How to Grade Silver Dollars: 5 Tips For Coin Collectors

Posted - December 26, 2023
How to Grade Silver Dollars: 5 Tips For Coin Collectors

If you’re an avid coin collector, you probably already know the basics of how silver dollars are graded. Long story short, coin grading allows investors and collectors to assign a standardized value to represent the condition of a numismatic coin. While there are several different coin grading systems out there, most numismatists use a version of the Sheldon system. 

Under the Sheldon system, silver dollars are assigned a number from 1 to 70, with 70 being the highest possible grade and 1 being the lowest. Circulated coins with a grade of MS70 are extremely hard to find, as collectors would have needed to keep these coins in peak condition for decades in order to receive this grade for their silver dollars. 

But even for seasoned collectors, understanding how to grade silver dollars can be complicated. After all, most of us aren’t professional numismatists. 

In today’s Bullion Academy blog, we’re walking readers through everything they need to know about how to grade silver dollars. Have you ever wondered how to grade silver dollars from home? Keep reading! 

How Does Coin Grading Work? 

Like we mentioned, most professionals use the Sheldon grading scale. This scale assigns coins a value from 1-70 and is considered by most to be the industry standard.

Before we get into how to grade silver dollars for yourself, we should take a moment to explain how coin grading works. Coin graders, often referred to as numismatists, specialize in evaluating circulated coins to see how well their condition has been maintained over time. 

Several factors contribute to a coin’s condition or grade. A silver dollar’s luster, the presence of imperfections, and general circulated qualities all play a role into the grade a silver dollar will receive upon professional evaluation. 

Why is Condition Important For Silver Dollars?

Investors interested in learning how to grade silver dollars should understand why the condition of a silver dollar is so important. Simply put, the grade assigned to your coin impacts its value to collectors. 

Just because a coin receives a low grade does not mean that it’s worthless. Especially for extraordinarily rare silver dollars, condition is only one factor in its overall numismatic value. Certain coins from low mintage years have sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auction, even though they’re not in “perfect” condition. 

How to Grade Silver Dollars From Home

It’s actually possible to learn how to grade silver dollars at home. Before we get into some tips for how to grade silver dollars, we’ll take a look at some online resources that can help you grade silver dollars without ever leaving the comfort of your home. 

Online Resources for Coin Collectors

We recommend that silver dollar collectors rely on two main online resources as they learn how to grade silver dollars. Although we generally think that investors with expensive or rare silver dollars should submit their coins for professional grading, it is possible to reliably grade coins at home – if you’re willing to do a bit of research. 

Morgan Silver Dollar Coin - 1878-1904 BU
BU Morgan Silver Dollar Coin

Coin Value Guides 

Coin value guides from prominent coin grading organizations can be one of the most helpful online tools for collectors. Value guides provide investors with several pieces of information that can help them better understand the relative condition of their silver dollars. 

A silver dollar’s mintage figures, examples of extraordinarily perfect specimens, and even pictures of heavily circulated coins can help you learn how to grade coins from home reliably. 

These value guides shouldn’t be the only thing you need to know about as you develop the tools to learn at-home coin grading. We recommend relying on the opinions of seasoned coin grading professionals, especially if you’re holding onto rare and valuable silver dollars. 

Professional Coin Grading Services PhotoGrade

For decades, Professional Coin Grading Services has been one of the most reputable commercial coin graders on the market. With the advent of modern technology, the company has released a number of tools that make it easier than ever for you to learn how to grade silver dollars from home. 

One such example is the PCGS Photograde page. This website allows you to filter through high-definition photographs of silver dollars with different grades. By comparing your coins to these specimens, you can get a pretty good idea of what condition your own silver dollars are in. 

Like we mentioned above, these online tools aren’t the only thing you should lean on as you explore how to grade silver dollars. Ultimately, rare coins can be worth thousands of dollars or more. The last thing you want is to leave money on the table by inaccurately labeling the condition of your collectable coins.  

5 Tips – How to Grade Silver Dollars

Now that we’ve explored some online tools that can help you grade coins from home, let’s take a look at Hero Bullion’s list of 5 tips for grading silver dollars. Keeping your silver dollars secure and safe, comparing your coins to existing examples, using value guides to determine rarity, avoiding overcleaning, and considering professional coin grading services are five tips you can use to learn how to grade silver dollars accurately. 

1: Keep Your Silver Dollars Safe and Secure 

Keeping your coins in a safe and secure place is the first thing you should do as a silver dollar collector. Silver dollars are rarely kept in uncirculated condition. For the most part, we collectors deal primarily in coins that have been circulated in the economy for decades or longer. 

We don’t recommend throwing your silver dollars in a drawer with other coins. Instead, consider keeping your coins secure by having them professionally graded and repackaged. Many of the silver dollars we sell are shipped in protective cases and sleeves, which can help you maintain the condition of your silver dollars for years to come. 

2: Compare Silver Dollars to Existing Specimens 

We already discussed the revolutionary PCGS PhotoGrade tool earlier in this guide. But even if you don’t use that particular website, we recommend comparing your silver dollars to pictures of other specimens you find online. Because coin grading is standardized under the Sheldon scale, you can reliably determine the approximate condition of your coin by seeing how it stacks up to other online examples. 

If you’re able to physically view coins in peak condition, that’s even better. We highly recommend that silver dollar collectors take a look at actual coins that have sold at auction to get a better idea of what each grade looks like in person. 

Peace Silver Dollar Coin - VG Reverse
Peace Silver Dollar Coin – VG Condition

3: Use Value Guides to Determine Silver Dollar Rarities 

Mintage figures aren’t necessarily part of a coin’s condition, but we figured we’d include this tip in our guide on how to grade silver dollars. If you’re going through the effort of assigning a standardized condition to your silver dollars, you’ll likely want to sell them at some point. 

When it comes to the value of a silver dollar, both rarity and condition are important. The lower the mintage figures are for a given silver dollar, the higher its price will likely be at auction. If you’re planning on collecting silver dollars to sell, understanding the rarity and historical auction sale figures for your coin is extremely important. 

4: Avoid Overcleaning Silver Dollars

Sometimes, investors try to clean their coins in order to make them appear to be in better condition than they are. While it is possible to clean silver dollars, we recommend that new investors exercise caution when doing anything to their collectable coins.

If you aren’t careful, improperly cleaning your silver dollars can ruin them. When you scrub a circulated silver dollar with certain materials, you create tiny ‘scratches’ all over the face of the coin. Every year, investors destroy the value of their silver dollars by failing to take care of them during the cleaning process. 

If you absolutely must clean your coin, we’d highly recommend working with a professional numismatist or restoration company. The problem isn’t just the creation of microscopic scratches on the faces of your silver dollars. Cleaning your coins using rough, abrasive tools can also destroy the “luster,” a characteristic shine used to quantify the condition of a circulated silver dollar. 

Overall, investors learning how to grade silver dollars should be extremely careful when trying to clean their coins at home. Certain silver dollars aren’t just beautiful – they’re valuable. Rare editions of the Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. 

2023 Morgan & Peace Silver Dollar Set PCGS MS70
2023 Morgan and Peace Set – MS70

Don’t make the mistake some careless coin collectors have made. Be careful cleaning your coins, and always do your research! 

5: Consider Professional Grading Services

We’ll end our guide on how to grade silver dollars with an important tip. If you’re someone who wants to know the precise condition – and value – of your silver dollars, consider working directly with a professional coin grading service. 

There are many of these services online, and you can use consumer reviews to determine which service is right for you. Especially in 2023, some coin grading services are very affordable. When you have your coins graded at a company like PCGS, they usually ship your coin back to you inside of a certification case. 

This case won’t just describe the condition of your coin. Over time, this protective case can be your silver dollar’s protector against all sorts of damage. When you’re ready to sell a silver dollar, most buyers will want to see its certification information. Having a silver dollar professionally grade is a great way to secure your investment – and to help you sell it somewhere down the road. 

Why Should You Grade Your Silver Dollars? 

Why should you grade silver dollars? There are several reasons why someone would want to know how to grade silver dollars. To us, the most important reason has to do with money. When you go to sell your silver dollars, the first question you’ll get from most buyers is: what condition is the coin in? 

Having your silver dollars professionally graded can give you a better idea of how much it might be worth. When you go to check out auction results and historical price trends on your favorite silver dollars, you’ll need to know the condition of your coin. 

To see how this works, take a look at the PCGS value guide for any popular silver dollar. What you’ll find is that the value of a coin can vary significantly depending on its grade. Coins in the highest grade (MS70) are sometimes worth several times more than coins in average condition. 

Whether you learn how to grade silver dollars at home or defer to the experience of a professional to determine your coin’s condition, knowing the grade of your silver dollar is the single most important thing you can do if you plan to sell them in the future. 

Estimating Coin Values 

Ultimately, knowing how to grade silver dollars is the best way to determine the value of your coins. If you don’t know what grade your silver dollar is in, you’ll have trouble figuring out how much it’s worth on the open market. 

How much is a silver dollar worth? This depends on multiple factors, including the coin’s grade, rarity, and silver content. Some silver dollars are worth almost nothing more than their silver melt value, while others are worth tens of thousands of dollars. 

Before you learn how to grade silver dollars at home, we recommend taking a look at some of the online resources available to you. Blogs like the Bullion Academy, as well as tools like the PhotoGrade by PCGS, can help you stay up to date on how your coin stacks up to the world’s most perfect specimens. 

Final Thoughts: 5 Tips For How to Grade Silver Dollars

As you continue to build your silver stack, we’re happy to help you learn how to grade silver dollars. Collecting silver dollars is a fantastic way to diversify your portfolio with numismatic silver bullion. We’re excited to offer a full line of silver dollars at reasonable prices to help you collect silver coins with confidence. 

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About The Author

Michael Roets is a writer and journalist for Hero Bullion. His work explores precious metals news, guides, and commentary.