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What Does BU Mean? What is a BU Coin (Gold or Silver)?

If you have been shopping for precious metal bullion coins, you may have come across the acronym "BU". In this article, we will explain the meaning of that term in the bullion and precious metals industry.

What Does BU Mean in Coins?

BU stands for ‘brilliant uncirculated', meaning a coin has never been in circulation and retains almost all of its original mint luster from its initial strike.

Brilliant uncirculated (BU) coins are typically stored after minting and have not been heavily handled. Coin collectors and coin dealers often abbreviate the ‘brilliant uncirculated' term, referring to them as BU coins.

If shipping and storage are done correctly, the designs of brilliant uncirculated coins should remain in sharp relief. Even if they are several decades or even centuries old, if stored with the correct coin accessories, brilliant uncirculated coins should retain both their shine and form as when they were initially struck.

Thus, it is improbable you will be able to find a brilliant uncirculated coin in your pocket change.

Here at SD Bullion, you can find dozens of examples of BU coins in our inventory available for purchase in our silver coins and gold coins inventories.

Are All Bullion Coins BU (Brilliant uncirculated coins)?

2023 Gold Coins Released

Technically speaking, every coin leaving the mint immediately after production is considered "uncirculated." That includes both circulating coins (such as half-dollars, quarters, and even pennies), but also bullion coins, (e.g. Gold and Silver Eagles, Maple Leafs, Krugerrands, etc).

However, unlike circulating coins, bullion coins are primarily produced for investment. Therefore they will most likely not circulate in regular commerce, retaining their original "uncirculated" condition.

Bullion coins retaining their original mint luster, eye appeal, and complete sharp design would be considered Brilliant Uncirculated (BU coin). BU coins will usually be worth more than regular coins.

What Coin Grades are brilliant uncirculated coins?

Graded Silver Eagle

Graded Silver Eagles

Obtaining a perfect or near-perfect uncirculated bullion coin could be done by purchasing coins graded by a grading company—only a select few bullion coins grade out at a perfect MS70.

Gem Brilliant Uncirculated and Superb BU Coins represent specialized subcategories within the BU Coins classification. They are designated for coins that exhibit a remarkable level of luster, giving the impression of being freshly minted with no apparent signs of wear.

These coins typically feature an above-average strike quality. According to the Sheldon Scale, Gem BU coins are usually graded around 65 or 66, while Superb BU coins fall between 67 to the highest grade of 70.

Sheldon Grading Scale

Sheldon Scale Coin Grading Chart

Are BU coins better?

3rd-party professional grading services like NGC or PCGS carefully appraise coins and certify them according to the Sheldon Scale. This is because as coins are minted, processed, and transited, they can pick up small knicks, scratches, bag marks (as a result of one coin having come into contact with others inside a mint bag), or blemishes. This is normal and will be more common in older circulating coins.

For investors looking for bullion BU coins specifically, they should only purchase the "current" year of the coin they want to buy. This will give them the greatest possibility of getting BU bullion coins delivered to them. For these investors, we created our MintCertified™ Program.

Difference between Proof coins, BU, and Bullion:

In the numismatic field, there are a lot of terms that can be easily mixed up.

Below, you can find further insights on Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) coins, the process of producing them, and what their differentiation entails. In the following short video clip, the world's oldest sovereign government mint, the British Royal Mint, further explains some key differences between simple bullion coins, proof coins, and BU condition coins.

See below the definitions provided by the U.S. Mint itself to describe coins produced there.

Bullion Coins:

American Gold Eagle Obverse

American Gold Eagle Coins

Bullion coins are made of precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum and are intended to be sold to investors. Though they often carry a face value, their price relies mainly on the weight of the noble metal content (i.e. intrinsic value), which is much higher than its denomination. The price of precious metals fluctuates at a daily rate.

These coins are struck by government mints, but they aren't sold directly to the public. They are purchased by allowed buyers (e.g. a coin dealer company or a precious metal wholesale and/or retailer).

Proof Coins:

American Gold Eagle Proof Coin Obverse

American Gold Eagle Proof Coins

The term "proof" refers to the coin's finish. They are also made of precious metals just like bullion coins, but proof blanks receive special treatment. They are hand-polished and cleaned to produce high-quality strikes.

The blanks are then fed into presses fitted with polished dies and struck at least twice. After that, they are carefully packaged to showcase and maintain their exceptional finish.

A proof coin is struck multiple times with specially polished dies, proof coins showcase mirror-like surfaces with highly detailed design elements.

Precisely because proof coins receive this special treatment, their premiums tend to be higher than regular bullion coins. They are also usually struck in lower mintage and directed at collectors.

Burnished Uncirculated Coins:

They are produced just like ordinary currency, but they go through a process called "burnishing" where the blanks are cleaned up with mild soaps and other cleaning agents to remove oxides that are formed during the annealing process.

Circulating Coins:

As the denomination suggests, they're regular coins produced for everyday transactions, including pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollars.

The US Mint typically offers them in rolls, coin bags, or coin boxes and does not include Certificates of Authenticity.

1943-D Bronze Penny
PCGS estimates the value of a 1943-D Lincoln Wheat Penny (Bronze/Copper Variety) at $1,050,000 for a specimen in MS64 condition.

Some old circulated coins can become quite rare coins over time due to their scarcity over time.

So, for many coins, the numismatic value adds more value than necessarily its precious metal content. A very rare coin that many collectors search for could fetch more, even in average condition, than a more common coin in mint state.

Common misconceptions

The most common misconception about the acronym BU is that it means beautiful uncirculated. However, the particular grade of "Beautiful uncirculated" coins does not exist.

In certain instances, the BU acronym can simply mean a coin graded between 60-70 on the Sheldon Scale.

Occasionally, when it doesn't make economic sense to invest in official coin grading, unethical sellers may improperly employ BU as a blanket term for the coin grading or as a replacement for "Mint State." just to sell a coin.

Rather than providing comprehensive coin specifics, BU might serve as a convenient shorthand for Mint State, implying incorrectly that the coin maintains a similar condition as it did when first minted.

Final thoughts

In summary, BU coins are prized for their pristine condition and original mint luster. These coins, never having been in circulation, are highly sought after by collectors and investors alike, offering a great option for those looking to acquire high-quality numismatic treasures in the world of precious metals.

FAQs

What is coin grading?

Coin grading is a service provided by companies such as PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) or NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Company) that evaluates a coin's condition (including shine and relief form), historical and collectible value, and attributes an average price for that specimen according to a grading scale. It is an essential aspect of the numismatic community.

If you want to find out more, you can read our article on how to get a coin graded.

What is the Sheldon Scale?

The Sheldon Coin Grading Scale is the standard coin grading system in the United States. Dr. William Sheldon developed it back in 1949. It uses a 70-point scale to grade coins, aligned with adjectival grade abbreviations to indicate the coin's condition, ranging from MS-70 (Mint State) to AG-1 (About Good). Most third-party grading services use it to evaluate coins.

Are BU coins better?

When it comes to coin collecting, the better the coin's condition, the more valuable it will be to a collector or investor. Thus, it is safe to assume that a mint state coin in Brilliant Uncirculated condition, with most of the original luster intact, will be able to fetch higher prices when reselling than other coins showing imperfections and traces of wear.

Purchase BU coins at SD Bullion

If you are looking to buy BU coins at the lowest prices over the spot, check out the products we have available for you.

You will find the essential bullion coin programs to add to your collection, such as the American Gold Eagle and American Silver Eagle coins, along with other products from the most prestigious mints among investors worldwide.

If you need any assistance, talk to us at 1(800)294-8732 or message us at sales@sdbullion.com. 

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James Anderson
James Anderson
Senior Market Analyst & Content

A bullion buyer years before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, James Anderson is a grounded precious metals researcher, content creator, and physical investment grade bullion professional. He has authored several Gold & Silver Guides and has been featured on the History Channel, Zero Hedge, Gold-Eagle, Silver Seek, Value Walk and many more. You can pick up Jame's most recent, comprehensive 200+ Page book here at SD Bullion.

Given that repressed commodity values are now near 100-year low level valuations versus large US stocks, James remains convinced investors and savers should buy and maintain a prudent physical bullion position now, before more unfunded promises debase away in the coming decades...

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