40 South River Road, Unit 51 • Bedford, NH 03110 • 1-866-PASSCO2 • 1-866-727-7262

Grading Standards - Manuscripts & Documents

The grading of historical documents has developed in a rather ad-hoc fashion over the past 100 years. Pioneer dealers, as a collective, were primarily responsible for setting out a standard of grading for their material. The application of these differing standards often served to confuse collectors and obfuscate the fact that there truly existed no actual Standard for the grading of historical documents. Rather, each dealer maintained his or her individual perspective on grading, leading the collector to ultimately decide if Fine had a technical meaning or if the item in question was just in Fine enough condition to own. This confusion still exists today.

The Manuscript Society, www.manuscript.org, is an organization dedicated to the collection, preservation, and publication of handwritten and typewritten historical, literary, and cultural documents. Originally founded in 1948 as the National Society of Autograph Collectors, The Manuscript Society is recognized today as one of America's most prestigious organizations for collectors of historical autographs and manuscripts. We at PASS-CO have adapted and modernized their grading criteria in order to make it relevant for today's collector of historical documents. We have not reinvented the wheel; we have made some modifications so as to more accurately reflect the contemporary standards and language used to describe autographs and documents.

The PASS-CO grading system or SCORE establishes a truly universal grading system of standards that will fairly and accurately represent the grade of each item relative to the generally accepted standards previously adopted by the autograph collecting fraternity.


PASS-CO Terminology

Poor (P)
An extremely worn document. Words and portions of the text may be partial or missing. May have complete fold separations, marked browning, brittleness, chipping, abrasions, foxing, stains, docketing, insect or vermin damage. Ink may be badly faded, making reading of some words or the entire text difficult. Pencil written text may be smudged or illegible in parts. Trimming may be present and large portions or fragments may be missing, affecting the text. Equivalent to MSS grade of Poor.

About Good (AG)
Well worn with marked browning, moderate brittleness or chipping. Folds may be broken or worn. There may be marked foxing, staining, insect or vermin damage, abrasions and/or fading of ink which may affect the legibility of words or text. Pencil written text may be smudged. Trimming may be present and large portions or fragments may be missing, minimally to moderately affecting the text. Equivalent to MSS grade of Fair.

Good (G)
May be well worn, a few words may be difficult to read. The following may be present, moderate browning, minor fold breaks, moderate generalized foxing, minor insect or vermin damage, staining, wear or abrasions. Moderate portions or fragments may be missing, may or may not affect the text. Pencil written text may be smudged. There may be moderate archival repairs and trimming, may or may not affect the text. Possible moderate fading of ink. Equivalent to MSS grade of Good.

Very Good (VG)
This item may show slight generalized defects, including foxing, insect or vermin damage, stains, wear, slight browning and/or abrasions. Folds may be weak and slightly worn. Minor trimming and the absence of very small fragments or portions may be present, may or may not affect the text. Minor archival repairs may be present. Ink may be slightly faded but text entirely legible. Pencil written text will be legible. Equivalent to MSS grade of Very Good.

Fine (F)
Overall a mostly attractive manuscript or document with sharp and clear wording and writing. May have slight localized defects minimally affecting the text, including foxing, stains, wear, abrasions, very slight browning, minimal archival repairs and/or minimal fading of ink. Equivalent to MSS grade of Fine.

Very Fine (VF)
Appearance is overall attractive, with sharp writing and with only minimal wear and minor folds. May have tiny stains or spot foxing present. If old rag paper, slight browning is acceptable. Restoration, if any, is done to archival/museum standards. Equivalent to MSS grade of Very Fine.

Extremely Fine (EF)
A manuscript or document approaching almost new in appearance, with almost no wear and only original folds that retain their crisp appearance. Ink or other accomplishment is dark and strong.

Original State (OS)
Absolutely new in appearance with no wear, possibly an original fold. All edges sharp and crisp. Ink or other accomplishment dark and strong. Reserved for only those manuscripts and documents that display outstanding condition and that would qualify as the best of the best. Some might refer to this as Choice. Close Equivalent to the MSS grade of Extra Fine.