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Sheldon Rarity Scale – What Does It Mean and What Does It Do?

The Sheldon Rarity scale provides collectors with an insight into surviving coin populations. Image: Stack's Bowers / Adobe Stock / CoinWeek.
The Sheldon Rarity scale provides collectors with an insight into surviving coin populations. Left: 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle (R-6, but R-9 in private hands). Rights: 2015 Lincoln cent. R-1.  Image: Stack’s Bowers / Adobe Stock / CoinWeek.

The Sheldon Rarity Scale is a nine-point rarity scale devised by Large Cent enthusiast William H. Sheldon. The scale works in descending order (coins permanently impounded in institutional collections are not included). Later modifications to the scale instituted a plus sign (+) to indicate that the estimated number of survivors was on the lower end of the spread.

The Sheldon Rarity Scale is useful shorthand for collectors of scarce vintage coins – particularly vintage coins with collectible die varieties. But it is lacking when it comes to modern material, where coins like the 1909-S V.D.B. cent are key dates for the series but qualify as R-1, along with other much more plentiful dates.

The scale is as follows:

  • R-9: Unique
  • R-8: 2 or 3 Known Examples
  • R-7: 4-12 Known Examples
  • R-6: 13-30 Known Examples
  • R-5: 31-75 Known Examples
  • R-4: 76-200 Known Examples
  • R-3: 201-500 Known Examples
  • R-2: 501-1,250 Known Examples
  • R-1 Over 1,250 Known Examples

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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