cameo” even if one side has a deeper matting (“deep cameo”) while the other side shows regular “cameo” matting.

Deep Cameo Designation

The prestigious designation “Deep Cameo” is given to coins with a particularly stunning effect. Both the front (obverse) and the back (reverse) of the coin feature a strong matting on the raised design elements (motif). This matting creates a dramatic contrast to the smoother background areas (fields). Imagine a coin where every fine detail and line stands out and almost seems to glow against a matte background. For a coin to qualify for “Deep Cameo,” no significant areas of the main motifs may be unmatted.


Mexico – 2023 – Libertad – Gold Coin Proof 1 oz – PCGS PR70 Deep Cameo

Venezuela – 1990 – 5000 Bolivares – 200 years of José Antonio Páez – Gold – PCGS PR69 Deep Cameo 48052477

Mexico – 2016 – Libertad – Gold Coin 1 oz Proof – PCGS PR68 Deep Cameo


Special features of Prooflike coins (PL)

Although Prooflike coins can be stunning, they are not true proof coins. Here are the key differences:

Origin : Prooflike coins are created when a planchet (unprocessed coin blank) is minted using new or polished dies. This creates a mirror-like surface, similar to real polished plates.

Embossing process : Unlike proof coins, which are specially treated, prooflike circulation coins only go through the standard minting process. You will not receive any further special treatment.

Frequency : Prooflike coins are uncommon, but they are more common in some series. For example, there are many Morgan Dollars with prooflike properties.

Frosted Devices : In rare cases, early Prooflike coins may feature “frosted motifs” (raised design elements with a matte surface). These specimens are particularly valuable.

Grading of Prooflike coins

PCGS uses specific criteria to designate a coin as “Prooflike” (PL). The following is taken into account:

Reflectivity : Both sides of the coin must show clear reflections from a distance of 5 to 10 cm. Cloudiness or streaks can affect this.

Requirements : Originally, only certain Morgan Dollars were classified as Prooflike. However, since July 2019, PCGS has assigned the “PL” designation to any eligible uncirculated coin (US or foreign), medal, and token.

The PCGS First Strike Program

The PCGS First Strike program brings new momentum to modern coin collecting. Coins certified as “First Strike” by PCGS were issued within the first 30 days of being issued by the Mint. This designation increases the value of modern coins and creates an element of exclusivity given the numerous new releases each year.

Example: Mexico – 2020 – Libertad – Gold Coin 1 oz – First Strike – PCGS MS70

Why your coin may not receive a regular grading: PCGS Problem Codes Decoded – “UNC Details”

Although PCGS strives to assign numerical grades (such as MS-65 or PR-70) to coins in pristine condition, some coins may contain imperfections that prevent standard grading. To help collectors understand these issues, PCGS uses problem codes that are placed above the barcode on the coin holders. Let’s take a look at some of the most common problem codes:

  • Trimmed edges (code 82): This means that the edge of the coin has been worked by filing, possibly to remove imperfections or change the weight.
  • Questionable coloration (Code 91): This code indicates that the coin’s natural coloration was probably created artificially. This could involve dipping a copper coin to achieve a more desirable shade.
  • Severe cleaning or polishing (Code 92): Aggressive cleaning methods that damage the surface of the coin can result in this code.
  • Planchette Error (Code 93): This indicates a significant error or imperfection on the blank metal plate (planchette) before the coin was minted.
  • Altered surfaces (code 94): This code applies to coins that have been treated with foreign substances such as wax, filler or varnish.
  • Large Scratch (Code 95): This indicates the presence of severe scratches that affect the overall appearance of the coin.
  • Environmental (Code 97): Corrosion, excessive tinting (coloration), or the presence of verdigris (a green copper deposit) can trigger this code.
  • Metal Movement (Code 98): This code indicates damage caused by the movement of metal within the coin itself.

By understanding these common problem codes, you can gain valuable insight into the condition of a “UNC Details” coin and make informed decisions about its value.

Example: Brazil – 1972 – 300 Cruzeiros – 150 years of independence – 16.65g gold – PCGS UNC

PCGS signature labels

PCGS signature labels make certified coins unique collector’s items. These labels bear handwritten inscriptions from prominent figures such as John Mercanti, giving them historical significance and a personal touch. Owning a coin signed by a renowned expert creates a personal connection to the world of numismatics and makes it very special.

Conclusion: Demystify your coin collection – knowledge is at your feet

By uncovering the secrets behind PCGS abbreviations and designations, you will gain a deeper understanding of the fascinating world of coin collecting. From deciphering mintage types to recognizing the meaning of cameo and deep cameo designations, you’ll be well equipped to interpret the information on PCGS holders and decipher the stories these coins tell.

Remember that even seemingly insignificant details like problem codes can significantly affect the value of a coin. With the knowledge you have gained here, you can make informed decisions when building or expanding your collection. So the next time you come across a PCGS mount, don’t be intimidated by the acronyms – instead, see them as a gateway to a deeper understanding of your prized coins!

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