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What is an Uncirculated Coin?

The value of a coin depends on various factors, including content, quality, availability, and others. Understanding these diverse terminologies is crucial for collectors, investors, and enthusiasts alike to correctly access values in commercial transactions.

In the numismatic world, there are tons of words to describe the condition, finish, and rarity of coins. If you are a new collector or investor, you probably came across the term "uncirculated" and might have wondered its meaning.

In this article, we will explain what an uncirculated coin is and how that simple word can interfere with the coin's value, whether you are looking to add it to your coin collection or not.

What is an Uncirculated Coin?

An uncirculated coin is, in simple terms, an expression used to refer to a condition of never being circulated and, therefore, showing no, or very few signs of wear.

The term can often refer to coins that are in mint state condition (graded MS60+ in the Sheldon scale).

Sheldon Coin Grading Scale

Since the expression is used mainly to describe the coin's appearance/condition, it is possible for a coin to have circulated a little, but still show no signs of wear and still be classified as in mint state. Obviously, the more the coin has been passed around as pocket change, the less preserved it will be.

$20 Indian Head Eagle Obverse$20 Indian Head Eagle Reverse

For instance, a $20 Liberty Head Double Eagle coin in Brilliant Uncirculated condition will be slightly more expensive than the same coin with a lower grade.

Characteristics of an Uncirculated Coin

Since the name uncirculated is related to the condition of the coin, you might expect the coin to present unique features. Uncirculated coins will usually have a pristine condition, which means the coins will have no or very few signs of wear or damage and have their original mint luster preserved with sharp and well-defined details.

They will be produced like circulating coins, but usually look as if they have just come out of the coining press.

It goes without saying that uncirculated coins are legal tender money, but their main purpose is collecting rather than spending on your groceries.

The Sheldon Scale and its Impact on the Value of Coins

Uncirculated coins usually will be graded within the range of MS-60 and MS-70, according to the Sheldon Scale.

The grading purpose is to represent the coins' condition in a universal language. It will certify the coin's authenticity and state of preservation, which allows the general public to precise its value.

When it comes to collectible coins, the most common scenario is the better a coin's condition, the higher its price, regardless of its face value.

Uncirculated Adjectives

Within the coin-collecting community, there are non-official adjectives to describe the coin conditions, which are often used together with the numerical grading in the numismatics context.

Numeric Grade Equivalent Adjective
MS60, MS61, MS62 Uncirculated
MS63 Select or Choose Uncirculated
MS63, MS64 Choice Uncirculated
MS65, MS66 Gem Uncirculated
MS67, MS68, MS69 Superb Gem Uncirculated
MS70 Perfect Uncirculated

 

The sharper the design and the fewer blemish marks on the coin, the higher it will likely grade. Even though the coin is in uncirculated condition, it might show little scratches from being in contact with other coins inside bags used in transportation.

Besides the grades, the precious metal content will significantly impact the coin's value. Silver or gold coins will always be charged a few dollars above the spot price of the precious metal.

For example, as of February 2024, the spot price of silver fluctuates around $22.52. So, bullion dealers will charge a premium over that base price for graded silver eagles to cover business costs and still make a profit.

US Silver Eagle Graded MS70 by NGC - First Day of Issue

Differentiating Uncirculated Coins from Other Types

The uncirculated coins are considered uncirculated because of their condition and not purpose. Most of the modern coins are collected in uncirculated condition.

Regarding purpose, there are other denominations we give to coins. For example, other coin versions are proof coins and bullion coins.

Proof Coins are coins produced for coin collectors. During the minting process, they receive special treatment from the die form. They are struck at least twice and the dies are hand-polished to present a sharp and brilliant visual. But the most striking difference comes with the mirror-like effect, distinguishing them from their non-proof counterparts.

Learn more about what is a proof coin here.

They are often encased in a protective capsule in order to preserve their condition.

1986 1 oz US Gold Eagle Proof coin1986 1 oz US Gold Eagle BU

Gold American Eagle proof coin compared with its bullion counterpart.

Bullion coins, on the other hand, are coins made with the purpose of investment. They are made out of precious metals such as silver, gold, platinum, and palladium.

1 oz Platinum Coins

1 oz platinum coins

2021 1 oz American Palladium Eagle1 oz American Palladium Eagle Reverse

1 oz Canadian Palladium Maple Leaf Coin

Nevertheless, the term "bullion coin" is widely used to talk about coins that are made from precious metals for collecting and even investment purposes but do not receive the same special treatment as the proof version. So, they present a frost-like finish.

Check out our article on what a BU coin means.

Bullion Uncirculated Coins/Burnished Coins

The US Mint also uses the term "uncirculated" to refer to bullion coins that have gone through a special cleaning process called "burnishing." These coins are added to a centrifuge with some mild soaps to clean all oxides formed during the annealing and rimming process of the blanks. That results in a coin with a more satin look than regular bullion versions but without the matte effect from the proof coin dies.

The regular circulating coins usually enter the economy circulation by the Federal Reserve Bank through the local banks.

On the other hand, bullion coins, such as 1 oz American Silver Eagles, are sold to the public by authorized retail bullion dealers, such as SD Bullion.

Proof and Uncirculated coins are sold directly to the public by the United States Mint. However, due to their limited mintage, you will also find proof coins for sale at coin dealers.

Collecting and Investing in Uncirculated Coins

There is an undeniable value added to a precious metal content due to its composition. The precious metal present in the alloy will affect its price, along with its rarity and condition.

When it comes to value appreciation, circulated coins find it difficult to retain their value over time. Unless, of course, you buy them for coin-collecting purposes.

Proof coins and Uncirculated coins are great examples of value appreciation. Through time, they become less available, and their designs become part of history, usually capturing the spirit of a specific moment or celebration.

Final Thoughts

In this article we aimed to inform on the most important aspects a private investor should know about uncirculated coins. We went through the definition of the uncirculated nomenclature and the grading system and even compared different coin purposes.

Educating yourself on numismatic language can bring many benefits, like conscious purchasing and giving you confidence in transactions. It helps you negotiate deals more effectively, understand pricing structures, and be aware of the factors that contribute to a coin's value.

FAQs

How do you know if a coin is uncirculated?

Even though the most secure way of accessing a coin condition is through a professional grading system, in general, uncirculated coins will have no blemishes or wear signs. Some collectible uncirculated coins will be sold with a certificate of authenticity from the official mint, ensuring the condition and origin of the coins.

Are uncirculated coins worth anything?

In short, uncirculated coins are coins preserved in their mint state. A coin's condition will most likely interfere with its value overall besides its rarity and composition. Uncirculated coins made out of precious metals like gold and silver will cost a little more than the current spot price of gold and silver.

What is the point of uncirculated coins?

Uncirculated coins are produced for those who collect coins to be exchanged as gifts and others. Some individuals also view uncirculated coins as an investment. Over time, if the coin is well-preserved, it may appreciate in value, potentially providing a financial return for the collector.

Is it better to buy proof or uncirculated coins?

It depends. As a collectible or gift piece, the proof coin takes the lead because of this version's exceptional condition and mirror-like appearance and is produced in limited quantities, which makes them rarer. When the cost comes into play, bullion uncirculated coins tend to be cheaper because their production is simpler than the proof coins process and are a sensible option for those looking for a valuable coin at an affordable price. However, uncirculated versions of Pre-33 gold coins or of Constitutional silver coins can be worth thousands of dollars, even millions, for some extremely rare specimens.

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Mo Menezes
Mo Menezes
Researcher and Contributor

Murilo (Mo) Menezes is an attorney and tenured English professor. His passion for economics and coinage led him to the gold and silver industry where he writes in-depth articles about collectible coins; as well as coin news and investing articles...

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