What Is a Brilliant Uncirculated Coin (BU Coin)? Beginner's Guide
Brilliant Uncirculated coins (often abbreviated “BU coins”) are generally understood to be coins that are in mint state and exhibit brilliant surfaces.
There is a great deal of ambiguity and confusion, however, around the term “Brilliant Uncirculated." This article will disentangle the mess that surrounds this sometimes problematic phrase in numismatics.
Most American Silver Eagle coins are considered Brilliant Uncirculated, as they are not intended to circulate as money.
The Confusion Surrounding "Brilliant Uncirculated" Coins
The main source of confusion surrounding coins with the modifier “Brilliant Uncirculated” is the fact that this phrase can refer to two different things:
- The condition of the coin, in the sense of "uncirculated"
- The finish on the coin, in contrast to a "proof coin"
The second usage is a fairly modern invention. It is used to distinguish a BU coin from other types of coin finishes, such as proof and reverse proof. (We discuss these other types of coins in companion articles. Find links at the bottom of the page.) Basically, this sense of the phrase "Brilliant Uncirculated" only tells us about the techniques used when the coin was minted.
The first sense of BU is the more original meaning of the term. It describes the actual state of preservation of the coin. Even though "BU" is thrown around as a descriptor quite frequently, such as in coin auction listings, it is meant to be reserved for mint state coins that have most or all of their original luster.
One similarity is that both uses or senses of the phrase tell us something about the appearance and eye appeal of the coin. But oftentimes the term “Brilliant Uncirculated” is simply a misleading marketing buzzword.
How to Use "Brilliant Uncirculated" Correctly
The common usage for a word or phrase may not always align with its technical meaning. In these cases, it could be called a term of art. This appears to have happened with Brilliant Uncirculated coins.
A pile of Brilliant Uncirculated American Silver Eagles.
It may not always be obvious from the context what an author or speaker intends to mean when they refer to a coin as “BU.” To avoid any confusion, it’s probably best to only use “BU” to describe the type of coin—the second sense that we defined in the section above. BU coins have a particularly shiny, brilliant finish. Leave it at that.
Moreover, there are perfectly good synonyms you can use to describe the condition of a coin, such as “mint state.” This will eliminate any potential misunderstanding about what “Brilliant Uncirculated” attempts to convey.
Mint state coins are defined by a grade of 60 or higher on the Sheldon scale. This coin grading scale ranges from 0 to 70.
Are BU Coins Worth More Than Regular Coins?
In general, yes, a Brilliant Uncirculated coin is worth more than its non-BU counterpart. Collectors and investors alike value the beauty and pristine appearance of BU coins.
Over time, many coins in the population of an individual mintage will become worn and damaged. This means that the number of Brilliant Uncirculated coins of a particular type is always decreasing. As a result, the remaining BU examples will increase in relative value.
Buying Brilliant Uncirculated Coins
The term "Brilliant Uncirculated" can just as easily apply to silver coins, gold coins, and coins made from any other metals. Beware when the label is used for older numismatic coins (i.e. those made prior to the 1980s) if those coins are listed as "BU" but aren't certified by a grading company as at least mint state (MS).
Each year, government mints release bullion coins made of gold and silver that are classified as Brilliant Uncirculated. As brand new coins, they exhibit brilliant surfaces and without a doubt fit the definition of “BU.”
You can shop for Brilliant Uncirculated Silver Eagles and Brilliant Uncirculated Gold Eagles from the United States Mint by following the links below! You will also find links to shop for Brilliant Uncirculated Gold Maples and Brilliant Uncirculated Silver Maples from the Royal Canadian Mint.
Read more about numismatics and coin collecting from the experts at Gainesville Coins:
Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.