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No single grading standard has yet evolved for the collecting of stocks and bonds. In general, certificate grading standards mirror those used by paper money collectors. Here are the terms I use for grading paper.
Be warned that dealers' definitions can and will differ. Many dealers will grade stocks and bonds one level higher than me.
Using my definitions, the grades of most stocks and bonds will cluster around the Fine and Very Fine categories. Unless a seller specifically argues to the contrary, you can generally assume certificates are in average condition. Fortunately, certificates in average condition are perfectly acceptable for most collectors.
Also be warned of the phrase, "average condition for the issue." The average condition of some issues, particularly early Cuban certificates, can be downright awful. Because of storage conditions, average certificates of some issues will include discoloration and water staining. The average condition of some issue may actually mean heavy cancellation. If ever in doubt about condition, ask your seller to explain and send you a copy.
Here are my grading standards. Other dealers and collectors may use different standards. Before spending a lot of money, be sure you understand the seller's system.
Mint = ???
I NEVER use this term for paper. With deference to experts in other hobbies, I argue that paper is printed. Paper is not minted!
UNC = uncirculated
I seldom use this term for stocks and bonds. Virtually all stocks and bonds, upon close examination, show handling marks. Truly uncirculated documents are still in printing plants.
XF = extra fine
Documents are much better than average. There are no tears or water stains. This is generally the highest grade I use for any stock certificate. Paper is bright with original body. Proofs in this category may show a few pencils or crayon marks, but the paper will be better than average.
VF = very fine
Documents are better than average, but not perfect. There may two or three light folds. This is generally the highest grade I use for bonds, because most bonds were folded in quarters. There may be minimal cancellations that affects signatures, but not the paper. Paper is generally bright, but may show minimal aging. Older certificates may show halos around ink signatures, but the paper will be intact.
F = fine
Average documents with average problems. Documents are intact, but may have average creases, handling marks, tiny edge tears. Cancellations will be typical for the issue and may include punches, punch-out cancels, cut cancels, and cut-out cancels. There may be one or two staple holes. The document may be fastened to a stub with staple, glue, or paste. Average certificates may also have been removed from stubs, and may show staining from the old glue. The paper, however, should show only minor wrinkling from removal. DO NOT BUY anything in this condition if you are unwilling to accept average problems.
VG = very good
Documents have more problems than normal. They show definite wear. Originally-folded documents may show minor separations along original folds. There may be water stains. Pulp paper may show yellowing or brittleness. Cancellations will be heavier than average for the issue.
G = good
Documents are intact, but beat up. There may be significant acidic paper deterioration in paper with high pulp content. Do not collect documents in this condition except as space fillers.
FR = fair
Documents are heavily worn. There may be large tears or bad acidic paper deterioration. There may be pieces missing. Collect items in this condition only if they have significant historical or collectible interest.
PR = poor
Documents have serious problems. They are barely above rag status. Buy with extreme caution. Items in this condition are space fillers only. They are likely to have minimal resale value.
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